Times have changed. No longer do we have so many beggars from the Cordillera in the streets of Metro Manila. But that was not the case not so long ago. Up until the end of the millennium, it was not uncommon to chance upon a group of Igorots asking pedestrians and motorists for handouts in Baguio City and Metro Manila specially during the Holiday Season. Most of them were women, most of them were aging, and most were from Mountain Province.

There are many stories about these beggars, and these stories may or may not be true. What is true is that indeed Mountain Province once had the distinction of being the source of these resourceful persons who made a livelihood of begging.

I heard from others of such a story. Whether or not the story is true in its entirety or was embossed in the telling, or whether it is altogether the fabrication of an imaginative mind, is irrelevant. If it is not true, then it shall be added to the many urban legends about the people of Mountain Province. True or not, accurate or not, the story, and others like it, just reflect the reality of what once was at a time that seems so long ago but nonetheless fairly recent.

And so it was that in the late 90s, there was such a group plying their “trade” in Quezon City.

And so it was that the Congressman of Mountain Province at that time, the late Victor Dominguez, was in a convoy of cars with his staff and some local government officials visiting the nation’s capital.

Somewhere along the long stretch of Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, Dominguez, who was in the lead car, saw such a group of women actively asking pedestrians and motorists for alms. He asked the driver to stop and the driver obliged. Of course the other cars in the convoy also stopped, and everybody was wondering why the Congressman’s car stopped.

According to the story, the Congressman told his staff to get the straw hats (silag) of the women.

Those in the other cars saw the Congressman’s bodyguard, secretary and assistant getting out of the lead car. Of course, out of concern, others in the cars following also got out.

The bodyguard, secretary and assistant approached the women on the sidewalk.

The women, probably thinking that the ones approaching them were cops, started running in different directions. The Congressman’s men run after them. Without thinking, the passengers of the other cars followed suit.

And so it was that there was these group of about five Igorot women being pursued by Igorot men in the streets of Metro Manila. Eventually, the men caught up with the women. After the pursuers explained that they were not cops, the women were placated. However, when the pursuers asked for their hats, they refused to give these, saying that it was a hot day, and they needed the hats to shield their heads and faces from the sweltering sun.

The pursuers continued to demand the hats, and the women continued to refuse to give in. After a heated and extended conversation, the assistant went back to the Congressman to report. The Congressman told him that they must get the hats at all cost, and if necessary, they should buy it from the women. The Congressman pulled out his wallet and gave the assistant some money so that they could buy the hats from the woman beggars.

After another heated and extended conversation, the women finally acceded to sell their hats to their pursuers. So, hats in hand, the group got back to their cars and proceeded on their way.

Rumor has it that the price that the Congressman paid for the used hats was more than twice the price of new straw hats, but still the Congressman thought it money well spent. Rumor has it further that the Congressman would have been willing to pay more, just so the beggar-women would sell the hats.

Those in the convoy laughed themselves hoarse talking about the spectacle of aging Igorot women being pursued by burly Igorot men in the streets of Quezon City. It was even more hilarious since the women, and most of the pursuing men, were ignorant of the reasons for the chase. It was a funny moment, but all agreed that it was worth it, and the Congressman was justified in purchasing the precious hats at such an extravagant cost.

What made the hats so special?

Painted in bright red on the wide brim were the words “GAWIS AY MOUNTAIN PROVINCE.”

Close to the end of a five-hour road trip from Baguio to Bontoc, the traveler gets a chance to view the winding waters of the Chico River in Sabangan, with rice fields close to the valley floor and verdant forests on the upper slopes of the mountains

Closer to Bontoc, the road winds closer to the valley floor, allowing the traveler to see the river up close.

The river is calm and clear at times, but during the rainy season may be muddied from soil and debris from upstream.

At the edge of the central village of Bontoc, The Heritage coffee shop gives the traveler a respite, with the quaint backdrop of rice terraces and the river.

The Americans blasted a road tunnel through the mountain, rarely used now as the paved road goes around it.

A landslide blocks the road, but is partially cleared to allow vehicles to pass.

Bontoc and the other communities in the province are agricultural. Here we see rice paddies and camote fields.

In the latter part of the last century, some Bontoc people planted non-traditional crops, like coconuts, seen here.

Depending on the time of the rice agricultural cycle, the traveler may see rice paddies green with growing plants, or golden with ripening grain, or freshly plowed for planting, like in this picture.

The rice paddies are plowed for planting, and the asymmetric shapes of the fields add to the beauty of the scenery.

Carabaos are used for plowing, if available. The paddy in front shows a field not yet plowed, and the paddy on the right has already been planted with rice seedlings.

With an “umbrella hat” to protect herself from the heat of the sun, this woman plants rice. Planting rice is a communal effort, an activity that maximizes the people’s mutual help systems.

More freshly plowed fields.

Stopping to pose for a picture, this woman is on her way to work on the fields.

The newly planted rice seedlings benefit from the water brought by the irrigation canal. Often coming from kilometers away far upstream, some of these canals have already been cemented.

Rice seeds are first sown in paddies like this, and then “harvested” to be replanted, like what these folk are doing.

In the Bontoc municipal center is Lanao village, nestled in rice fields along the Chico River

Another shot of Lanao, Bontoc. Beyond the farther houses is the river.

Foot bridges allow folks to get to the forest hunting grounds and fields on the other side of the river.

Further downstream, the river continues on to Kalinga

A bird’s eye view of central Bontoc

The Chico River flows past Bontoc, to Kalinga, through deep valleys and canyons, where white water rafting is popular during the rainy season when the water is stronger.

The road to Kalinga winds along the slopes of the mountains. the roads have recently been paved for the most part, deducting from the more rustic thrill of dusty dirt roads that were for a long time the way they were.

In early April every year since the past decade, Bontoc hosts the Lang-ay Festival, where the province’s indigenous people congregate to showcase their dances, songs, attire, and other cultural expressions.

These women proudly show their unique tapis, or wraparound skirts. On the ground are bundles of rice stalks on woven baskets, part of their props for the parade during the Lang-ay.

These men, with turbans and g-strings, play the gongs to provide music for the parade, as the ladies walk beside them.

These young folk showcase their indigenous attire, stating their uniqueness and yet their likeness with the other indigenous people of the province.

With boys playing the gongs, these girls dance along during the Lang-ay parade.

One attraction for visitors of Bontoc is its museum, where one may see different cultural artifacts and photographs.

The Bontoc museum has a traditional pigpen dug from the ground, where this pig is found.

Around September, Bontoc also holds another festival, the Am-among, where different villages of the municipality show us the variety and similarity of their indigenous communities.

Using a shield to shade himself from the sun, this young warrior poses with these ladies for a picture

Bright shirts are now part of regular garb, though prior to these ready-made creations, tops were rare clothing for the people.

Carrying woven farming tools and baskets filled with food, Am-among paraders try to encapsulate their culture.

Theater and symbolic representations are not uncommon during these festivals, as the community people portray their existence in a capsule.

Carrying plowing tools, these women embody the hardiness and industry of the Bontoc people.

********* some photos are by Patrick Mcdonough, who like me married into the Bontoc community.

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Spirited Thoughts

The mountains as viewed from the road going up to Bobok, Bokod, Benguet.
Ambuklao dam and the community below it
Ambuklao Dam and part of the lake it forms.
Fishcages and Fishermen’s huts, Ambuklao lake.
The delta formed by a river feeding Ambuklao lake.

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***Click on images for better resolution pictures.***

The far mountains host the less-accessible villages of Kibungan, including Badeo and Tacadang, where the rocky landscape severely limits the availability of arable land. Nearby Kapangan, from where this picture was taken, and the villages closer to Kibungan Poblacion are less rocky, thus with more arable land and lusher vegetation.

Up and down rocky paths

Five men were walking up the rocky path up a mountain. The lead man, the guide, was understandably the fastest of them, setting a pace that would enable the group to reach the top of the pass before the April sun would climb higher on the horizon.

Already, even as the sun has yet to reach its hottest position in the sky, the walkers were sweating profusely, except perhaps for the guide who was just ambling along as if on a Sunday stroll. The other four behind him were however drenched in sweat, with their shirts wetly clinging to their backs and sweat dripping down their brows, the salt from the sweat irritating their eyes. Nevertheless, they persisted, trying their best to keep the pace set by the guide.

The last in the line of hikers was himself a fast walker, and familiar with the paths they walked. He perhaps chose to take the tail-end position for this reason, as he would then be able to encourage the less able walkers in the middle.

Some of the paths on the way to Badeo offer shaded comfort, while others are along bare rock with the heat of the sun and the heated rocks at midday approximating a heat spa that opens up sweat pores.

The second in the line was very able to keep the pace, never lagging far behind the guide, though he perhaps also had difficulty doing so.

The third in the line was also an able walker, steadily following the leaders. He was aided by a walking stick, one of those lightweight collapsible metallic canes. He was correct in bringing along the cane in the hike, for a cane certainly would have helped the fourth walker. The fourth walker was the slowest of them all, repeatedly pausing to catch his breath every once in a while, and drinking more than his share of the water that the hikers brought along.

The leaders would, every once in a while, stop in a shaded portion of the path to wait for the others. But before the sweat stopped flowing, the group would once again strap their backpacks on and continue the hike. Their pace for the most part prevented them from appreciating the view of the surrounding mountains, mountains that seemed to be made up of rock, mountains whose sides were steep faces that showed interesting formations, mountains that, either bare of vegetation or covered with it, were spectacular sceneries.

The hike was supposed to take five hours, at the pace of the locals. With this group of walkers, they would take seven hours.

The earlier part of the hike was down a much gentler slope, taking the walkers an hour to the bottom, probably some 500 meters lower in elevation than where they started. The long climb up the mountain was much steeper, going up to the top of the pass 500 meters from the valley floor. The climb, due to the steepness of the path, would take them more than two hours before they reached the top.

Yet after reaching the top of the climb, they still had to go down the slope before they would arrive at their destination.

Were they backpacking tourists, or thrill-seeking mountain climbers? Nay, they were not.

Badeo, in Kibungan, is arguably the most remote village in that town, though Takadang, also of that town, holds the same claim. It was in these barangays that the Igorot Global Organization (IGO) gave 20 solar home systems (SHS) so that the people could have simple lighting. The hikers were going to Badeo to see how these solar home systems were faring. Were the SHS still working? How have the people benefited from the project? What changes resulted in their lifestyle after the SHS were installed? Etcetera, etcetera.

While walking down the mountain earlier, the group met two sets of walkers from Badeo. These walkers were carrying two sick persons to be brought to the hospital in Baguio City. The people of Badeo have to carry their sick some 17 kilometers, by their estimation, of uphill and downhill paths before they can reach the road, and so transport their sick to the hospitals, either in the Kibungan town center or in the farther places of Baguio and La Trinidad.

The remoteness of the place was underlined by the spectacle of the village people carrying their sick, and to see two groups in succession was truly sad.

People would ask, why did the people of Badeo build their village so far from the road? Why did they build their homes in so inaccessible a place?

They did not do it intentionally. these villages were there before roads were built. These villages rose in these places because it was in these places that people found some arable land that could support them. These villages rose because it was in these places that earlier people found water, and game.

If colonial road builders happened to build their roads passing through Badeo or Takadang, then the situation will be reversed, so that the it would be the other parts of Kibungan that will be far from the road, and thus remote. But perhaps the rocky terrain in these barangays kept this from happening, so that we are stuck to the present reality that to reach Badeo and Takadang, one has to hike for more than five hours.

And the village people would have to carry their sick the same distance, along the same steep and rocky paths, to reach the hospitals.

From the provincial road linking Kibungan municipality to the rest of the world, the first settlement of Badeo, Kibungan that may be reached is the village of Tableo. Yet one may reach the place only after nearly five hours of rigorous hiking down a mountain to Tawang village in Kapangan, up “Saknong,” a rocky mountain pass, and down the mountain to Tableo.

Tableo has 38 households, an elementary school, and a daycare center. In the school year 2010-2011, there were some 12 pupils attending the school, being taught by an intrepid volunteer teacher. The teacher was solely responsible for teaching the various grades. In the past year, the 12 pupils were distributed in three grade levels, so that the teacher was handling three classes all at once, trying her very best to impart the necessary skills and knowledge that the state educational curriculum required.

It was in Tableo that 3 solar home systems (SHS) were installed in April 2007, 2 in the school and 1 in the Daycare Center. 8 other SHS units were installed in other settlements in Barangay Badeo. 9 similar units were installed in Barangay Tacadang.

The Australia component of the Igorot Global Organization (IGO-Aus) funded the solar energy project, through a scheme being implemented by the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC). The original plan was for 40 SHS to be provided to Badeo and Tacadang. The plan was hatched in the 6th Igorot International Consultation in Australia in 2006.

The SEP scheme was for the SHS to be provided to private household beneficiaries, with the beneficiaries paying for the SHS units at a subsidized price of P20,000, and with an initial installment of P2,500. However, villagers in Tacadang and Badeo were lukewarm to the idea of paying for the units, even at the subsidized price. Intent to help, the IGO-Aus, with the help of charitable persons, raised the necessary amount so that beneficiaries in Badeo and Tacadang will not have to pay for the SHS units. It was also decided that the SHS will be installed in public structures such as schools, barangay halls, and daycare and health centers.

Also, only 20 SHS units were brought to Kibungan, instead of 40 units. The remaining 20 units were brought to Asipulo in Ifugao where private households were more willing to pay for the units at the subsidized price. The PNOC contractor in charge of the installation of the SHS was expected to properly orient and train the beneficiaries as to the maintenance of the solar units. The contractor was also expected to visit the units at least once a year for two years after installation.

It was in April of this year that IGO-Aus, now called MABIKA Aus, sent a group to Badeo to check on the status of the SHS installed there. The group found that only one of the units installed in Tableo is functional. The two other units were not functioning. The main cause of the malfunction was the battery electrolyte solution drying up. Normal maintenance requires that distilled water be added to the batteries when the solution levels drop. Because the batteries dried up, the zinc and copper plates necessary for the batteries’ function became warped, rendering these useless.

Apparently, while the SHS were installed to benefit the entire Tableo community, no single person was identified to be primarily responsible for maintenance. In addition, the promised visits by the contractor never materialized. At the time of the recent April 2011 visit, the Tableo villagers said that it was the volunteer teacher and the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) who became responsible for the maintenance. Yet the villagers admitted that they were ill-equipped to do it. And so the batteries were destroyed, and 2 of the SHS ceased to function.

The solar panels and the supplied control panels continued to function, however, and an enterprising villager bought a car battery from far-away Baguio that they could charge using the solar unit in the daycare center. After charging, the battery is then brought to their home, where they make use of it for lighting. In a way, then, the SHS continued to function for the very reason it was donated to the community for: rudimentary lighting.

The SHS installed in Kibungan were supplied with 2 fluorescent fixtures for 10-watt tubes, as well as for 2 compact fluorescent lamps and 2 DC outlets. Since these were installed in public buildings, it was expected that their primary use was for public activities.

Well and good, but then its uses became limited. After all, schoolchildren are dismissed when it is still light, and normal daylight makes the lighting fixtures superfluous. The lighting function of the solar units was more helpful to the teachers, who could continue working on their reports and lesson plans after dark.

Of course the SHS were used for other public functions, such as village meetings and social activities, for the people could continue in their activities even after dark. It is noteworthy that in the classroom with the functional battery, a stereo component that could run on DC power may be found. The villagers have been using the stereo component during these public gatherings.

But social gatherings and meetings are few and far between, and while the batteries are expected to be fully charged after each reasonably sunny day, making use of the solar units for these purposes is an under-maximization of their potential.

The people also found another use for the solar units, perhaps with the intention of maximizing these, and that is to make use of the DC outlets to charge cellular phones. Before the solar units were installed, people had to hike the long distance to the road where they could charge their phones in AC outlets, at the cost of P20 per hour. Now, with the DC outlets, they could charge their phones right there in the village, for free.

The villagers admit that owning a cellular phone prior to the coming of the SHS was not practical. With phone charging right at their village, however, more and more of them found the necessity of purchasing these marvels of technology that would enable them to communicate with their relatives and friends in the outside world.

While the people would not admit it, there were some of them, aside from the one already mentioned, who were also charging their own car batteries using the SHS, and so could have electrical lighting in their homes, if only for a few hours at night and in the early morning.

The whole exercise of providing the SHS highlighted the functionality of the system, so that some of the villagers are have acquired their own solar units, belying their initial rejection of the proposal for them to purchase the SHS at a subsidized price. One of these households even has a DC-powered television set. The TV set becomes particularly popular during media events such as the Pacquiao boxing bouts, when the entire community would gather to watch, and the children acting out the punches delivered afterwards.

Perhaps it was the discovery of these many uses of the solar units, and the realization that the solar panels cost so much, that prompted the theft of 2 of the solar panels installed in other parts Badeo. Some of the lighting fixtures in Tableo are also lost, perhaps taken by people with battery-powered lighting systems in their homes.

Thus, while the SHS are still under-maximized and one of three non-functional in Tableo, the project has had a profound impact on the community. It has made the people realize that they could do much more with nighttime lighting, and their means of communication with the outside world has vastly improved.

If only for this, the IGO SEP project in Kibungan could be deemed successful.

Electric-powered predictions in a remote place

The Igorot Global Organization donated 11 solar home systems to Badeo, Kibungan, and another nine SHS to Tacadang, in the same municipality. Aside from these, the Benguet State University-Affiliated Non-Conventional Energy Center (BSU-ANEC) also brought to the same barangays solar charging systems specifically designed so that beneficiary communities could charge batteries for use in their homes.

These solar energy projects have brought rudimentary lighting and DC-powered current to these communities.

Prior to these projects, the people in these places had no electricity, apart from those who went through the trouble of lugging their heavy batteries for charging in the distant central villages of Kibungan. These projects also heralded the acquisition of similar solar home systems by the more affluent households, so that the two remote barangays could now be described as energized, even as many households have yet to benefit from the technology.

Perhaps the most noticeable effect of the coming of electricity, albeit solar-powered, is that the people in these places have developed the need for electricity, whether for lighting, to power their transistor radios, to charge their cellular phones, or to watch DC-powered television sets. Arguably, these are basic needs in other parts of the world, and it is quite wrong to deny the people of Badeo and Tacadang the same amenities. Indeed, the right to information and the need for the same; as is now conveniently made more available through the radio, cellular phones and television; is a development that would sufficiently justify the solar energy projects. The ease of communication made possible by the cellular phones is also another powerful justification, as is the simple lighting systems that enable the people to extend activities into the dark hours at night.

Then again, beyond answering these basic needs, the coming of solar energy has introduced other needs that may mean far-reaching and profound changes in the way of life of these erstwhile simple communities. An example would be the cellular phones that now have become regular implements in several households. The cost of a cellular phone is no laughing matter, and to use these it is necessary to pay the cellular companies, or to buy “load,” that expires after a period of time, necessitating another purchase. As would be expected, the cellular phone users would not limit the use of their phones to essential communication, but would include the less-than-necessary text messages and calls that would increase their consumption of airtime and “load.”

While these phones answer the need and convenience of instant communication, they nevertheless also mean that the people have to spend for something they originally did not.

It is yet unfathomable how the incessant advertisements in radio and television shows affect the people’s thinking. It is however expected that continuing exposure to these advertisements would develop other needs, at least in the people’s perception, that would entail additional expenditures for their fulfillment.

These developments would gain more speed when the villages are fully energized via the national electrical grid, through the Benguet Electric Cooperative. As of the moment, the Beneco has already laid out electrical lines to some villages in Badeo and Tacadang. A month ago, however, the Beneco has yet to energize the lines since the villagers have yet to signify their intention to avail of the utility service.

The reason why the villagers have not yet applied for electrical connections is their perception that it is beyond their means, specially the initial outlay that they have to shell out for the electric meters and wiring in their homes. In a way, they have yet to understand the potential of electrical energy, and the profound change that would result once they get used to it.

We could just imagine when one of the villagers would buy a refrigerator or freezer, and would learn to make the Filipino cold treat “ice candy.” When the children would taste the sweet frozen delight, then they would definitely develop a liking. This would introduce another “need” for frozen treats. Then other treats like ice cream or cold soda drinks would also become part of the people’s fare.

The manifold electronic devices, like radios and stereos, computers, television and DVD players, as well as power tools and everything that runs on electricity, would later on be craved by the people of Tacadang and Badeo. Rightfully so, for these are already regular fare in other parts of the municipality and the country.

Yet the question that begs to be asked is whether the people of these villages have the means to sustain the enjoyment of these amenities, from the small value of “load” to the cost of electricity, from the cost of DVDs to the cost of elaborate home entertainment systems.

The price of electricity and the amenities it brings with it is no small thing, but once it gains a foothold in Badeo and Tacadang, there would be no stopping it.

The people would then be hard put to satisfy the introduced needs. As it is, the economy of the place has hardly changed in the past several decades, owing to its remoteness from the market centers.

The people themselves recognize that, in terms of priority, what they most need is access to the market for their goods. What they most need is a road connecting their place to the rest of the world. They need the road so they could transport their goods, and engage in commerce, and thereby become economically empowered.

Without greater economic empowerment, they would have to continue to rely on the traditional subsistence economy, an economy barely able to provide for their daily needs.

Even without the costs of electricity and electrical amenities, the people of Badeo have had to resort to the planting of “high-value crops” that would be profitable despite the remoteness of the place. This high-value crop just happens to be contraband, so that more than a dozen of the people of the place are now languishing in jail. Yet many choose to plant marijuana still, for it is one product that, even if transported for hours of backbreaking trails, would result in a profitable sale.

Of course electricity would make the transport of this contraband much easier, for then they would discover that the weed may be compacted using electric=powered presses, and then processed into hashish or hashish oil. Electricity would then become truly affordable, and those who engage in the trade would acquire all the amenities they would want.

Yet we know that only a small fraction of the population are actually engaged in the trade. It is unfortunate that, with the entry of electricity, they might be the only ones who might be able to maximize its use.

IF other livelihood opportunities are not made available to the people there.

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It was in the 1960s and the 1970s that our grandfather, Angel Agpad, was recognized as an indigenous healer.

His prowess as a healer was perhaps better appreciated in villages other than his home village in Sagada, Mountain Province, though even then many of the local folk would approach him for remedies to whatever ailments or discomfort that they might be feeling. Remedies that he prescribed were mostly concoctions from the many herbs that he had, with indigenous prayers and sometimes with the ritual slaughter of chicken.

He was also skilled in a form of reflexology and acupressure, as well as in the mending of dislocated joints or strained muscles. “Mangngilot” was a term used to refer to him to reflect this skill.

These remedies are mostly lost to us now, though we his grandchildren were beneficiaries of his skills, as the odd headache, sprained ankle, diarrhea or other complaints seemed to disappear after we ingested a bitter herb, were massaged by him, or drank chicken soup.

His remedies were primarily traditional, but he was astute enough to recognize the shortcomings of some of his prescriptions, specially in dealing with infections. For this, he also carried with him powerful antibiotics that he mixed with the traditional cures when the complaints involved dangerous infections. In other cases, he would actually recommend that the patient seek the help of medical professionals, if the malady is beyond his prowess.

Our grandfather walked with a limp, with one of his legs always askew, making it necessary for him to carry a cane wherever he went. That he walked with a limp perhaps bolstered his reputation as a healer, for to reach the many villages he ministered to, he had to walk many kilometers. His perseverance in these long treks perhaps added to people’s faith in his abilities, and thus ultimately increased the effectiveness of his cures, as “patients” were psychologically more receptive of the cures.

For one reason or other, our grandfather was referred to as “Injun Joe,” another example of how the people of Sagada bestowed names upon their brethren. The name stuck, and until now, we his grandchildren would occasionally refer to the patriarch as Injun Joe.

Injun Joe visited many villages as a healer, going to Ilocos Sur, Abra, Kalinga and wherever he was called to serve. In these places, he invariably made friends – with the people he healed, and with people in general. It was not uncommon that these friends would give him gifts when he finally left their village. Thus Injun Joe would come home to Sagada laden with goods such as tobacco, dried meat, dried beans, and whatever his “patients” gave him in appreciation of his work.

Up to now, his descendants are not surprised when the descendant of those he healed would visit Sagada and renew friendships with the family, in an enduring appreciation of Injun Joe’s healing abilities. They are manifold, and it is not uncommon that his indigenous name Agpad has become part of the roster of names of those he helped.

One of the more significant friendships that Agpad has developed is with the people of Betwagan, Sadanga, Mountain Province.

He has been to the place several times as a healer, and also as a guest to the many traditional ritual feasts of that village. His continuing interaction with the amiable people of Betwagan further bolstered Agpad’s relations with them.

Yet perhaps what makes his relationship with Betwagan so special is the story of how he performed a seeming miracle as a healer.

In one of his visits to the place, he came upon the people at a wake, watching over one of their kin, apparently dead. Agpad did not believe that the person was dead, and convinced the people that they should first try to revive the “dead” person. Agpad came up with herbal concoctions that they force-fed or otherwise ingested into the person.

The person was revived, and lived a long life.

Perhaps some other person could have noticed that the person being mourned was not yet dead and could be revived, and perhaps that person could have administered a remedy to make it happen. A medical professional most certainly would have been able to, and in the process would have gained the enduring appreciation, and friendship, of the people of Betwagan.

Serendipity however put Injun Joe in the place where he could help, and it was upon him that the people of Betwagan bestowed their generous friendship.

Since then, our extended family in Sagada became the close friends of several large families in Betwagan. Our names, both the indigenous ones and Christian baptismal names, became the names of our friends in Betwagan. Nay, they are more than friends, but brothers, sisters, family.

They come in numbers to join us in our celebrations, or to help us in our hardships. Whenever we visit their place, they treat us like royalty, so that we often are reduced to embarrassed gratitude. Whenever they visit us, they bring with them the usual token gifts of rice, and the ever-present basi or sugarcane wine.

Such relations have endured for several generations already, and we hope that it will continue forever, so long as our lines endure. We hope that eventually one of the descendants of Agpad marry into the families in Betwagan, and so seal a relationship he started by being a healer.


Recently, a researcher from the University of Asia and the Pacific contacted this keyboard puncher through the Internet to get his views on various issues about indigenous peoples. She got wind of my spirited musings when she came across the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan (ADSDPP)of the indigenous peoples of Bakun, Benguet. This writer happened to facilitate the formulation of the Bakun ADSDPP, and also edited the final output, which included the history of the place, an analysis of their situation at the time of the ADSDPP preparation (2004), and what the people foresaw to be the right way to manage their domain.

The Certificate of Ancestral Domain title (CADT) of Bakun was the first CADT issued in the Philippines. It was issued in the name of the Kankanaey-Bago tribe of Bakun, Benguet.

Pasrticularly intriguing to the researcher was the question on the identity of the Bago.

She notes the contention that ‘the Bago are actually “bagong tao,”’ and says that Prof. Nestor de Castro (U.P. Anthropology) said they aren’t really indigenous. (Prof. de Castro denies doing so. Please see comments on this post.)

This observation that the Bago are not indigenous is held by many, but this writer disagrees with the contention.

Indigenous peoples in the Philippines are precisely given that label now in recognition of the reality that in the long years of colonization by the Spaniards, they have become historically differentiated from the rest of the present Filipino people. That is, they have retained to a large extent the pre-colonial social, cultural and political systems while other inhabitants of these islands adopted the colonial influences of Spain. For many of these indigenous peoples, the distinction is rather pronounced, more so because the other Filipinos, mostly the lowland inhabitants, underlined the differentiation through various forms of discrimination.

The people of the Cordilleras are an example of the stark differentiation. The discrimination was not a one-way street, for the indigenous peoples themselves did not look kindly upon the non-indigenous. The differentiation is accepted by both sides, more so when the communities concerned are far apart and thus the differences are more pronounced. It thus was easier for those people high in the mountains of the Cordilleras to admit the differences, and readily acquiesce to a classification as indigenous peoples, or in older times, as “cultural communities”.

But such is not the case for their brethren in the foothills of the Cordilleras, particularly those near the provincial boundaries that tended to superimpose provincial identities to the people.

With the boundaries established in colonial and post-colonial times, identities of people tended to be associated with labels imposed by the colonial masters and government, as well as the generalistic classifications of academics.

Thus were born the Kankanaey, a term that is used to describe an ethnolinguistic group, or a group of communities that spoke a common language. The term has long been confused to mean a people, or a tribe, though this should not be the case. However, through long years of use, the term has acquired that meaning. Even official government classifications lists the Kankanaey as a ‘tribe.’ However, when we refer to a people as Kankanaey, we are merely implying that they speak a language labeled Kankanaey. The label was perhaps not meant to describe a people in the beginning, but since the term was applied by supposed experts in government and the academe, it became commonly used, and acquired its “tribal” or “people” meanings.

The boundaries drawn in Spanish and Americal colonial times and maintained by the post-colonial governments were however arbitrarily drawn, and did not reflect the classifications and differentiation of indigenous people from the non-indigenous population. Thus Kankanaey-speaking people were included in Benguet, Mountain Province, and the Ilocos provinces.

Those in the Cordilleras were identified as Igorots, an identity that they eventually came to proudly champion, even though the term had its derogatory meanings. The Kankanaey speaking population of the Cordillera foothills, but were included in the Ilocos political subdivisions, were at a loss, for they were not Ilocanos. At the same time, their identity as Kankanaey-speaking people was somehow subverted by their being politically divorced from the other Kankanaeys.

The discrimination against Igorots in the lowland provinces perhaps made them deny their affinity with the ‘Igorots’ or Kanakanaeys. This situation of belonging neither to the Kankanaey ethnolinguistic group or the Ilocano speakers gave rise to the term Bago. The Ilocanos referred to them as such, and so did their erstwhile brethren in the Cordilleras.

From the point of view of Igorots, the Bagos are those Kankanaeys in the lowlands, not really identifying them as distinct and separate people, but distinguishing them merely for the accident of being on the wrong side of a boundary line.

What confuses the issue even more is that the term “Bago” has been used to refer to migrants to the Bago communities, even if these migrants were originally known to be Igorots. Further, the term has been used to refer to other indigenous communities in the foothills of the Cordillera, not only to Kankanaey-speaking people, but also Isnegs, Kalinga, Ifugao, Tingguian, Ibaloi, or of mixed ancestry.

Through time, the term became commonly used, and the people the term referred to came to accept it as their identity.

The Bago as used in Bakun is a peculiarity in itself. The Bago come from barangay Bagu in that municipality, so called because they were nearer to the Ilocos than to the other villages in Bakun. (in fact up to now the village accessible only by passing through the lowlands.) so they were more identified with the “Bago” and their barangay named so.

With this background, the people referred to as Bago are indigenous people, in the sense that they indeed have retained much of the pre-colonial systems, language included. They are also known to practice cultures very similar to the other Kankanaey-speaking people higher in the Cordillera mountains.

However, this spirited thinker argues that the term Bago should not be used as the equivalent of Kankanaey (an appropriate term for an ethnolinguistic group). The Bagos are also Kankanaey-speaking, and thus should be included in that ethno-linguistic group.

The question of their identification of themselves as Bago should, on the other hand, not be questioned. After all, self-ascription and ascription by others is the accepted measure of identity as a people. If the Igorots and Ilocanos continue to refer them as Bagos, and they themselves ascribe to that name, then that identity is properly theirs.

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