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The Real Story behind the Cordillera Administrative Region and Perspectives for Future Autonomy By Baboo Mondo単edo

With photos from the files of the Cordillera News Agency with poster concepts, drawings and pictorial coverage of Art Tibaldo.

The Real Story behind the Cordillera Administrative Region and Perspectives for Future Autonomy By Baboo Mondoñedo

This July, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). President Corazon Aquino signed Executive Order 220 in July 15, 1987, creating the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) composed of Benguet, Mountain Province, Kalinga, Apayao, Abra, Ifugao and Baguio. In line with this, the President likewise signed Administrative Order No.36, directing the establishment of regional offices of the national line departments in the newly created region, giving priority to native Cordillerans to assume government positions in the region. This was the first step towards the recognition of the Cordillera peoples’ cultural identity, rights to their homeland and selfdetermination.

and giving more respect and privileges to the indigenous peoples. Thinking back at the beginnings and the early days of President Corazon Aquino’s peace and unification program in the Cordillera, it cannot be helped but to go back to history and to the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship.

In 1908, the Mountain Province was created by the Americans to include Benguet, Ifugao, Mountain Province and Kalinga Apayao. In June of 1966, the Mountain Province was gerrymandered by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1966 through Republic Act 4675. Benguet and Mountain Province went to Region 1 known as the Ilocos Region while Ifugao and Kalinga Apayao were placed under Much has transpired since then. There Region 2 known as the Cagayan Valley. have been two failed attempts to come Roads and infrastructure development was concentrated in the lowland provup with an organic act for Cordillera inces, leaving out the highland provincautonomy and a third is in the offing. Nonetheless, there have been gains that es. The lobby for a separate region for cannot be denied and it was only after the mountain provinces was initiated by CAR was created that millions of funds governors and local leaders but this was not granted by President Marcos. have been poured into the region. Before 1987, the Cordillera was an information poor area and one of the poorest Later, a bill was filed at the Batasan by regions with many areas inaccessible assemblymen from Baguio and Ifugao and bereft of delivery of basic services for a separate region that would unite from the government. But the tide the mountain provinces, but this too did changed, with the Cory government, not prosper. Simultaneously, a lobby for and succeeding administrations, giving regionalization was launched by but this more attention to the mountain region fell to deaf ears. When Marcos grabbed terms of more development projects power by declaring Martial Law in 1972,

Marcos and his Generals

many Cordillerans were politicized then because of the popular uprisings in response to programs of the Marcos government in the region. A lobby for regionalization was launched calling for “one people, one region.” The most attention getting lobby for autonomy was mounted by Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance, when Marcos was still in power. The Marcos regime launched several projects that threatened the life and environment of the people of the mountain interior. The Ambuklao and Binga Dams drowned 650 hectares of agricultural lands and displaced 300 Ibaloi families. The Marcos Park, a project of the Ministry of Tourism, took over a 355 hectare area, the ancestral domain of 81 Ibaloi families who were ejected and paid little for their lands. The Chico River Dam Project, if carried out, would have submerged 2,753 hectares and displaced some 2100,000 Bontoks and Kalingas inhabiting communities along the Chico River. In 1973, the Cellophil Resources Corporation was awarded 200,000 hectares covering virgin forests of Abra, Mt. Province and Kalinga-Apayao.

Rebel leaders, Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front and Conrado Balweg of the News Peoples‟ Army, responded to her call.

Harvested timber at the Cellophil Resources Corp

The project would destroy old growth forests and the home and habitat of the Tinggian/ Itneg tribe of Abra, whose lands were located in the concession area. Then, in 1975, Presidential Decree 705 provided that all lands with 18 percent slope or more as forest reserve areas and “at anytime public interest so requires, steps shall be taken to expropriate, cancel defective titles, reject public land application or eject occupants.”

As journalists, we also facilitated visits of Manila and international media to the Cordillera interior. In April of 1986, we accompanied June Keithley and her television crew to Kili, Tubo Abra, to interview Fr.Conrado Balweg. From Baguio, we rode in a jeepney and headed for Abra. We crossed the Abra river eight times traveling long hours on bumpy and dusty roads until we reached the end of the road. Then we walked for many hours single file on a trail along several mountains until we reached our destination. There we found Balweg, Ka Ambo and his comrades, camped among the people.

Balweg reading a Manila based paper

Here in the Cordillera, we in media were witness to the process of peacemaking; we were also bridges. We crossed lines, entered both military and rebel camps, and as such became suspect to both. We had a lot of courage then and we did not blink. Our hearts were with the people whose conIn these areas, the opposition was strong cerns, sentiments and aspirations we as the New People‟s Army joined ranks shared. This gave us the strength to do with the local folks‟ struggle to stop these what had to be done. We travelled long projects from being implemented. This hours to the Cordillera interior to get a stogave rise to insurgency in the mountain ry. Messages were hand carried to Baguio region that was responded to by the Marabout incidents and updates on the war. cos regime with militarization and represMany times, civilians got caught in the sion. With armed conflict, lives were lost crossfire and lives were lost, human rights and livelihood, such as farming, commerce, trampled on. It fell on us media to get the trading and hunting, was interrupted. It was message out – and the truth of what was a difficult period in the mountains. happening in the Cordillera. After People Power forced Marcos to flee in What we discovered was that the military 1986, Corazon Aquino was installed to lead strafed a Mountain Province town and the country back to democracy. Her first act killed two carabaos. We spoke to the owner was to extend an olive branch to Cordillera and he was so angry; he told us that killing and Muslim rebels. She called for peace his animals, the source of his food, was and the shift of the engagement from the tantamount to killing him. battlefield to the negotiation table.

June Kiethley interviewing Balweg

Behind the scenes, we had the opportunity to exchange views with Ka Ambo. We asked about his response to Cory‟s call for peace. We carried a letter from then Vice President Salvador Laurel to Ka Ambo, making peace overtures. He expressed his openness and said he would have to consult the people and his comrades. He also intimated that he had just separated from the New Peoples‟ Army together with Cordillera rebels and that they had organized themselves into the Cordillera Peoples‟ Liberation Army. When we left Kili, Ka Ambo said, “Regards to Cory.” On May 19, Francis Dangiwan, the postman from Sadanga, Mountain Province, came to Baguio with a letter from Ka Ambo to President Cory Aquino, agreeing to talk peace. The next day, I accompanied Francis down to Manila to deliver the letter to Malacanang.

It was his first trip to Manila, and he was dazzled by the bright lights along EDSA. He exclaimed, “So this is why the (Chico) dam has to be built.” Sadanga still had no electricity then. In June, Butz Aquino was sent to Baguio to explore with Laida Lim and myself a possible meeting between his sister in law President Cory and Fr. Conrado Balweg. He intimated that peace was the President‟s top priority. She sent „family‟ to lay the groundwork for her manifesting her sincerity among the mountain folk. On June 14, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile lifted the P200, 000 prize on the head of Fr. Balweg. On July 17, we facilitated payment of damages by the Armed Forces of the Philippines to some farmers from Sadanga for the destruction of their properties and death of their animals due to bombing and strafing. Defense officials met claimants in Baguio.

Butz Aquino on foot with a cane in Sadanga

We made several trips with Butz Aquino to Sadanga, Mountain Province and Bugnay, Kalinga. We traveled by land and Butz was terrified by being almost at the edge of the narrow road along the Bontoc-Kalinga road. He was afraid that our vehicle would fall off the precipice and to counter his weight towards the mountain. Later, he landed in Bugnay in the President‟s white Sikorsky chopper to avoid the long trip from Manila. Butz had several meeting with Ka Ambo and always in the presence of the elders.

Butz meets with Balweg and Ama Yag-ao

There were talks when the Cory-Balweg meeting would take place, where, who would be present, the mechanics and the ceremony. The government panel suggested Manila, Baguio and Tarlac as the venue but this was vetoed with a counter suggestion to have the meeting in the Cordillera.

The idea of a “Sipat” peacepact was broached, which would forge a cessation of hostilities between the warring parties. Weapons would be exchanged to signify peace. Again Col. Gazmin said this could not be possible because President Cory did not like being in the presence of guns. Nor would it be possible that she would be handed a spear. We argued with him that among the mountain people, the exchange of weapons was a symbol of peacemaking; he finally relented. From Mount Data, we returned to Sadanga and apprised Ka Ambo of the next day‟s program. We found him and his comrades in Francis Dangiwan‟s house trying on shoes from the many pairs sent by the town‟s men folk. The spirits were high and there was excitement in the air. The next day, September 13, 1986, a Huey helicopter landed in Sadanga to fetch Ka Ambo and his party. Atty. Jojo Binay alighted from the chopper and stayed behind in Sadanga as “insurance.” I kept him company and we waited until we were fetched by the same chopper that ferried Ka Ambo to Mt Data. When we landed in Mt. Data, both military personnel and Cordillera rebels were standing outside. For years, they had been enemies on the prowl and out to get each other. But for now they were „at ease.‟

The peace emissary was witness to waiting a long eight hours of discussion among the elders to decide that the meeting be held in the Cordillera. Then after going to and fro and hours of discussion, it was agreed that the Cory-Balweg meeting would be held in Mount Data. Inside the hotel, President Aquino and her top officials Defense Secretary Juan Ponce On the eve of the historic meeting, I was in Enrile, Chief of Staff General Fidel Ramos Mount Data to discuss physical arrangeand some cabinet officials sat on one side ments with then Col. Voltaire Gazmin, then of a long table across CPLA Commander head of President Aquino‟s security comFather Conrado Balweg, Mario Yag-ao, mand, now her son‟s secretary of defense. Chairman of the Cordillera Bodong AdminCol. Gazmin suggested a closed door istration, Fr. Bruno Ortega and other peace meeting between the President and Father pact holders. The President began the diaBalweg, which would be attended by a logue by apologizing to the Cordillera peohandful of representatives from the governple for the excesses of the previous adminment and the Cordillera. We told him this istration. She was the first president of the was not possible as the meeting had to be Philippines to recognize the cultural integripublic and witnessed by the elders and ty of the Cordillera people. local folk.

The Cordillera panel submitted their statement of position, demanding political, economic and cultural integrity for the Cordillera people. Among the 26 point demands included cancellation of the Chico River dam project. On that historic day, the President and her cabinet forged a “sipat” with designated leaders of the Cordilleras. In the AquinoCordillera sipat, the exchange of weapons consisted of a spear and a shield from the CPLA while the AFP presented an American made Armalite rifle and bullets. President Aquino presented a Bible and rosary to Mario Yag-ao and in turn received a tapis traditional skirt. In keeping with Cordillera custom, Chairman Balweg asked for a glass of wine and placed a coin in it. Both the representatives of the national government and Cordillera panels, including the President, drank from the glass to prove their mutual trust. Military commandersChairman Balweg and General Jesus de la Cruz signed a document that put in effect the cessation of hostilities between the government and CPLA forces and constitute their respective panels for negotiations. To initiate in the peace talks, President Cory participated in the al-lasiw, an indigenous people‟s ceremony that commences the negotiations of peace pacts in the Central Cordillera Mountains. Her doing so was a symbolic recognition, by no less than the highest official of the country, of the respect for customary law in the settlement of disputes in the Cordillera. The Mount Data allasiw between President Aquino and Fr. Balweg and leaders of the Cordillera People‟s Liberation Army, led to the only successful peace talks during Aquino‟s time that has held up to today. In this case it led to the signing of the peace accord and commenced negotiations that led to Executive Order 220 creating the Cordillera Administrative Region.


It helped that the draft Constitution being prepared at that time by the Constitutional Commission explicitly provided for a mechanism by which autonomous regions could be created.

In the next months, the peace panels met in Mount Data, Manila and even Malacanang Palace. Negotiations continued at the Mansion House in Baguio.

After Mount Data, President Aquino and her cabinet held follow-up meetings with Fr. Balweg and key leaders of the CPLA and CBA. It was in Manabo, Abra, during the 4th Cordillera Congress, where she announced the cancellation of the Chico River Dam Project. At this conference held in December 1986, the Pagta, the body of laws that governs their relationship was Ama Mario Yag-ao and Mariano Agosto are shown with forged. The pagta transformed the tradiAmbassador Emmanuel Pelaez tional bodong peacepact, from a bilateral contract to a multilateral agreement consid- Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez headed the ering the diversity of people united into a government panel while the Cordillera panfederation. el was composed of members of the CPLA military, CBA peace pact holders and the Cordillera Broad Coalition (CBC), representative of lawyers and professionals. The Cordillera panel held several consultations in the mountain region. Unfortunately, there was a rift between the CPLA/CBA and the CBC, which distracted the whole process and vision.

We established the Secretariat at what used to be known as the Press Secretary‟s Office in Baguio, now Philippine Information Agency across the Mansion House. According to Butz Aquino, the funds for this initiative came from the desk drawer of President Cory. We monitored and facilitated peace meetings in the region. Malacanang assigned a black Land Cruiser for the Secretariat‟s easy travel and I attended every meeting except for one, held in Abra in June of 1987. By not going, I got a new lease in life.

Balweg‟s wife Corazon, tried to keep the flame of his dreams alive. Until the time of her death in 2008 from a heart attack, she held the position of Chief of Staff of the The author with Army Maj. Guillermo Densen and Balweg CPLA. They are both gone, and so, too, during a peace process dialogue in Mt. Data, Bauko, with other individuals who worked hard and Top CPLA commanders set out that day to died working for autonomy. But they paved attend a consultation in Abra and for some the way, drawing attention to the Cordillera reason that escapes me now, I did not go. But I made our service vehicle available for peoples‟ aspirations for autonomy. The use and the top CPLA commanders rode in road has been rocky but the issue is nevertheless kept alive and still being debated it. Ka Ambo followed behind in a Fierra. today. Along their way in Baay Licuan, the NPA staged an ambush killing eight passengers We see that the movement for autonomy riding the Land Cruiser. In one sweep, we will be pursued until such a time the people lost some of the brightest minds and the in the communities are ready and an acbest minds and fighters – Candido Basba- ceptable Organic Act for the Cordilleras is san, Vice Mayor Alfredo Gascid, David presented to them. For now, there are hinBallang, Steve Garwinen, Ka Moro Pinad- drances and there is trust issue borne from ing, Moises Linggayo and drivers Segundo miscommunication, misunderstanding and Daplian and Adrico Caoie. cultural differences. There is fear that anKa Ambo survived this ambush by riding in the back up vehicle. At the burst of gunfire, he jumped into a ditch to keep safe. But he would meet his fate thirteen years later in 1999 during a homecoming in Bangilo, also in Abra. He was assassinated in his ancestral home, as ordered by the NPA hierarchy. For many years after his death,

In the Cordillera region, the most important resource is land. If the ownership concept is subject to national laws and policies, there is reason to doubt the authenticity of such an autonomous setup. And the autonomous government being proposed can end up being just another central government colony. Self determination means control of the land and resources and the revenues derived from therein. Is the national government ready to give that power up? Corollary, is the Cordillera Region and its people willing to accept less financial help from national government in exchange for more freedom to decide, more independence, more self determination? There are contentious environment issues that have been raised. One is the entry of mining in the region that the national government would like to promote for employment, livelihood and income generation. other layer of government will add to the Several communities and local government bureaucracy the public already has to con- units have called for a moratorium on mintend with. There are also different interpre- ing or have taken a “no to mining” stand. tations of self-determination which is the They have seen the destruction caused by crux of the matter. big mining firms that have operated in the The core of any autonomous setup should region. Will the national government respect the people‟s aspiration to live in a be based on the ownership of land and safe environment? resources within the area of autonomy.

Genuine autonomy is like a distant star - a Utopian dream. When people in the communities are self reliant do not depend on national government for their survival and have control of their own resources - that is autonomy. If the region will still receive great sum of money from national government (such as salaries of government employees in the region), then it will be the national priorities, policies, programs/projects that will be implemented and less of the regional thrusts and priorities.

At this point, we in the Cordillera should ourselves be autonomous in the conduct of our lives. This means being free, independent selfreliant, self-sufficient, self-determined and liberated and this can be done only if we do not depend on external financial assistance from others. Only then can we, as individuals, aspire for autonomy of our communities and our region. Waiting for autonomy to be served to us on a silver platter might be like waiting for Godot.

At the Firing Line by Art Tibaldo Just as the revolutionary government of then President Corazon released political prisoners that included Jose Ma. Sison, Bernabe Buscayno and Victor Corpuz among others, news about the split between the New People‟s Army and Fr. Conrado Balweg‟s militia in the Cordillera drew media attention and I soon found myself chronicling the events that ensued after that historic encounter and peace talk between President Corazon C. Aquino and Balweg in Mt. Data, Bauko, Mt. Province.

I was with a platoon of CPLA cadres in Baay-Licuan, Abra when top CPLA leaders who were trailing behind us were ambushed and killed by armed combatants believed to be from the New People‟s Army. with Fr. Balweg during a coffee break in Mt. Data Lodge

It was perhaps due to the persistent clamor of the upland tribal folks wanting to reunite the old mountain provinces composed of Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Abra and Kalinga-Apayao or BIBAK that were split and attached by Marcos to Regions I and 2 that the matter on regional autonomy in the Cordillera came about. Fed up with government neglect, exploitation of natural resources, disrespect of ancestral domains, insurgency and political maneuverism, the upland people cried for recognition and self governance hence the move on autonomy backed by the 1987 Philippine Constitution was thought of as the best option. Having volunteered as a multi-media artist at the National Media Production Center when President Ferdinand E. Marcos and his cronies fled to Hawaii after that historic EDSA revolt in early 1986, I was tasked to provide support to the Cordillera News Agency in their research and documentation on the peace process by Charles Leung, my erstwhile boss of the soon to be created Philippine Information Agency.

Counter propaganda NPA cadre assailing the CPLA

Friends - Police Capt. Eugene Martin and CPLA’s Ka Sulong during the follow up peace negotiations in Mt.

Cordillera People‟s Democratic Front Congress in Sagada with Louie Jal;andoni and Antonio Zumel of NDF opposing the presence of the heavy military in the Cordillera

The September 13, 1986 peace pact (locally called "Sipat" by the tribal folks) between President Cory Aquino and Balweg ushered in a series of dialogues and negotiations that may have prompted constitutional authors to spell out the need for an autonomous government in the Cordilleras and in Muslim Mindanao. I witnessed the signing of Executive Order 220 in Malacañang as an Information Officer and my PIACAR office was later mobilized in the conduct of information, education and communication of the different processes of autonomy.

Among MNLF - a delegation of Cordillera leaders went to Mindanao to observe ARMM‟s progress as an autonomous government in 1997.

Philippine's Cordillera Region - Early Years