Geographically, the word cordillera
refers to a mountain range that serves as a backbone to an island; thus the
Gran Cordillera Central serves as a backbone to the main island of Luzon.
The peoples of the Cordillera could be grouped to the following major
ethnolinguistic groups: Kankanaey (Kankanai), Ibaloy, Bontok, Kalinga, Isneg,
Itneg, Ifugao, Kalanguya, iwak, Ga'dang.
The Cordillera during the Spanish Colonial
Regime. It was the lure of
Igorot gold, which drew the Spanish conquistadores to the Gran Cordillera
Central as early as 1572. A series of expeditions were launched to locate
the mineral wealth of the Cordillera. But these efforts were met with the
indigenes' staunch defense of their domain. More systematic pacification
attempts were made to subvert the Cordillera peoples. The policy of
reduccion served as an all-encompassing program of not only relocating
the otherwise dispersed and inaccessible settlements of the highlanders to
more nucleated groups that would facilitate conversion to the Christian
order and the imposition of colonial policies like tribute collection.
Through their proselytization activities, the Dominicans who were then in
the Cagayan region, and the Augustinians who were in the Ilocos, helped the
Spanish administration in reducing the Cordilleras to the so-called la
vida civil y politica. The first Spanish missions that were
established in the highlands of the Cordillera are: Pudtol (1604
and re-established in 1691); Capinatan (1691) in the eastern
section of the region; and Tonglo (1755) in Benguet along the
southwestern section of the Cordillera. There was a long time resistance
lapse before other missions could be established due to the sustained
indigenous resistance. The missions in Ifugao and Mountain Province were
established in the mid if not late 1800s.
There were also attempts at
proscribing Igorot-highland/lowland relations with the objective of
annihilating the highlanders and make them realize the need to move downhill
and submit to the colonial order. But all these proved futile. While
lowland-upland relations were eventually strained as a result of colonial
policies, e.g., conscription of lowlanders for pacification campaigns
against the Cordillera peoples*, trade relations continued. At the time
when the tobacco monopoly required lowland communities to meet their
bandlas (quotas), tobacco was smuggled from the Cordillera.
More direct contact between the
Spanish conquistadores and the Cordillera peoples came only in the mid-1826,
the Comandancia del Pais de Igorrotes was formed putting the
unpacified Cordillera under a special administration under the command of
Guillermo Galvey. The region was eventually subdivided to several
comandancias. The first Spanish mining claim was approved in 1856 with
the establishment of the Sociedad Minero-Metalurgica Cantabro-Filipina
de Mancayan. In summary, all these efforts to conquer the Cordillera
peoples were in vain. By the time the time Spanish colonialism came to an
end, indigenous institutions were still very much intact making the late
historian William Henry Scott describe the status of the Cordillera peoples
The staunch defense of their domain
and their social institutions is the theme of Cordillera history since the
onset of colonialism. In the 1600s, the Cordillera peoples warded off the
conquistadores during the expeditions to the mines. By the 1700s,
the highlanders resisted proselytization activities, which were perceived as
mechanisms for their eventual submission to the new order. The highlanders
launched attacks on lowland Christian communities particularly in the Nueva
Vizcaya area, which had to be eventually fortified. The increase in the
number of remontados who sought sanctuary in the highlands by the
1700s and the 1800s made the Spanish conquistadores declare the Cordillera a
"haven of thieves and criminals". In the 1800s,
Cordillera resistance, sustained though has not reached supra-community
level of unity, was directed at colonial policies like vassalage taxes.
The Cordillera during the Revolution. There has been much
discourse on how Cordillera participation during the events of 1896 should
be perceived. While there were contacts between the Katipuneros (Aguinaldo
period) and some Ibaloy oligarchs, who provided sanctuary and assistance to
the fleeing revolutionary forces (Laruan, Carantes, Carino to name a few),
there was no organized alliance between the Cordillera peoples and the
Katipunan. The contribution of the Cordillera to the 1896 revolution
is their long record of sustained resistance, a resistance that was
ideologically confined to defense of tribal sovereignty rather than a
resistance to establish a Filipino independent state.
The Cordillera during the American Period. While Spain failed
in subduing the Igorots highlanders, the American colonizers drew a more
systematic design for pacification. At the time when the U.S. government
conducted its census in 1903, the Filipinos were categorized to two, namely,
the wild population and the civilized; the Cordillera peoples who were
unChristianized and uncolonized were classified as wild. Reconnaissance
trips were conducted which resulted in the identification of culture zones
in the Cordillera (these culture zones would approximate the existing
ethnolinguistic subgrouping). The Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes created on
2 October 1901 with David Barrows as its first director was tasked to
conduct a survey on the character of the different culture zones. These
were complemented by efforts of Albert Jenks, Roy Franklin Barton, Fay
Cooper Cole to name a few, who produced ethnographies of the Cordillera
peoples. These systematic efforts were aimed at better understanding the
culture of the unconquered areas so that more effective policies for
pacification could be implemented.
On 18 August 1908, the Americans
created the Mountain Province, which consisted of Benguet, Amburayan, Bontoc,
Apayao, Ifugao, Kalinga and Lepanto. The Philippines Constabulary was also
established in the highlands. Most of the Americans who were sent to the
Cordillera were designated the rank of lieutenant governor and were in
charge of governance in the sub-provinces of the Mountain Province. The
more familiar ones are: John C. Early (Amburayan), Norman Conner (Apayao),
Elmer Eckman(Bontoc), J.H. Evans (Benguet) and Walter Hale (Kalinga),
Charles Nathorst and William Dosser. Many tactics, on several occasions the
application of the divide-and-rule strategy through practice of intertribal
war was used.
Both the Catholic and the Protestant
(particularly the Episcopal denomination) Churches became instruments of
change in the region. They filled the void left by the early Spanish
missions that collapsed along with the end of the Spanish colonial regime.
In 1907, the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (CICM) established
its first mission station in Bontoc; others followed all over the
Cordillera. On the other hand, the Episcopal Church, which was the most
influential religious institution during the early American administration,
established its stations in Bontoc and Sagada. In 1902, Reverend Charles H.
Brent sent Reverend John Staunton for an inspection of the Cordillera.
What actually proved to have long-term
impact on the peoples of the Cordillera were the land laws and mining acts
that were implemented. Land registration which was the feature of the
Public Lands Act of 1902 and 1905 set the Cordillera peoples' loss of
control over their ancestral land, claims. In 1909, Baguio was established
as a colonial hill station. The establishment of schools all over the
Cordillera drew out the people from the insulated village to the colonial
All these colonial policies did not
remain unchallenged by the people who were able to sustain resistance during
the previous colonial regime. But the challenges came in new forms.
Out-migration was a common response. Ambuscades were frequently reported in
The Manila Times, but were dismissed by the Americans as mere
display of barbarism. Direct armed confrontations continued until 1915.
Then, the Cordillerans wrote petitions to the American government protesting
the environmental degradation of roads; Samaki opposed the destruction
caused by mining activities.
Asserting that Elusive Cordillera Self-determination. Since
Philippine political independence in 1946, several attempts have been made
by the Filipino government to integrate the Cordillera into the mainstream.
The Commission on National Integration (CNI) was created in 1957. In 1964,
the Mountain Province Development Authority was (patterned after the
Tennessee Valley Authority) was established to facilitate development
efforts in the region. By the 1970s, the Cordillera was the haven of many
foreign-funded infrastructure programs foremost of which were dams. The
Cordillera peoples who continued to experience not only geographic but also
social dislocation opposed all these efforts. Intensified militarization
tried to suppress the local resistance. The 1987 Philippine constitution
recognized the need for the establishment of autonomous regions in Mindanao
and the Cordillera. To this date, the Cordillera peoples still have to
define the substance of that autonomy which would fully put to practice the
Cordillera people's vision of having control over their institutions, their
economy and their affairs.