Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Chronology for Igorots in the Philippines

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Igorots in the Philippines, 2004, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Date(s) Item
Feb 1990 Peoples in Cordillera, an upland mountain region in the northern Philippines, have rejected the act for the creation of an autonomous region. The Philippine Congress had passed the act for an autonomous Cordillera on the basis of the constitutional mandate to create autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and Cordillera. The authorities state that the rationale is to promote economic development in the regions. However, according to initial results of a plebiscite held on January 30 in the Cordillera region, the "no" votes outnumbered "yes" by a ratio of more than three to one across the region. The Cordillera encompass Benguet, the mountain province, Abra, Kalinga-apayao, Ifugao, and Bagui city. The act mandates the creation of an autonomous government to be headed by a Regional Governor. It creates a Regional Assembly that will enact laws of regional application and a regional judiciary composed of a supreme court and lower courts. The act also directs the proposed autonomous government in the Cordillera to exercise governmental functions, including the raising of taxes, but excluding defense, foreign affairs and monetary functions. However, the Constitution requires that the act has to be ratified by the people in a plebiscite.
Jul 1991 The United States returned the Camp John Hay military recreational facility to the Philippines. The Philippine tourist authority has taken charge of the camp. Some Filipinos wept openly, fearing the little slice of America they had known since the advent of US colonial rule at the turn of the century would be gone forever. After the flag ceremony, Igorot tribesmen held a thanksgiving ritual for the return of the 535-acre facility they owned long before the Americans arrived. They danced, speared five squealing pigs and roasted them for a day-long feast.
Apr 1992 Yasmin Arquiza of the Inter Press Service (04/14/92) reports about how the scenic environment of the Cordillera highlands has been scarred by progress. Home of the centuries-old rice terraces carved on the slopes of these northern highlands by the Igorot tribe, the Cordilleras have changed over time from scenic wonder to scarred land. Landslides and burned patches of forests look like wounds on the steep mountainsides. Government officials blame earthquakes and typhoons for the ravages suffered by these slopes, but residents assert that the mining industry and the cash crop economy share much of the blame. For centuries, tribal peoples of the Cordillera survived on upland agriculture and small-scale mining as their subsistence economy was fully integrated into their culture. During the early 1900s, US colonizers introduced corporate mining and issued land titles that broke the system of communal ownership of resources practiced by the tribes, who lost their ancestral domain. In ecologically sensitive Cordillera areas, environmental problems are largely caused not by big mining concerns, but by the proliferation of vegetable farming as the main livelihood of tribal peoples in the area. Environmentalists indicate that this would not be a problem if the farms did not use dense woodlands serving as vital watersheds and harboring unique wildlife. This pattern persists despite the environmental costs because of continuing support from the government's highland agricultural development program. Its projects include roads, seed storage plants, loans to cooperatives and the supply of inputs like fertilizer. The Cordillera Resource Center (CRC), an NGO, reports an increasing trend of clearcutting of forests for farming. Alfredo Pedong, an officer of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) based in the area says conservation efforts here have failed due to lack of personnel and finances. Patronage politics also weakens enforcement of forestry laws. The communist insurgency, which has a strong base in Cordillera, has also taken its toll on the environment. DENR officers state that the military burns down ambush sites and the periphery of rebel camps to prevent the guerrillas from utilizing them. The military is viewed to be on the offensive in a last-ditch effort to make good on President Aquino's pledge to break the back of Southeast Asia's last insurgency conflict by the time she leaves office in mid-1992. Sagada, a nearby town, became known as a stronghold of the communist NPA, especially after 1987 when it hosted a big meeting of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the coalition of underground leftwing organizations. Last year, the anti-insurgency drive was focused on Kalinga-Apayao province, particularly in the Marag valley which the military suspects to be a major NPA base. The army had conducted repeated air and ground attacks there, with devastating effects on the minority "Isneg" and "Aggay" tribal groups. The Movement for Justice and Peace, a human rights organization with affiliates in the region, has reported that some 7,000 troops are being deployed in the Kalinga-Apayao and Mountain Provinces. Robert Reid of the Associated Press (04/28/92) argues that if the terraces are to survive, they must be carefully maintained and their walls shored up against erosion. That may not happen much longer because young members of the mountain tribes are moving to cities or going abroad for a more comfortable life. Officials believe the way to protect the terraces and the culture is to provide economic incentives that will keep the young at home. Most of the region's roads are unpaved, electric power is inadequate and educational opportunities are limited. Mountain farmers can grow one crop of rice a year, compared with three in the lowlands. Geraldo Isada of the Philippine Tourism Authority argues that, "We have to provide incentives for people to continue upland farming". Local guides supplement their income by selling marijuana to tourists, mostly young backpackers. Missionaries have worked in the area for generations and many Igorots are nominally Christian. But Christianity coexists with pagan beliefs, including a pantheon of gods whose favor is invoked in complex rituals practiced by the mombakis, or priests. Tribal culture is rapidly vanishing. Now most of the 500,000 Igorots live in tin shacks and wear Western dress, except for old men in loincloths and feathered caps who earn money posing for tourists. "We live both in our own culture and in the modern ways, but the effect of the culture is less on the lives of our children" said George Pepe, a mombaki and Roman Catholic who belongs to the Knights of Columbus.
Jul 1993 Loreta San Augustin, the curator of the Cordillera museum states that "Igorots take the American Indian path to extinction. The unwanted beggars in the streets of Baguio are Igorots, marginalized descendants of fierce headhunters who centuries ago carved mammoth staircases on the steep slopes of their mountain abodes, creating life-sustaining farms where there were none. The Igorot culture is deteriorating. Nobody wants to be called an Igorot anymore" (AFP, 07/18/93). The million-strong population is not in decline, but almost everything else about them is, in their headlong embrace of the outside world. Unlike the Aztecs, the Mayas and other indigenous peoples of the New World, the white man's saber and cross were held at bay for 300 years from the semi-temperate Cordillera mountain chain bisecting the main Luzon island. The Isnegs, Kalingas, Bontocs, Ibalois, Kakana-eys and Ifugaos, along with other lesser ethno-linguistic groups that make up the Igorot nation, sometimes go back to the old ways to settle scores. The monetary economy now obliges parents to send their children to school and few come back to tend the farm. The Cordillera forests are nearly gone, rivers which watered the terraces are drying up. However, the defense of the land still manages to shake up the group. Eloquent chieftain Macli-ing Dulag -- murdered by soldiers in 1984 -- inspired the Kalingas to rise in the late 1970s to block a hydroelectric project on the Chico River, which would have put their villages under water. Manila later abandoned the project, but the peaceful resistance reawakened the mountain peoples' warrior spirit, causing many of them to join the communist guerrillas.
Nov 1994 The Tuntex group of Taiwan has pulled out of a project to redevelop a 15 ha portion of the Camp John Hay facility into an upmarket tourist destination. Local opposition forced the Philippine authorities to adopt a scaled-down plan, an official said (AFP, 11/11/94). Local Igorot families want the entire 180 ha site turned over to them, claiming it was unlawfully seized from their ancestors by the American colonial government almost a century ago. Other local residents also oppose the cutting of trees that development of the facility would entail.
Mar 1995 The Philippine government has created the Ifugao Terraces Commission to try to ensure that development does not destroy the age-old rice terraces, regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the world. 25,000 people visited the site in 1994.
Mar 16, 1995 The Philippines government states that the New People's Army (NPA) still utilizes the Cordillera mountain range as a base area. The NPA's political arm, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), has resumed peace talks with the government. The communist movement has been under severe stress since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Upon taking power, Fidel Ramos has actively attempted to secure a political settlement with the country's three main insurgent groups, the communists, the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao and those associated with the Reform the Armed Services Movement. A government amnesty coupled with the arrest of key figures has weakened the NPA. Authorities estimate that the there are only about 6000 NPA members, of which only 70 are armed. This is down from a figure of more than 25,000 in 1987. There have been few instances reported in Cordillera in recent years (Bangkok Post, 03/16/95).
Apr 1995 The influence of Western culture, especially through the spread of satellite television in the Cordillera region, is threatening age-old Igorot traditions. The Mayor of Sagada, a small village of 10,000 people some 5000 feet up in the Central Cordilleras, says that Western influences have led to cultural conflicts for the residents. Marijuana was introduced in the region in the late 1970s and because of its high returns it has become a cash crop. Also, tourism is drawing more and more people into the town every year (Reuters, 04/09/95).
Jul 1995 The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) states that the Philippine tourism industry recorded a positive performance in many regions during the first quarter of 1995. While Mindanao accounted for the highest growth -- an increase of 71% from the same period last year -- the Cordilleras came in second, earning a 52% growth in tourism (Xinhua News Agency 07/05/95).
Jul 29, 1995 The Ibaloi tribe, one of the two indigenous Igorot tribes in Benguet province, has stated its opposition to plans to build a dam on what it considers as ancestral land. The dam project proposed by the state-owned National Power Corporation is reportedly required in order to provide power and irrigation for 87,000 hectares of rice-growing land on the main island of Luzon. However, Benguet's Governor, Raul Molintas, argues that the dam might submerge the seat of the Ibaloi culture in the towns of Bokod, Kabayan, and Dalupirip (Reuters, 07/29/95).
Sep 1995 The International Labour Organization announced that any program intended to help the indigenous people of the Philippines must address the issue of the on-going threat of these communities losing their land. In response, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization approved a $295,000 grant to help indigenous people claim their ancestral lands. (Inter Press Service, September 13)
Dec 12, 1995 UNESCO added the Cordillera steep rice terraces to its list of the world's top natural or cultural heritage sites. (Christian Science Monitor)
Jan 12, 1996 The Asian Development Bank granted the Filipino government a $19 million loan for the Cordillera Highland Agriculture and Resource Management Project. (Japan Economic Newswire)
Feb 1996 An Australian firm requested permission from the Filipino government to begin mining in the Cordillera mountains. The gold in these mountains is considered by indigenous people to be owned by their god and traditionally is shared sparingly among the people within the region, rather than being mined for profit. (InterPress Service, February 19)
Jun 5, 1996 President Ramos ordered a crackdown on drugs in the Philippines, targeting syndicates and marijuana plantations, especially those in the Cordillera mountains. (Xinhua News Agency)
Feb 1997 The US State Department's annual report notes that indigenous people of the Philippines have "minimal" opportunity to "participate meaningfully in decisions affecting their lands, cultures, traditions, and the allocation of natural resources."
Jun 4, 1997 The Filipino Trade and Industry Secretary reported that investment in infrastructure in the rural parts of the country have turned the less developed parts of the country, including the Cordillera Autonomous Region and throughout Luzon, into attractive areas for investment. (Asia Pulse)
Jul 22, 1997 President Ramos released funds for a $1.5 million infrastructure program in the Cordilleras. The projects would focus on improving the region's transportation system. (Asia Pulse, July 10, July 29)
Oct 1997 Filipino President Ramos signed into law the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). IPRA includes conditions that provide local people with the right to negotiate with mining interests working on their ancestral land. International companies, as well as those run by Filipinos, criticized the vague language of the bill. (Mining Journal, November 28)
Nov 1, 1997 The Asian Development Bank promised to increase contributions to some projects in the Philippines, including a resource management program in the Cordillera. (Philippine Business Report)
Jan 1998 A group of lawyers announced that it would challenge the constitutionality of Republic Act 8438, which would create the Cordillera Autonomous Region. A plebiscite is scheduled for the measure in early March. (Business World, January 14)
Mar 1998 Five months after the IPRA was signed into law, no agency has been set up to implement its provisions. (Mining Journal, March 20)
Mar 9, 1998 The organic act, which included a provision for Cordillera autonomy, was defeated in a plebiscite. (AAP Newsfeed, March 10)
May 1998 Reports indicate that many workers in the Cordillera region are paid below the minimum wage. (Business World, May 8)
May 7, 1998 The Development Bank of the Philippines granted $6 million to four industrial associations in Baguio City and Benguet. (Business World, May 7)
May 14, 1998 A group of Cordillera pro-mining advocates criticized the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines for objecting to the Mining Act of 1995 intended to curb the activity of foreign actors in the region. The mining advocates pointed out that the church "kept raising environment issues, as if these mines are not employing thousands of people." (Business World, May 14)
Jun 5, 1998 Although no institutions for implementing IPRA have yet been developed, a Chamber of Mines official said that conflict between indigenous peoples and companies (and not just mining companies) are already on the rise as a result of the new law. (Business World)
Jun 29, 1998 A survey of political leaders in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) revealed that they favor the current structure to one which would provide greater autonomy for the region. (Business World)
Jul 9, 1998 The Filipino government budgeted $25 million for a six-year agricultural modernization program in the Cordillera region, aimed at increasing the output of farming in that region. (Asia Pulse)
Aug 3, 1998 A report indicates that the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), the Ilocos Region, and the Central Luzon region had the greatest recent reduction in incidences of poverty in the Philippines. (Asia Pulse)
Sep 29, 1998 A former Supreme Court justice asked the high court to declare the IPRA unconstitutional, claiming that it restricted the public use of too much of the country's land. The former justice pointed out that such groups as the Kalingas, Ibaloys, and Yapayos in the CAR had already ancestral laid claims to 2.5 million hectares. (Emerging Markets Datafile, Business Daily)
Nov 11, 1998 Over a hundred tribal groups in the Philippines asked the Supreme Court to grant to them lands to which they have rights under ancestral domain. The request was made in response to a request from a former Supreme Court judge that the court find the IPRA unconstitutional. (Business Week)
Nov 22, 1998 The Philippines government announced that it would dispatch 300 mobile tutors to remote areas of the country, including the CAR, to work with those who are 15 years old or older and are out of school. (Xinhua)
Jan 28, 1999 Mining interests in the Philippines agreed to adopt a code of conduct that takes into consideration environmental concerns. (Business World)
Apr 24, 1999 Cordillera Day celebrations revealed the degree of divisions within the region, as separate (and distant) celebrations had to be held to avoid clashes between groups with different political leanings. These divisions help explain why a "yes" vote on autonomy is so difficult to achieve. (Business World, April 27)
May 11, 1999 Representatives of the tribes of northern Philippines urged public and private Japanese interests to stop financing the construction of a major dam in northern Luzon. The tribes are concerned that the dam will disturb mines in the region and will cause flooding and environmental degradation. (Japan Economic Newswire)
Jul 24, 1999 Philippine president Joseph Estrada (elected in May 1997) stated that he would like to repeal the law that opened the Philippines to foreign mining companies. (AFP)

Search Refworld