The Bodong system in Cordillera

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By Benny Balweg

Snapshot Focus

Friday, August 22, 2014


WITHOUT the brandishing of the bodong system, it is doubtful if autonomy was ever finally thought of for the Northern Luzon Cordilleras like Muslim Mindanao. It is clear from its provision that the 1987 Philippine Constitution based its reason of choice on “common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage, economic and social structures and other relevant characteristics.” Of all such required characteristics, it was the existence of the bodong system as propounded by Fr. Conrado Balweg, S.V. D., alias Ka Ambo that caught the eye and acquiescence of the National Government to prepare the giving of the envisioned autonomy to Cordillera through the issuance of Executive Order 220 signed by then President Corazon C. Aquino, done in the City of Manila on July 15, 1987 in consonance with the spirit of the Mt. Data Sipat agreement forged by the National Government and the CBA-CPLA (Cordillera Bodong Association - Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army) on September 1986.

Bodong/Fochong/Bochong/Peden/Kalon (Peace Pact) is an old institution among peoples in the old Mountain Province and Tinguian Abra. Cordillera historian Henry H. Scott wrote that Spanish records mention that a peace pact was celebrated between the Apayao warring tribes in 1685, 195 years before the completion of the Abra-Kalinga trail. Scott further states, according to Dominic Gaioni, S.V.D., that from 1704 to 1820, seven more peace pacts were forged as far west in the Cagayan Valley.

It can be assumed, say Ex-Mayors Agustin Bagayao and Fred Luben, that the beginning of the bodong started before the Tinguians and the Kalingas migrated to the Philippines around 200 B.C. Similar procedure in the set-up of the settlement of disputes as that of the bodong is said to have been practiced in Borneo in the pre-conquest times. So this could be the same practice the Malays had before they migrated to the Philippines. Only that the Kalingas and the Tinguians elaborated and improved the procedure including the very festive celebrations.

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No one knows for certain where the bodong originated in the Cordillera as different tribes from the present Mountain Province and Kalinga say it came from them, but regardless of these notions, it emerged from two tribes, because the forging of the traditional bodong must have two participating tribes. Thus, a strictly bilateral bodong.

It was only lately in the case of the Manabo bodong in 1986, that it became multi-lateral. The bodong was incorporated into the CAR as a commission that is supervised by and responsible to the Cordillera Executive Board (CEB). Its powers include, in particular, promoting respect for the customs and usages of the tribes concerned; fostering unity among the various communities and promoting regional confederation; observing the traditional practice of direct democracy and collective leadership in harmony with the administrative mechanisms of the National Government, preserving and developing the communal social order and economic system; and such other functions as may be determined by the Executive Board.

In case the Cordillera Bodies, namely the CRA and the CEB, become remiss in the performance of their duties and functions, the CBA can surrugately continue such functions applying the customary law of direct democracy. The purpose is to assure the undelayed attainment of regional autonomy, which is the very reason for the existence of the CAR government.

The members of the unintegrated Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) and the upcoming Cordillera Regional Security Force (CRSF) as enunciated in Section 6 of EO 220, are bonding together more strongly now to assist forcefully their elder counterparts in the CRA and CEB in the Cordillera struggle for “autonomy latta”. Their drumbeating is now attentively knocking at the door of academes. The prospect of the inevitable import-export globalization in 2015 should awaken in Cordillerans the importance of autonomy to help our farmers, many of whom are BARP members, against the onslaught of world competition in business. Agricultural management scientist Dr. William D. Dar of ICRISAT and a former Vice President for Research and Extension at BSU recently threw the challenge to Benguet State University to lead proactively in this effort. “We must be prepared for this worldwide competition in production and marketing and must win because we can,“he confidently urged. (Governor Fongwan sense of gave the second later in another forum.) Only to help achieve this aim -- uplifting Cordilleran social and economic level -- will the bodong and autonomy give truly renewed meaning to me.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 23, 2014.

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