express checkout

THE IGOROTS OF LUZON

THE IGOROTS OF LUZON

The word IGOROT is a Tagalog word for "mountain people" and denotes the inhabitants of the mountains of northern Luzon. Like the word Moro, Igorot had a derogatory connotation implying backwardness and cultural inferiority. And like the word Moro, it has become a source of pride to its members - designating an identity distinct from Filipino.

Among the 800,000 Igorots, there are seven major peoples: Apayao, Tinggian, Kalinga, Bontoc, Ifugao, Kankanai, and Ibaloi.

The ancestors of today's Igorots originally were low-landers who immigrated to the mountains of central Luzon centuries ago in two distinct waves. The first wave occurred before the arrival of the Spanish when people from the coastal lowlands went to the mountains in search of additional sources of food, and water, and for tradable commodities such as lumber and gold. Once there they stayed. The second and larger wave of immigrants arrived as refugees fleeing the Spanish conquest and subsequent rule.

Despite repeated attempts over three centuries to conquer them, the Spaniards were never able to dominate the peoples of the mountains politically or culturally. During those centuries, while a Filipino political identity was in the process of being created, for the Christian low-landers, a separate identity was emerging among the mountain people. This political identity eventually was to adopt the label "Igorot."

When the low-landers started their revolution again in 1898, the Igorots initially supported the Philippine independence movement. An independent Philippines appeared to offer an end to repeated military incursions into their mountain homeland, and to extend the promise of equality and respect for all nations.

By its mistreatment of the Igorots, however, the Filipino revolutionary government quickly demonstrated that it was no different from the former, imperial regime. As a result, war broke out between the Igorots and the Filipinos, thus reinforcing separate national identities.

War ended when the U.S. took effective control of the region in 1902, and expelled all Filipino revolutionaries from the mountains. Recognizing that a difference existed between the two nations, Washington officially established the Mountain Province for the Igorots by the Philippine Commission Act No. 1876 on August 18, 1912. The province consisted of seven sub-provinces delineated generally along national lines: Amburayan, Apayao, Benguet, Bontoc, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Lepanto.

During the American occupation of the Mountain Province, the U.S. authorities opened new roads which aided trade and communications among the Igorots, established an elementary educational system, and introduced modern health measures.

Despite these propitious beginnings, Washington failed the Igorots. The educational system became the monopoly of Catholic and Protestant missionaries from the U.S. and from Europe, and Education a pretext for religious evangelization. The Igorots were subjected to religious harassment at the hands of these "unrequested mentors."

Worse was the decision by the U.S. government to deny the Igorots the right to national self-determination. The Igorots were to be a part of the Philippines regardless of their wishes. Washington assumed, erroneously, that Igorot rights and national identity would be protected by the legal existence of the Mountain Province. This was a legality which Washington also mistakenly believed Manila would respect. But Filipino nationalism is predicated upon the Filipinization of all tribal peoples, and the colonization of their lands. After obtaining home-rule under the Jones Law in 1916, Filipino politicians began to nibble away at the borders of the Mountain Province. During the 1920s, Manila's gerrymandering awarded Amburayan, and large parts of Lepanto and Benguet to the Filipino provinces of La Union, Ilocos Sur, and Abra.

By the 1930s, Filipino politicians were attacking the very concept of the Mountain Province. Arguing that it endangered the "national unity" of the Philippines by politically unifying the non-Christian peoples of the mountains of northern Luzon, they demanded the partition of the Mountain Province.

Supported by the recently elected President, Ferdinand Marcos, the opposition parties, and the church, Republic Act No. 4695 became law on June 18, 1966. By this legislation, the Mountain Province was partitioned into four, separate provinces: Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao, and a truncated Mountain Province. Later in 1972, after the declaration of martial law, Marcos further attacked Igorot unity by bifurcating these four provinces. With the proclamation of Presidential Decree Number One, Integrated Reorganization Plan, 12 larger, administrative units were created called Regions. Benguet and the rump Mountain Province were assigned to Region I, while Ifugao and Kalinga- Apayao were placed in Region II.

By such gerrymandering, Manila sought first to effectively exploit the rich mineral deposits, such as gold, and the other valuable natural resources contained in the mountains. Secondly, these measures attempt to facilitate Filipino colonization of igorot lands.

Despite repeated assertions that the Aquino government respects human rights, President Cory Aquino has not reestablished the Mountain Province within its 1912 borders. The Igorots remain divided among 4 provinces and 2 regions. Similarly, the President has not removed all the Filipino colonists from the lands of the Igorots.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Aquino is no different from Mr. Marcos or any other Filipino nationalist. In their opinion, the Philippine state is for the exclusive benefit of Filipinos, and the best thing for tribal peoples to do is to assimilate as quickly as possible. Without consistent, external pressure being exerted upon Manila to allow the Igorots the right to national self-determination, the Philippine government - under Aquino or any other Filipino administration - will continue to dispossess the Igorots of their lands, their culture, their national identity, and their future.