Conference Report

Written by Yvonne Belen on .

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Cordillerans in Rome (Cordi-Rome) hosted the 9th Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK (ICBE) Consultation held from April 28-May 1, 2017 at various venues in Rome, Italy: Casa per ferie Salesiana del Sacro Cuore, Via Marsala, 42; Moon River Campo Sportivo, Via Angelo Batelli, 6; and Park Villa Borghese. The theme was “Appreciating Benguet (Land, People and Culture); Highlighting Cordillera Issues and Experiences of Cordillera Migrant Workers in Italy.”

Cesar Taguba and I arrived a day before the conference. We got updates on the conference from the organizers led by Cordi-Rome officers, Rosmar Smith, president, and Grace Banto, Chairperson of the Board of Directors. They have been busy preparing for the conference since January 2017. The reservations at the Salesiana del Sacre Cuore (and other conference details) took most of their time, especially during weekends. Even with their busy schedule though, they have been in close contact with the venue personnel.  

Arrival and Registration

In the morning of April 28th at the Termini, we met with Leticia “Tizya” de Jong from the Netherlands, Marjorie Abeya-Soaygan and Judith Magoo with her daughters and niece from Austria. At noontime, we went to meet Jane Klee Morgens from Germany; Doris Wilson from the Netherlands; and Josephine Segundo, who was with the BIBAAK Madrid delegation.

During the registration, Rosmar Smith, Grace Banto, Geltrude Placido and others from Cordi-Rome, welcomed the participants. The attendees were from Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. What a welcome sight to see the Igorot Austria delegates with Helen Ringor-Banban leading the group. She brought her sons and daughter’s families along. We were all thrilled greeting each other. Although the participants from Belgium and Switzerland arrived early, they spent some time searching for the place.  

The Italian dinner was capped with a dessert of tiramisu, which Crispin Cornel, adviser of Cordi-Rome, prepared. We all savored the tiramisu.  

Opening Programme

The opening programme began after dinner on April 28th. Gil Tiban Catimo, member of BIBAK Barcelona, rendered the Adivay. Afterwards, the participants sang the Cordillera Hymn and other CAR provincial hymns. Since the 7th ICBE conference, we started to remember ICBE participants who passed away and Conchita B. Pooten of Igorot UK took charge. Marjorie Guidangen-Akistoy, secretary of the Council of Elders of the Igorot Global Organization, gave an update on the organization. She talked about the Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Care, and the Igorot Scholarship Program. Her talk was followed by Averil Pooten-Watan, of Igorot UK, who spoke on the Igorot International Consultation (IIC) to be held in Hawaii, USA from 2-5 August 2018. The evening’s highlight was the turnover of hosting the ICBE Consultation from then Igorot Austria- Cordillera to Cordi-Rome by Marjorie Abeya-Soaygan and Rosmar Smith, respectively. To cap the evening’s activity, the participants introduced themselves by country and organization. Our lone individual delegate was Jane Klee Morgens from Germany.

Historical and Cultural Tour

Through earlier communications, it was announced that participants will have the day to themselves on April 29th. Everyone had places in mind to visit. Many went to the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Vatican and Vatican Museum; others rode on the hop on, hop off bus; and some went shopping at the Castila Romana.  

In the evening, several of us had dinner at a Filipino restaurant near the conference venue. There must have 30 of us who went there and many had fried daing na bangus. It was a taste of home.

Keynote Address

The whole day sessions on April 30th were held at the Moon River Campo Sportivo, via Angelo Batelli. Marilyn Aro-Forte, president of “Cordillerans in Italy of Bologna and Modena” was the moderator of the morning session. She introduced other participants from Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.

Afterwards, I introduced the Steering Committee that was formed from among the participants who attended the conference. Among other things, their task is to ensure the smooth management of the consultation. The Steering Committee is composed of those in the leadership of previous ICBE consultations, member of an organization that hosted an ICBE conference, leadership of the host organization and a volunteer for communications of ICBE conferences. The members are: Ric Cuyob, Rick Kilongan, Jane Klee Morgens, Conchita B. Pooten, Gil Tiban Catimo, Marjorie Abeya-Soaygan, Rosmar Smith, Grace Banto and myself as volunteer for communications of ICBE conferences. In the meantime, the Steering Committee constituted itself as the Preparatory Committee of the 10th ICBE Consultation to be held in the Netherlands in 2019 with MABIKAs Foundation-The Netherlands as host. Myra Colis, Chairperson of MABIKAs Foundation and I, who volunteered to coordinate the conference, were added to the Preparatory Committee.

After Marivonne Cuyob’s introduction of the speaker, Cesar Tomilas Taguba gave a powerpoint presentation of “Appreciating Benguet: Land, People and Culture.”

In Cesar Tomilas Taguba’s conclusion, he said:

Of all provinces in the CAR, Benguet is the most urbanized and integrated into a capitalist system… Agricultural production is integrated into the global economy. Land for agricultural production is limited and state assistance to increase production, market system is lacking.

Changes in the economic life inevitably impact on traditional culture and society… The privatization of their ancestral land, the destruction of the resources to sustain agricultural life continues to undermine the material basis of their community life and the culture that develops from it. Tourism industry trends to commercialize and therefore bastardize the culture of the Igorots.

Major changes on the economic, political, cultural life of the Igorots often beyond their control are taking place… Amidst all the changes, the Igorots are resilient. Abroad, Igorot/Cordillera OFWs are uniting to celebrate their cultural heritage, assert their rights and welfare and adopting measures to have impact on the changes taking place in their land work/residence and birth. 

Afterwards, Gil Tiban Catimo talked about “Benguet culture, Dances and Rituals.” He explained the following: some Forms of Kanyaw; Bendiyan dance; Ba-diw (Chant), Tayaw; and some other Ibaloy aspects like tong tong. He also talked about the Karao and Kalanguya.

Panel Discussion and Workshop Discussion Groups

Hilaria Banban-Garcia was the moderator of the afternoon session. It consisted of two parts: a panel discussion on “Highlighting Experiences of Cordillera Migrant Workers in Italy” and discussion group workshops on “Highlighting and responding to Cordillera Issues: The Cordillera we dream of.”

Panel Discussion


Ric Cuyob of Cordi-Bel led the panel discussion. The panelists were: Marilyn Aro, Jhill A. Gaw-a (Cordi-Rome), Rosana Samidan (Ulnos di Mountain Province Rome Italy), Angela Panas (United Igorot Association of Napoli) and Brenda Panayo (Cordillera Migrant Workers Association [CMWA] of Milan and Como, Italy.)


There were four topics discussed: Relationship with employer; Relationship with Filipino migrants in Italy; Working on papers; and with our experiences and What do we do to cope with the situation? 

One item to note during the panel discussion is the population of Cordillera migrant workers in Italy, which represents 10% of the total number of Filipino migrant workers in the country.

The first topic on employer relationship focused on the minimum wage, which some employers follow and others, not. For those who work and live in their employer’s residence, their rights are respected. Second, regarding the relationship of Igorots with Filipino migrants in Italy, it seems that the latter still lack knowledge of the former. The third topic on working on papers dealt mostly on legalization and renewal of passport. Some 10 to 15 years ago, the Philippine consular offices were based in Milan and Rome and Filipino migrant workers all over the country had to travel to these cities. Presently, the Philippine Embassy’s Consul based in Rome travels to different cities in Italy and these visits are announced earlier. The last topic was: “What do the migrants do to cope with their situation?” The replies were: documented Cordillera migrant workers can avail of medical assistance while undocumented Cordillera migrant workers can go to NGOs in Rome that provide medical assistance; members of an organization contribute  financially towards a death fund and the Philippine Embassy helps to a certain degree. (A Cordillera migrant worker has to be registered with the OWWA in order to avail of benefits.)  

A participant raised a question on burial aid to which Mark Watan of Igorot UK informed the audience of a template used and implemented by BIBAK of Northern California since 1990. For any organization that would like to use the template, it could be provided to them as their reference.

Workshop Discussion Groups

The second part of the afternoon was the workshop discussion groups on “Highlighting and responding to Cordillera Issues: The Cordillera we dream of.”

There were four workshop groups and each was to respond to two guide questions: What is your dream and/or vision of a Cordillera you want to return to? How would you like to be empowered to make your dream come true?

Cesar Tomilas Taguba gave the synthesis. On the first question, the replies were: (1) We want a peaceful Cordillera, (2) We want a Cordillera rich in natural resources, (3) We want a self-sufficient economy, and (4) We want the wealth of the Cordillera to go back to its people.

On the second question, the replies were: (1) Organize, (2) Continue to follow development in the Philippines, (3) Talk about the upcoming plebiscite on Cordillera regional autonomy and (4) Overseas Filipino Workers can contribute to the socio-economic development of the Cordillera.

Igorot Cordillera-European Cultural Night

Mark Watan and Cecile D. Lorena of Cordi-Rome were Emcees of the programme.

Ric Cuyob of Cordi-Bel gave more details on ICBE ever since the network was set up in 2002. The evening’s highlight was the “Turn-over of Responsibility” from the 9th ICBE Consultation to the 10th ICBE Consultation through host representatives: Rosmar G. Smith (Cordillerans in Rome) & myself and company (MABIKAs Foundation - The Netherlands). Cordi-Rome had a streamer made with the logo of ICBE and Rosmar and Grace Banto turned it over to our group from the Netherlands.

Jane Klee Morgens introduced the guest speaker while Doris Wilson read the speech of Ms. Marie Venus Q. Tan, Regional Director, Department of Tourism, Cordillera Administrative Region Philippines, who was unable to attend the conference.

Director Tan spoke on her wish to encourage support of the Cordillera so tourism projects become meaningful, participatory and sustainable. She explained the Department of Tourism’s “REV-BLOOM” campaign “on tourism awareness and environmental sustainability.” In connection with the campaign, she dealt on: tourism infrastructure development, airport development, farm tourism development and promotion of eco-tourism sites. According to Ms. Tan, travel and tourism should go hand in hand with experience and responsibility. Travel experiences should engage the senses while responsible tourism should minimize negative impacts and should enhance the well-being of communities.

Originally, the acknowledgments and closing remarks are given at the programme’s last part. However, myself and Grace Banto, respectively, decided to give them before the cultural performances.  

What followed next were cultural performances by participants. Many of us became dancing queens and we could have danced all night. However, like Cinderella it was time to go home before midnight or we will miss our bus to the city center.  

Closing Session

The last session of the 9th ICBE Consultation was a picnic at Villa Park Borghese on May 1st. Participants from Austria, Barcelona, Belgium, Madrid, Naples, The Netherlands, Rome and the UK attended. Some brought along their luggage since they planned to go to the airport after lunch.

Cordi-Rome members must have gone to the park early and chosen a space near the wall, which was a place apart from other groups having a picnic at the park. Cordi-Rome prepared the food with pots and plastic containers spread on the big plastic on the ground. Joel and Joan Casasiempre donated a whole lechon and it was waiting to be divided!  The lechon was very inviting and we all looked forward to having a bite of the crackling skin. It was another taste of home.  

While Cordi Rome members were preparing our lunch, we conference participants had a oral evaluation. Many congratulated Cordi-Rome for hosting the conference and they said it was a successful one. Someone said that the conference enabled the second-generation to come together and it would have been good if they formed a group to respond to the questions during the group discussion workshops. Many wanted to perform during the Cultural Night and what we need for this activity is time management. For those from other European countries unable to find the venue, they said that signages are useful. For Cordi-Bel’s part, Ric Cuyob sang a song for the 9th ICBE Consultation.

Since some participants had a plane to catch by late afternoon, they left for the airport after lunch. For those of us who stayed, it was a time to dance. The men beat the gongs while we ladies danced. Some young men and women at the park saw us dancing and they joined us.  Later on, Cordi-Rome members were performing the Bendian dance. The men beat the gongs and solibao while Rosmar Smith led the ladies in the dance.  The other members of Cordi-Rome must have stayed at the park. Some of us said our goodbyes and thanked everyone.   


And so ended the 9th ICBE Consultation in the eternal city. Thank you, Cordi-Rome, for the job well done, and to the participants, thank you too. We all made the conference a success. We hope to see each other again (and other  kailian in Europe, of course) during the 10th ICBE Consultation in the Netherlands in 2019.


In the meantime, a few days after the conference, Rosmar departed for the Philippines. We requested her to visit Director Marie Venus Tan and, among other things, extend our thanks. We also requested her to visit Dr. Gaston Kibiten, Chair of the Igorot Scholarship Program (ISP) Board of Trustees, and turn over a donation of EUR 100.00 to the ISP. Half of the donation came from me and half came from Cordi-Rome. Yvonne Belen2017


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