by Presidential Assistant for CAR Thomas A. Killip

during the Closing Program of the 2009 Cordillera Month Celebration

Baguio Convention Center, Baguio City

July 30, 2009

FIRST OF ALL, MY WARM GREETINGS TO EVERYONE on the occasion of the 22nd Anniversary of the Cordillera Administrative Region as a distinct political region in the Philippines. I am deeply honored this morning to give a few thoughts and a message of solidarity for this occasion.

My Distinguished Brothers and Sisters of the Cordillera, Ladies and Gentlemen!

One hundred ten years ago upon the demise of the Spanish colonial regime in the Philippines and the entry of America as the new colonial master, it would be of great interest to imagine how both the previous and the new colonial powers regarded the people of the Cordillera mountain region at that stage of Philippine history. It is for certain that there was a common observation, a common perception, and also a common description. From the northernmost tip of Apayao to the southern fringes of what is now Benguet Province we can be sure that we were all regarded as Ygorrotes which is an ancient Tagalog term for “people of the mountains” (sad to say that over the years this term has been used, misused, and abused). Likewise, from the terms that were used to describe us, both by the Spanish and by the early American authorities and missionaries, we could be sure that both colonial powers at that time regarded us as uncivilized. This must have been the beginnings of the “making of a cultural minority”. For us people in the Cordillera, while it is true that there were many things in common, there was as much diversity and differences in our way of life. On one hand, we were all the same half-naked people wearing loin cloths, we had the same musical instruments, we had the same type of wet rice terraced culture, we had similar forms of animist religion and conversely, we had different dialects, different architectures, different weaving designs, and many countless differences. We were all fiercely independent tribal communities living side by side with each other but we were likewise neighboring communities that warred against each other. Thus among the different native communities in the region, the fact is that we were as different as we were similar in various ways and respects. Politically each village had its own council of elders that administered its own particular governance. And socio-politically there was no pan-Cordillera nation to speak of. We were a paradox of sorts. We could be one and the same, and we could also be one but different.

And yet despite all these differences among the various communities in this mountain region and all the perceptions attributed to us we hold the proud distinction alongside our Muslim brothers in Mindanao as one of the unconquered peoples during the more than 300 years of Spanish rule in the Philippines. We have read of the great Mayan and Inca civilizations of America which were decimated to extinction in a few years under the weight of the Spanish conquests. But here in the small island of Northern Luzon are half-naked people who fought tooth and nail for more than 300 years to defend their domains and their independence. Thus while the rest of our Filipino neighbors were made peons of Spain for three centuries, we were living a life of freedom- we were singing our own songs, we were dancing our own dances, and worshipping the way our ancestors did. Some historians may attribute our successful Igorot independence as mainly the result of geographic circumstance but early Spanish written accounts would describe the many armed expeditions waged by the Spanish army to force the native communities of the Cordillera to submit to Spanish rule. The latest and last of these expeditions was led by Colonel Guillermo Galvey, the so-called “Butcher of Cuba” in the 1800’s who burned entire villages from Kapangan all the way to the Ifugao side of the Cordillera in order to force the people into submission. Coupled with these armed conquests was the Spanish Policy of Reducciones that justified the Spanish colonial government to compel the native inhabitants of the Cordillera mountain region to go down to the plains and to live a Christian life. All of these failed to the embarrassment of the Spanish Crown. This Ladies and Gentlemen, is one of the great success stories that have never been told.

Why do I have to share these historical accounts? Because this is one of the basic reasons for our existence as a region. It speaks of our collective character that has made us survive in the worse of times. The fact that we share a common historical process and experience in our history have helped carve a distinct collective personality, a distinct color and a socio-cultural bond that sum up to make our peoplehood and our identity.

Next, this whole journey towards national integration for the people of the Cordillera from the time of the Commonwealth to the present Republic is another historical process that must be evaluated and weighed objectively in order to steer development towards a more sound, a more just, and a more sustainable development for us in our region. This is in fact saying that the integration of the Cordillera region and its people into the mainstream over the past century have resulted in not a small measure to the socio-cultural, political, and economic disintegration of our region. We should recall that at one time, a slice of the Cordillera Region was integrated into Region I while the other half of our region was integrated into Region II. Many of our political decisions are being made above and outside of the region for us. Most of our natural resources which include our mineral resources, our trees and forests, as well as our rivers were transferred into the control of big interests. Our region in the Cordillera has virtually been used and treated as a resource base by and for bigger interests to our disadvantage. Integration and development in its many faces for us has meant disadvantage. Meanwhile under the present set-up our region continues to receive one of the lowest allocations from the national budget. And so this is what we get for all the wealth of natural resources that is being taken away from us. If this is the type of development that will remain with us for the years to come it is not difficult to see where this will lead us to.

The creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region which is what we are celebrating now on its 22nd anniversary was supposed to prepare the way for an autonomous region of the Cordillera as government’s recognition and response to correcting a past imbalance and an unjust set-up. It should not therefore come as a surprise if the Regional Development Council should sound out the call for the continued “quest for autonomy” because it is only fulfilling a constitutional mandate. The issue therefore should be focused more on what kind of autonomy do we want and the best way that the exercise should be conducted.

Thus, in previous and initial discussions, formal and informal, some points and consensus have become clearer:

  1. That the concept of autonomy for the Cordillera Region should never be discriminating in any manner against any particular person or group of people but should consider all people living in the region as natives and citizens of the region with equal rights, privileges, and opportunities. If Cordillera autonomy does not carry this principle then it should not even be discussed at all.

  2. We belong to a new order. We do not intend to go back and live like the way our ancestors lived because that is a thing of the past. While we preserve the good things of the past, the beautiful aspects of our culture, and the important values, what we are trying to develop is a set-up that should respond more effectively and efficiently within the context of a new order. It must be concept that is better than a previous one. If it does not, then there is no sense pursuing that kind of concept and aspiration.

  3. Autonomy should mean a greater local control of plans and political decisions in matters that affect the region. Imperial Manila has the tendency to dictate plans for us in the region. Autonomy should be able to reverse that process.

  4. The development of an autonomous concept should be participatory down to the grassroots levels. The subject of plebiscite should not be the primary goal of this process. Only the people can clamor for such an exercise if they grasp the essence of this concept. A process should be designed to effectively involve the widest participation of people and of different sectors in our region. We know that this process will take time but that is the reality of this type of political exercise so that we can say at the end of the day that the people of the Cordillera are part of that vision. And for as long as they are part of that vision I am sure that our people will not just be recipients of development but they will become a dynamic force for meaningful developments for the region.

In fact at this time of unparalleled global economic crisis, it is but proper that the discussions for regional autonomy should be expanded and intensified to enrich the concept even more. We have to be empowered for the worse.

At this juncture let me encourage that those at the helm of development for our region should really sit down occasionally to study and assess what this exercise and quest for autonomy is and what it means for us, specially the greater majority of people in the Cordillera Region.

Having said these let me thank you once again. It was a great privilege!