Philouise’s Weblog

Archive for the ‘Igorot culture’ Category


(published in Cordillera Today – Feb 9, 2014)


“Accidents, and particularly street and highway accidents, do not happen – they are caused” said Ernest Greenwood. Similarly, we remember familiar quotes and songs about traveling and exploring the new and fascinating, the joy and dangers, flying, sailing and driving, the beginning and the end of the journey before we come back and rest down at our familiar beds and eat at our family tables.


Friday morning a Florida bus rolled down the road between Banaue and Bontoc to the bottom of the ravine resulting to 15 death and 32 injured persons.  This brought about numerous comments ranging from condolences to asking God’s grace for the survivors and thanks for sparing them. At the same we get criticisms that the bus company was negligent, the driver reckless coupled with the treacherous, poorly maintained mountain roads produced such an accident.  Such news is alarming and dampens the adventurous spirit that continues to plan for summer break travels. But at the same time such incidents sometimes become wake up calls for bus companies and road maintenance, even after the fact. But we should not learn safety because of accidents. How ideal it is if due diligence have been observed before such accidents because danger knows no vacation. Nothing can repay the pain of the loved ones left by those who died in accidents for they did not have time to hug, kiss or say goodbye.


We were based in Bontoc from 1989 to 1994 when we had the BSBT Foundation, Inc. that conducted outreaches to the municipalities of Kalinga, Benguet, Ifugao and the Mountain Provinces. Such outreaches were short courses in typewriting, computer, electronics, financial management, cooperative management, community development organizing, herbal gardens and other relevant courses needed by the communities.  This was also the time that I drove the rough, long and winding roads, when there were not many lady drivers. Some drivers, when they see my red and white jeep, they gave me extra road courtesy. At times when my jeep gets a flat tire or a loose bolt, I leave it along the road and someone will bring it home for me – a student, a staff or other drivers.  These experiences exposed me to the treacherous roads which were carved out of the mountains as a result of the indigenous labor and ingenuity of technical people. It continues to amaze me how such roads were constructed, more amazed at how drivers and motor vehicles maneuver those roads.


One summer we conducted an outreach in Barlig and after the graduation we packed up and the next morning we travelled from Barlig to Bontoc in an overflowing public jeep with people and baggage in and out of the transport. When we were just passing the saddle from Talubin climbing up the road I was overcome with a heavy dark feeling and I closed my eyes and said “God help us.”  As soon as I said it, someone was banging the back of the jeep yelling at the driver to stop because someone fell off the jeep. The driver stopped and we saw that we were just few inches at the edge of the ravine. The man who fell came and said that he was clinging to the back of the jeep and then a black object covered him and he cannot see, he tried to remove it in his face and that was when he fell because he removed his hands from clinging.  We had a short stop trying to settle nerves because the driver was also shaken that he was about to drive straight to the ravine.  After all the sharing we finally got back on the jeep and arrived safely to our destination.


“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it” said Cesare Pavese. For life is not in our hands it is in God’s hand, he gives and takes away. It is of innocent or arrogant perspective when we think we control our lives, because we do not. It is this reality that makes us seek the LORD and creator for eternity and meaning of the present.





Memories of Benguet: How I saw it two decades ago


I was born in Baguio and my first awareness that Baguio is not Benguet was in high school when I was helping my mother in her stall at Hanger Market because most of our neighbors in the market were from Benguet speaking Ibaloi and Kankana-ey. Every weekend I would be in the market if  we do not have school activity in UB Science High. I like going there because my mother will give extra money whenever we go and help. This awareness was heightened because one of our closest friends is Florita, a descendant of Suello of Tuba and Asin, and when they have a “canao” we were invited.

After the EDSA revolution and we organized the Association of Young Igorot Professionals (AYIP) our first President was Ruben L Tinda-an of Buguias, Benguet. Precisely he was elected because of his idealism, his clear understanding of the vision and mission of AYIP and he was a Benguet. In the Constitution the board was to be composed of two representatives from each of the provinces of the Cordilleras, highlighting the unity in diversity of the tribes. Being around these Benguet people was a learning experience on their ways, beliefs and practices. By 1987, AYIP organized a farmer’s seminar in Benguet State University and practitioners and teachers met to address concerns of the Mountain Trail vegetable terraces and the diminishing salad bowl of Trinidad.


 By 1990,  UGBO was also formed with then Baboo Mondonedo, Manny Onalan, Nestor Caoili and the past Fiscal Felix Cabading, and we were commissioned by Philippine Daily Inquirer to write a series on the Cordillera as a background on the Cordillera Autonomy Act. It included a secondary research on the history and lifestyle of the various tribes of the Cordilleras that afforded me to read deeper in the similarities and diversities of the tribes. Our next project then was to send rice and support to a small village Dananao/ Chananaw where Manny came  from.  Then we went around Benguet assessing the invasion of the potato farms overtaking the mossy forest in Ballay, Kabayan  and Cada between Mankayan and Sinto.


One time we went to Mt Pulag and passing a lake we saw various black big hoses tapped on it’s side where the farmers source their water for their gardens. Then further we reached Lake Tabeyo, at that time we were told that the farmers were not even sure how deep the lake was because they cannot see the bottom. I threw a long stick and it slid deep until I cannot see it. The lake was mystical as it was in the middle of the mossy forest and a thick under bush,  searching deep we  cannot see the bottom as leaves that fell into the lake for ages have rendered it opaque and the stillness of the water also gives an eerie feeling that spirits inhabit the place. Now, with the account of those who went there, the lake is no longer what it was. I read an article which said that portions of Lake Tabeyo have been filled with soil bulldozed when they made the road traversing the village.

In 1991, Fiscal Cabading picked us from Bontoc and we passed by Cada traversed down to Mankayan passing freshly burned mossy mountains giving way to potato forest. At that time we passed a clearing with a grass hut where children were running around bare, it was like a flashback of some olden time and place. I felt that the land was crying, raped from its cover, exposing its secrets. I felt anger on what I perceive is a meaningless abuse of the forest and could not comprehend how people would exchange their natural perfect habitat to an elusive progress in the guise of development.

AYIP did doing numerous medical missions in Benguet as far down to Ansagan, Pimingan, Pula,  San Manuel and other sitios of Tuba, Bakun, Buguias and Kibungan. However, one afternoon, out of the ordinary the group trekked to Bingaongao caves of Ambongdolan, Tublay.  Honestly, I do not remember how we got there for we were guided by Richard Bawingan and  Ruben Tinda-an caring less of the way, but making sure we have a foothold and  warding away the tall grass slapping our faces. We camped under the trees, sky and stars for the night after trying to persuade the mini crabs and the mudfish to swim towards us for our dinner. The next day was exploring the cave where we saw coffee beans on the floor processed by the civet cat. Which is now commercialized into one of the most expensive coffee, but come to think of it, how much coffee beans  can you gather when there is only a few existing civet cats around. By now, I presume this is no longer the picture you get when you reach Bingaongao.

            One of the most daring medical mission we had was going down to the Carino house in Ansagan using the pick-up of then Mayor Akia of Tuba. AYIP and volunteer doctors were loaded in and out of the pick-up traversing the river 21 times to conduct a medical mission. The village folks requested for circumcision for their boys and so that night the doctors set up a table to do just that. We saw some lining up were not boys they were young adults, but because they never had regular medical care it was only then that they had an opportunity to have one. This was also elicited  one funny story because after the medical mission,  one of the AYIP ladies got married and the joke was that she saw too many and wanted one.

It rained that night, and so a day after when we returned home the river was swollen and they had to tie a big rope across the river so we could cross. The men did well but when we were to cross, one of our doctors Dr. Minda who was then guided by Richard almost got carried away by the strong current. The rest of the ladies where then piggy backed on Mario, the staff of Mayor Akia as we crossed the river, hugging him so tightly fearing for life being snatched ahead its time. After crossing the river and waiting for the others to cross we were oriented on gold panning by those doing mining at the river banks. I remember so well, as I turned and saw the red pick-up swim the river and even today, that river crossing remains vivid as if it was only last month.  There are other stories that I will tell my grandchildren about how we explored Benguet by doing medical missions, career guidance, Adult education and  community service.

It is indeed a privilege to have seen Benguet before it gets completely changed by environmental abuse and mega projects.








Encounters with the Igorot Diaspora in Singapore


            Christmas approaches with weddings, reunions and church celebrations. By December 23, my nephew Osmen Balokey Jr. and wife Lingwan will celebrate their wedded life the Besao tradition. The family now resides in Singapore for the past couple of years and decided to come home to celebrate Christmas and have a church blessing of their civil marriage. I have known JayR as he is commonly known when I frequented Besao during my stint in the Mountain Province from 1989 to 1995 and he was one time the Sangguniang Secretary. This time we will be going home to Besao for their wedding.


My first  travel overseas was when I went with my dad  to the  Asian Convention of the  Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship (FGBMFI)  in Singapore in 1990.  This trip happened after we relocated to Bontoc, Mountain Province while  managing the community BSBT Foundation technical vocational school and leading the community education training of Upland Development Institute. In that first trip to Singapore, we were with the Philippine delegation and we met others from the different countries in Asia. The convention included a tour and we were able to visit Sentosa where we watched the dancing musical fountain, the dolphins and experience the man-made tropical forest. The aviary and safari was also fascinating to me at that time. (Later, it paled after I saw India, Indonesia and Australia)


After the convention we visited Fr. Alexander Paatan, who was then the rector of  St Hilda’s Anglican Church in Katong Area. This was a church founded in 1934 and frequented by those living around the area which were mostly of Chinese descent. The church is described as sacramental, evangelical and charismatic church. We attended the English service celebrated by Fr. Paatan who hails from Sagada, Mountain Province. He also brought us to the St Andrew’s Cathedral, which is a landmark being the Cathedral of the Anglican Church in Singapore and a mother church of more than 26 churches and more than 55 congregations. It was established in 1856 and they celebrated their 150th year in 2006. It was in St Andrew’s Cathedral that we met more Igorots from the different provinces of the Cordillera who were serving in the business establishments as well as domestic helpers. They also brought us to the shopping mall where more Igorots where milling around.  Some of them have been in Singapore for ages.


While based in Nepal as a Christian Missionary and development worker from 1996 to 2000, Singapore was my frequent stop over. It was at this time that I had more chance to see the Igorots. They were not organized but on Sundays, most would converge in St Andrew’s Cathedral where some would attend the sacramental service in the morning where the Holy Communion or Eucharist is part of the service. Some of them will attend the afternoon Charismatic service, and usually they continue the fellowship after the service, sometimes to welcome new comers of visiting fellow Igorots. In one of my stops, I attended a Wednesday evening prayer meeting and I was glad to meet one Filipino. And in the later years, I met some nurses, doctors, teachers, other professionals and skilled workers who are now working in Singapore. During those fellowships after service, most discussions were of the life back home, their children who are studying or refuse to study, the parents who are ailing and preparing for the next life. At times, they would pass the hat around for “abuloy” for a relative who died. Usually, they share a meal after service by going to a restaurant or a potluck which they share in the church grounds, I was blessed because they shared their meal to all, me included.

It is evident that the church becomes a converging place for Igorot Diaspora, unfortunately the church affiliations and doctrines, which are not necessarily Biblically based becomes the points of bitter discussions and disagreements contrary to what our LORD desires towards a unity of all peoples. This is reflected in our Cordillera communities today, that used to have one or two churches but in this generation,  churches are more than the clans affiliations in the community. We witness a breakdown in family relations and community unity because of this. But though it is so, we also witness a stronger bonding because of the Igorot identity. When Igorot Diaspora call based on the ethnic lineage, a lot will come together for a feast, support a cause for the suffering or victims of calamities. The Filipino is a strong people, more so , the Igorots. As the social media is maximized for this purpose as it is evident in the Igorot Diaspora of Singapore coming together because of Ethnic affiliations. (Dec 15, 2013)



Head hunting takes several definitions like a literal act of beheading before or after killing a person, moreover, a custom of cutting and preserving the head of enemies as a trophy by the killer. Head hunting is also a slang to mean an attempt of removing power and influence of political opponents.


However, in the management context, head hunting is a recruitment process of searching for the head or executives of corporation and organizations.  There are several recruitment outfits calling themselves “Head Hunter” “head hunting” or similar words.  This term also found its way into the music world as “Head hunter” is the title of an album of Herbie Hancock released by Columbia Records last October 13, 1973.


Head hunting was practiced in various countries as well as in ancient times most specially to display prowess of heroic fighters as well as martial arts combats. European headhunters were common among the Celts, West Germanic tribes, the Vikings, Scythians. The tribes of Melanesia, Papua New Guinea, Wa tribes of Burma China border, Borneo, Indonesia and other islands of South East Asia. Other Asians like the Japanese, China, and Taiwan have practiced head hunting and sometimes as raids. The Nagas of India and Burma as well as other tribes of India have practiced head hunting.

During the World War Two as well as in the Vietnam War, there were records that the heads of opponents were kept as “skull trophies” by the soldiers.


In the Cordillera Region of Northern Philippines, the men were described as warrior by early writers including Albert Henry Jenks in his book “the Bontok Igorots” published in 1905 and gave a vivid description of battles they undertook “Men go to war armed with a wooden shield, a steel battle ax and one to three steel or wooden spear. It is a man’s agility and skill in keeping his shield between himself and his enemy that preserves his life. Their battles are full of quick and incessant springing motion. There are sudden rushes and retreats even sneaking to cut off the enemy.   These battles lasted about 30- minutes to an hour and often ceases after the taking of a single head by either side. But there were cases where fights last for half a day and a dozen or more heads taken. At times, rocks were thrown and sometimes hit and knock down enemies and there he loses his head if he was not assisted by friends. “


These battle skills were recorded when the Igorots fought against the Japanese. General Douglas Mac Arthur in his communiqué   included “Hampered by the dense undergrowth and lost in the confusing maze of bamboo thickets, vines and creepers, the tankers would have been impotent had it not been for the aid of the Igorot troops of the 2nd Battalion, 11th infantry.  Hoisted to the top of the tanks where they were exposed to enemy fire The Igorots chopped away the entangling foliage with their bolos and served as eyes for the American tank crew, firing with their pistols while guiding the drivers.


“When the attack was over,” said the General, “the remnants of the tanks and of the Igorots were still there, but the 20th Japanese Infantry Regiment was completely annihilated.

“Many desperate acts of courage and heroism have fallen under my observation on many fields of battle in many parts of the world. I have seen forlorn hopes become realities. I have seen last-ditch stands and innumerable acts of personal heroism that defy description. But for sheer breathtaking and heart stopping desperation, I have never known the equal of those Igorots riding the tanks. Gentlemen, when you tell the story stand in tribute to those gallant Igorots.”

My husband relates a story that happened in the 1950s as kids when; he and his brother Alex were spending their vacation in Alab. One night there was a commotion in the village because the men arrived from their head hunting. Some of the kids were afraid, but some of them found it as festivities for a bountiful harvest.  They were told that the hunters took the jaws for their gong handles. When my husband asked his grand pa what happened to the other parts of the head, he was told that they were buried beneath the slabs of stones in the dap-ay. This brought chills and nightmares to some of the young kids sleeping in the dap-ay. But these were easily forgotten as they frolicked under the sun and bath in the rivers.

In the present day, head hunting may take some other form, though not as brutally killing the person, but making them “inutil” unable to function or stripping opportunities for opponents  to exercise their responsibilities. This can take forms of boycotting people in authority. It could mean walking out of a hearing or a dialogue to incapacitate those who need to the consultation towards a resolution of an issue or a problem.  Head hunters are in the social media with their irresponsible attack on people in authority without the facts or simply hunting them down blaming opponents with every problem that the community experiences.  There are other strategies that have been developed in warfare including modern day head hunting.


Historical Baguio: tribes and migrants


It was like a giant finally waking up from a century of sleep to find out that he no longer recognize the place he finds himself. The people of Baguio and Benguet suddenly find themselves stripped of a public cultural historical site after National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) awarded an ancestral land which included Casa Vallejo in Baguio, to the heirs of Cosen Piraso. Reactions were varied including petitions, court case, congressional inquiry,  mass protest and a questionable issuance issue from the Natural Resources development Corporation, administrator of the property which happens to be also be a government agency. These and more led to a January 14 issuance of an NCIP pronouncement of a “status quo to prevent further exacerbate the present situation”.


Despite the pronouncement the comments and reactions continue, like this one, because people feel that not all views have been considered in the NCIP awarding.  Local government and people are clamoring to declare Casa Vallejo as a historical site so that history is preserved for the future. A few decades ago, we had the “three witches” prime movers in the preservation of historical sites and would do all sorts of advocacies to be heard. Today, we have all sorts of people from the school children to the senior citizens, from the Baguio born to the Baguio migrant, joining in clamoring for preserving the Baguio they want. It just shows how much our beloved city has deteriorated in these recent past and times.


Winston Churchill the leader said “the farther backward you look, the farther forward you are likely to see.” Baguio is a city trying to retain her historical identity while struggling to become a world class education and trade center as well as tourist and convention destination. It is a struggle of protecting her pine trees and flowers as against concrete walls and malls. It is a fight between keeping its hills, creeks and rock formations against the housing projects which will later be owned by people not from Baguio and left unoccupied for a greater part of the year. It is a city trying to address its worsening garbage and traffic problems while encouraging business establishments while at the same time we see more business establishments violating tax codes, licensing and zoning regulations. In fact, it may even be a battle between the rich who are getting richer and poor becoming poorer. Today, we find vagrants/homeless sleeping doing their toilets and scavenging in Burnham park, a sight never seen two decades ago. Similarly, we see the existence of at least ten condominiums and more subdivisions built for the affluent.


However, in the Casa Vallejo fiasco some Cordillerans use it to air their views and commit ethnic slander. In social media, I read someone say “Baguio for the Ibalois and not for the Kankana-ey” so why the Kankana-ey’s how about the more than 50% Pangasinanses and Ilocanos in the city of Baguio or Kafagway as originally called by the Ibalois.  Squatters, illegal settlers were what they call the Cordillerans or Igorots and lowlanders who settled in Baguio. Being born in Baguio, I gain many Ibaloi and Kankana-ey friends and relatives by affinity. It is now a reality that Baguio is a metropolis even as history is retold that the Americans have rebuilt the city before the war and intended it to be a place where people from outside of Kafagway would converge during the summer months. As early as then and even after they built her, they bombed the city during the war and later rebuilt again the city remains a converging area. The 1990 earthquake also changed the landscape of Baguio and would have been a takeover of people who felt they have better rights over the city. Yet, we did not see that happen. The establishment of the Cordillera Region also brought about more ethnic groups congregating in Baguio City and the ethnic struggle among the tribes heightened, while the lowlanders watch and sneer.


Indeed, Baguio remains to be a city inhabited by tribal people and migrants, Indigenous peoples of the Philippines and foreigners. Historically a melting pot and will continue to be so. For Baguio, it is a city loved by many, envied by most and cared by few.

Ug-ogbo: a spirit of volunteerism

Character formation is a universal aspiration of different people in different culture and place.  Yet these universal characters find specific expression in cultures especially among Indigenous peoples. As a member of the Igorot community, our people continue to discuss and model generation age value towards character formation in our present day Igorots and express these generation old practices that must be passed on to the next generation. One of those values is “Ugbo, Ug-ogbo, Ogbo, Og-ubgo” and translated in English as cooperative volunteerism, reciprocal labor exchange, common community undertaking, mutual self-help and similar translations.


What was common in the uplands was  Og-ugbo during planting and harvest time. A group of people with fields would band together and harvest the field of family 1. The field owner usually provides lunch and shows where the field is to be worked on. On the next day the group moves one to family 2 and this goes on until all the fields of those who banded together us harvested. This is just one example and is also done during the planting season, the “dapilan”  or the sugar cane crushed to make sugar, the building of a house in the “ili” and the like.


In the common day life, it is practiced in tune with the current needs and situation. Among the Maengs of Abra, during the sports competition other out of town competitions, the families practice “ur-or” “or-or” where each family gives one chupa or cup of rice for the team as their food contribution to those sent out to compete.  This is also practiced in other activities when food is needed.


But this practice is slowly diminishing as most things are now translated into cash equivalence and labor is being paid. The practice is sometimes limited to close family or clan activities.


In mid 1980s a group of young professionals aged 21 to 30 started an organization called Association of Young Igorot Professionals, Inc. (AYIP) The vision and ideals that these Igorots profess is the plowing back of resources, professional expertise and time towards the betterment of communities. This was the volunteerism that speaks of their expression of volunteerism.


Last September 28, 2013 the Soroptimist International of Baguio organized a barn dance titled “I LOVE YOU THIS BIG” where several groups came to join to render mutual help in raising funds for the beneficiaries. The singing Congressman Nicasio Aliping Jr, Benj Cruz, Millet Juarigue, May Ann Balangue, Eva Marie Fianza, Pete Agoot were those who volunteered to sing with the accompaniment of the PRO Cor Combo.  Groups who came to help raise funds included thee Veterans of foreign Wars Post 124 led by Post commander Willy Totanes and Past Post commander Larry Senato; Provincial Director Angela Gabriel of TESDA; PCI Dyann Bancawayan; BCPO city director Jess Cambay; Pastor Dante Ferrer, the Federation of Women’s Club; the Episcopal Church Women, Soroptimist Pines led by President Elisa Namoca; family and friends came together for self-help. Before the end of the night the Soroptimist International gave fifteen thousand pesos (15,000.00) to Kalipi Hillside Barangay to buy two sewing machine for their livelihood program and another fifteen thousand (15,000.00) to BCPO women and children protection desk for their one way mirror.  The expression of self-help has reached a contemporary scenario where the basic need towards the livelihood program of the Kalipi Hillside Barangay is met through the cooperative effort of several sectors of the community. PSSupt Divina Mencio in her words of gratitude mentioned that the one way mirror has been a long desired need of the multi awarded unit.


In this present day occurrences’, the spirit of ug-ogbo seems so remote to Igorots yet in character transformation seminars this take the name volunteerism, community life and others. In those conferences and workshops of  Igorot International Conferences (IIC) the International Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) Conference; Grand Canao and other international conferences the desire to pass on good values and practices to younger generations  persists. Yet, there are realities that seem to hinder these aspirations. Like what AYIP aspire and the “I love you this Big” activity it is then up to the people of today to anchor these volunteerism initiatives as expressions or even acts of deepening the appreciation of indigenous practices and values. It is fast diminishing because of the lack of knowledge and experience of the generation of Igorots today, thus it is highly encouraged to be taught not only in the dap-ay or ator but also in the sociology classes in the schools in all levels. Similarly, Character transformation should be anchored on culture and religious values.  (Oct 5, 2013)





Last October 18, 2013 the Episcopal Church Women coordinated a Traditional Medicine Medical Mission at the EDNCP Hall where 61 patients and 18 volunteers converged. The irony of it was the traditional medicine medical mission was not the traditional medical mission because the modalities applied, after the history and assessment taking, were Acupuncture, Acupressure, Ventosa, Moxibustion and Reflexology. Those treated came as far as Mountain Province, La Union, Mankayan, Itogon and Baguio. Some call this alternative medicine but that would be a different discussion altogether which I hope to tackle one of these days.

In the turn of the century, I was leading the Upland Development Institute and that was my entry to the world of traditional medicine as a study. We had a project funded by ICCO where our partners organizations trained village folks in traditional Chinese acupuncture and Acupressure as well as the age old Ventosa, herbal medicine and nutrition. We led people in the villages start herbal and sustainable vegetable gardens even before it became a fad.  At that time, we were simply breaking grounds.  We were able to set up barangay health centers with these modalities in various communities like Bagu in Bakun, Magsillay in Pasil, Bekigan in Sadanga, Tiempo in Tubo, Abra and another one in Upland San Gabriel. The community folks choose the people they sent for training because they were the same people who were responsible in setting up the health centers.  At that same time my cousin, the late Constancia Damian, who was then the DSWD-Car point person on the Physically impaired (who we now called the specially abled) were being trained in reflexology, siatsu and other massage techniques. I was exposed to this and ever since has been treated side by side with other modalities. These simply methods are very appropriate for our villages in the Cordillera considering the access to medical care is difficult and rare. This was real to them which I saw when we were doing community development training, we have to climb mountains for hours before we can reach the village like Chananaw, Magsillay, Tulgao, Asingan, Asipulo and Tiempo. We do not find medical centers there because they were found in Bontoc, Tabuk, Bangued and the other centers including Baguio. Medical Missions were rare then and so the community folks resorted to traditional medicine.

To the Igorots, the physical or medical life is intertwined with the Spiritual life thus the traditional doctor is at times an herbalist, seer and a physical therapist (on common day language) they are commonly called men-sip-ok,insup-ok, mumbaki, mambunong and other shaman figures.   The different tribes have intricate rituals in how the healing is conducted and at times ends in a festivity after healing. Some tribes do cleansing ceremonies like the sagawsaw of the Kankanaeys or the Bontok’s mangaswak. However, there are other rituals or fetivities that are observed like the Ikalahan’s laga and padit; the Bontok’s mangmang, mang-manok or chao-es; the Isneg’s Anituwan; and the legleg of the Kankana-eys. There are several other rituals and amulets that the Igorots use in their protection against sickness and ill will.

The last generation have been assimilated and were focused more on the contemporary modern medicine where doctors, nurses, hospitals, medicine and operations were the translations of health care. However, at the changing lifestyle and the onslaught of a lot of cancer deaths, the local people are going back to traditional medicine, herbal and organic food. Unfortunately, the knowledge has been lost to a lot of our people in the Cordillera. We have to go back to our forefathers’ teachings and practices in the dap-ay and in the communities and learn those lost traditional medicine practices.  As my mother would always do when we were young – boil an herb, crush a leaf, mix some unknown soup, speak to the soil and spat on the ground to heal us when we were ill. The future of our people is going back to the basics of illness and healing. (October 19, 2013)

sacha 114

BEGNAS and the parties we have these present days


This week we had a series of parties to attend, organize and participate in. My husband and I were discussing how “eat and run” “entako et adi, ta nalpas tako et ay nangan” syndrome has proliferated in these present times.  We lack the grace to continue fellowship or friendly visit with the host family or other guests or family.

In one party we attended, the people left right after the meal and the celebrant was not even able to address the guests. We were one of the last to leave and as we did so, we met the musicians who were supposed to perform. We did not know if they did perform as there were only a few people left behind.  At one party we attended, right after the prayer, even before the cooks had a chance to serve all the food, the people were already lined up at the buffet table to get their food. The cook finished cooking the other food and served them when half of the people were already eating. The people did not have the patience to wait.

I remember the parties my mother gave, we would have people coming to help butcher the pig and also staying after the party to help wash dishes and pots and clean up the area. There were always talks, laughter and teasing going around during the party and it would at times continue on until the late evening. People would be leaving after a prolonged period of time, bonding with friends and family.

Today, it has come to a point that a party centers on the food, and not the fellowship or community and friendship building.

The “Begnas”  is the most common Igorot party celebrated in the “ili” before and even until now,  it is an Igorot word that refers to thanksgiving or offering rituals. It’s their way of celebrating and giving thanks for blessings received. Begnas is celebrated ear round on various occasions, times and different manner.

According toDinah Elma Piluden-Omengan in her book, “Death and Beyond.” She talks about Sagada and noted a local calendar with certain holidays based on farming cycles and other community activities.

The Sagada  local calendar starts in Kilalaw (which is approximately January) and followed by Opok (February), Bakakew (March), Kitkiti (April), Kiyang (May), Panaba (June), Bandaway (July), Adogna (August), Pogpogew (September), Kiling (October), Liponed (November) and Inana (December).  There were several feasts like the “Begnas di Do-ok” when the rice fields turn heavy and golden with ripe grains between Kiyang (May) and Panaba (June), Sagada folk celebrate a major feast—the “Begnas di Do-ok.” During this feast, elders again invoke and thank the gods and spirits for a good harvest.

During the begnas feast of certain villages, they observe a three or five-day ngilin (rest) during which villagers take a break from their farms, especially their rice fields. For two nights of the ngilin, villagers play gongs as others dance to the gongs’ beat and rhythms.  There are strict rules that the community observe during these festivities.

In these times, I continue to be amazed as how our parties are being done. Most parties are such that when one is invited, he brings someone along; my husband is still having culture shock on this one. And when they go home after the meal there is a bag they carry which is either food or dog food. Earlier I was so shocked on how much food is prepared, and it is because there is an allowance for take home food as well as dog food. It is amazing that someone takes a whole fish and then takes two bites and then it is packed for take-out or for the kitten at home.

I believe we can still improve on our sense of community. Our people in olden times take active part in the party during the preparation until it is finally over. During my stint as a city councilor I had committed same fault of “eat and run” and it does not speak well of our sense of community and propriety. Much still has to be done to orient our people; it is downright embarrassing how we do act during these parties. Not like the begnas where the elders lay down the rules and demand strict compliance of the people, when they say there is a two day ngilin (rest) then it is so and when they say it will be a sports activity to be done, then it will be so. In these present day festivities, it lacks the proper decorum. We need to improve on our character and spirit.

Why is one invited to a party? Do guests have a responsibility when they honor the invitation of a host and attend his/her party? (October 11, 2013)


Land and Development: Will the search for good life be the death of a few?


Hot issues today include land ownership, use and possession as well as issues on developmental fund access, use and management.   Olden times our people consider land, water and forest as free and beyond the commerce of man and for everyone’s use and benefit. From then to now; land, water and forest are now the objects portraying man’s greed, corruption and power struggles.  Likewise, dubious projects are conceptualized, funds are diverted and government agencies tasked to guard the people’s money are cohorts of corruption and taking away from the poor and needy what is due them to make their life better.


Presently, the struggle for maximum benefit and representation continue for people greatly affected by development projects. Projects are ingrained with controversies like the  billion pork barrel scam mastermind by Janet Napoles, blasting privileges of the 80 million drainage tunnel project from City Camp to Crystal Cave,  22 derivative titles within Busol watershed, millions used to address garbage problems “totoo nga, may pera sa basura”,  the unabated mining claims and the titling of  rivers and forest. These cause the death of people. Funds to increase medical and retirement benefits of our people are nowhere, thus “better life” is elusive to the greater majority.


It is also the lack of social services. When I was a councilor, every day two to ten people come to the office seeking medical assistance. This is so because the government lacks sufficient support for medical care. Every day we get solicitations for sports, education, trainings and all sorts. There is lack of holistic view of child care and survival literacy. In the city of Baguio, the Pantawid sa Pamilya program seemingly promotes city migration because beneficiaries are those who do not have houses in the city, meaning the migrants from the provinces and remote areas. It seemingly promotes illegal settlers and overcrowded boarding houses to thrive in the city.


Land is important for the identity and survival of the Igorots. Cordilleran Icon Macli-ing Dulag when asked about his title of the land said  “ how can you say that you own it when it outlives you. You ask if we own the land. You mock us. Where is your title? Where are the documents to prove that you own the land? Title. Documents. Proof. Such arrogance of owning land when you are owned by it. How can you own that which outlives you? Only the people own the land because only the people live forever. To claim a place is the birthright of everyone. The lowly animals claim their place, how much more of human beings. They are born to live….” On the issue of developing the Chico Dam he says “If you (government) in your search for the good life destroy life, we question it. We say those who need electric lights are not thinking of us who are bound to be destroyed. Or will the need for electric power be a reason for our death? ”


Major developmental projects include mega dams, large scale mining, multibillion development plants and the like.  A few days ago, Benjamin Philip G. Romualdez, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) president, said that the country will not be able to meet the $16-billion mining investments target from 2004 to 2016 in light of the Aquino administration’s review of the industry’s tax regime. There are conflicting reactions, bad news for investors and capitalist of the industry; good news to the anti-mining advocates; mixed reactions from policy makers and legislators. 


            Generally, a few people or villages are sacrificed for the benefit of other people. In this lifetime, I have seen results of mass opposition to mega projects that changed the mind of development decision makers. I lived briefly in Bontoc and had the opportunity of visiting the villages that were supposed to have been submerged by Chico River mega dam. I have worked in Abra where a proposed multi-billion Cellophil project was the object of massive opposition, I have lived in Nepal and seen how the withdrawal of support by the World Bank from Arun III based on the recommendation of the inspection panel forced the government of Nepal to negotiate with the World Bank for the smaller, cheaper and better alternatives.

            In 1986, the UN General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Right to Development, which states that “every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.”  In every case, the alternative to refrain from carrying out the project (the “non-action” alternative) should seriously be considered, and people’s needs and environmental protection must be given due weight in the decision-making process.”


Culture in its dynamism has changed how Indigenous peoples perspectives on the land and development. I believe that projects should be participatory and transparent, involving the directly affected people every step of a project. Necessary protection, environmental impacts are properly assessed and internal displacements must be minimized. Similarly, international laws should be translated into local legislation and guideline for optimum benefits from local projects and funds.  Development projects should not be seen in terms of money but total human and environmental development. It should not be expressed in terms of how much the project cost will be shared by those implementing or approving the projects. People’s taxes and foregone benefits should never go to destructive or ghost projects. Decision makers, not only God, should  hear the cry of our people. (Sept 13, 2013


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.