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Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE) Consultation

28 April-1 May 2017

Rome, Italy

Introductory: Five-minutes video on the Province of Benguet

Location: Benguet is the southernmost province of the CAR (Cordillera Autonomous Region).. Its neighboring provinces are Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur, Mountain Province, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya.

Composition: 13 municipalities, 140 barangays. As of 2010 census, it has  a  population of 403,944 (excluding Baguio), of which are Kankanaey 42.9% located in north, Ibaloi 29.15% located in the south, Kalanguya/Ikalahan (people of the forest) 3.69% in the west along Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya and Pangasinan, Ilocano 13.36% and Tagalog 2.39%.  Benguet registered the highest population in the CAR. The Kankanaey, Ibaloi and Kalanguya ethno linguistic groups are collectively called Igorots.

Benguet registered 7,892 Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) of which 66.2 are women with age ranging 25-29 years old.

Land: Mt. Pulag-9,600 ft.  above sea level, the 2rd highest mountain in the Philippines, is located in the municipality of Kabayan. Mount Santo Tomas, located in Tuba municipality, is the 4th highest mountain. Located in the province is Halsema Highway, which is the highest highway in the Philippines. The province is the headwater of rivers flowing down to the lowlands. These are: Agno, Amburayan, Bued rivers.

There are 76 communal forests. Presently, there are  138 mining application in the 13 municipalities covering 147, 618 hectares or 55.7% of the total land area of the province and with 2,833 hectares designated as Cordillera Forest Reserve.

Located in the province are burial caves, caves, waterfalls, lakes and sulfur springs which are being developed for tourism.

II. BRIEF HISTORY             

(1) Long before Spanish colonization, the Igorots developed their self-sustaining economy and engaged in barter trade with the lowland communities.

(2) For almost 300 years, the Igorots defended their  land and gold mines and the right to trade from Spanish expedition to establish its control. It was only in in the late 1800s when Benguet was made a commandancia-politico-militar with La Trinidad (named after the wife of Galvey) as its seat. Igorots  participated  in the war led by the Katipunan against Spanish and later US colonial rule. In 1887, Igorots and other Philippine tribes were exhibited at the Madrid World Exhibition.

(Note: ICBE Barcelona adopted a resolution calling for the commemoration of the Madrid World Exhibition).

The Spanish colonizers imposed their Regalian Doctrine that claimed ownership of the entire Philippines and which continues to be imposed by the state overriding the Igorots/Cordillerans claim over their ancestral land and territories.

(3) In 1900, the US colonial rulers established a civil government in some towns. In 1903, gold mining by the US-owned Benguet Corporation started.

(4) In 1904, Igorots were exhibited at the St. Louis World Fair with the note that the Igorots  were  the “biggest crowd drawer with their costumes and dog-eating.” On September 1, 1905

Baguio became a chartered city.

(5) Igorots were organized into the 66th Infantry Battalion under Major Dennis Molintas and Bado Dangwa to resist and end Japanese colonial rule in the Cordillera.  General Yamashita signed the surrender document in Baguio on 3 September 1945.

(6) On June 18, 1966 Mountain Province was divided into four provinces, making Benguet a distinct province. First appointed governor was Dennis Molintas, Sr.

(7) During the Marcos martial rule (1972-1986) Igorots took part in the open and underground armed struggle against the Marcos dictatorship and succeeding regimes. Well-known martyrs are from famous Benguet clans like Jennifer Carino and Chadli Molintas, who was arrested and executed in 1987, La Union. Many Igorots were unjustly arrested, tortured and imprisoned. James Balao, a clan elder, scholar, writer and human rights worker is missing since September 18, 2008.    

(8) On July 15, 1987, then Pres. C. Aquino signed Executive Order 220 creating the Cordillera Executive Board and the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) in 1987 of which Benguet was made a part.

(9) In 1995, the Mining Act was passed, opening the entire Cordillera and the Philippines to corporate mining.


Agriculture:  Benguet is known as the “Salad Bowl of the Philippines.” The municipality of La Trinidad is famous for its strawberry farms and is known as “Strawberry Country.” There are around 27, 491 farms that are growing carrots, broccoli, beans, cabbages, cauliflower, potatoes, lettuce, cut flowers for the Baguio and Manila markets. Also grown are bananas, pineapple, coffee.  In some parts, wet rice culture is still practiced (famous kintuman rice) although there is a gradual shift to vegetable farming.  The kaingin system (slash and burn) for corn, camote, cassava and vegetables is still practiced. There are agriculture-based industries such as broom and basket-making and food processing.

Problems and issues: Farmers have no control on the pricing system of their products.

Solution: Establishing cooperatives, Trading Centers

 (2) By joining the WTO (World Trade organization), Philippines was opened to the entry

of cheap agricultural products negatively impacting on the local farmers.

Solution: Legislative measures to mitigate the impact of WTO on agriculture production through support for irrigation, post-harvest warehousing, marketing distribution;  farmers set up their organization “Apit-Tako” campaigned for pullout from WTO, stop vegetable importation; rehabilitation of  polluted rivers by mining firms (Mankayan).

(3). Limited land for expansion of agricultural production. As mentioned earlier, vast tracts of land are covered by mining claims, and considered forest reserve.

Solution: “Illegal” farming in state designated protected areas and migration to neighboring provinces.

(4) Exploitation of farm workers: low wages, unhealthy working and living conditions, exposure to pesticides. There is a report about the high percentage of suicide among vegetable farm workers

Solution: Organization of farm workers and better government assistance.

Mining- Benguet is rich in mineral resources such as gold, copper, silver, nickel, pyrite, limestone. Estimated gold ore reserve is 6,227,565 metric tons and 897,551,435 metric tons of copper. Benguet hosts Benguet Mining Corportation. (established 1903), Philex Mining and Lepanto Mining Corporation. These are the major gold, copper mines in the Philippines. In 2006, revenue reached 4.6bn pesos for Lepanto and Philex.

There are estimated 20,000 small-scale miners.

Problems and Issues:

(1) Mining firms pay the bulk of their taxes in Manila instead of to the province.

(2) Minerals mined are exported as raw or semi-processed products, instead of being processed into finished products in the province or Philippines.

Solution: Gear the mining industry as a component of a national industrialization.

(3) Corporate mining degradation of the environment through mine tailings, drying up of water supply, logging, massive land claims. Open-pit mining strips the top soil of vegetables. Underground mining cause ground collapse as in Mankayan affecting residences and 14 hectares of agricultural land. Chemicals from the mines affect health and cause poor harvest.

Solution: Campaign to Scrap the Mining Act 1995; implementation of state rules and regulations on mine operations. (Note: ICBE Vienna delegates signed a petition Scrap Philippine Mining Act 1995).

(4) Exploitation of the mine workers: low wages, contractualization, poor working and living conditions and anti-labor union by management.

Solution: Formation of labor unions, and legislative measures to include stop to contractualization.

(5) Small-scale miners are vulnerable to accidents and death by cave-ins, chemical poisoning, poor working and living conditions and conflicts over ownership of the mines. They organized the Benguet Federation of Small Scale Miners (BFSCM).  Recently, they are beneficiaries of an integrated gold-copper mineral processing plant without the use of cyanide and mercury.

Hydroelectric Projects

The most massive ones are the Ambuklao, Binga and San Roque Dams, which caused displacements, destruction of farms and fields and siltation. There are other privately owned hydroelectric plants in some municipalities. In the municipality of Kabayan, there is an ongoing opposition to a hydroelectric plant.

Overall Socio-economic situation. The province of Benguet is rich, but majority of the people are poor and the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. While it is reported that Benguet is the least poor in the Cordillera region in terms of poverty incidence; malnutrition, school dropout, low wages for workers and unemployment continue to impact on the lives of the people. The Ibalois have words like baknang (rich), abiteg (poor). There is a proliferation of marijuana plantations and marketing of semi-processed products and the selling and use of prohibited drugs. In July 2016, marijuana plants and products worth 502,905 pesos were destroyed.  Interestingly, a former Ifugao congressman proposed legalizing marijuana to regulate its production and use and to alleviate poverty. Meanwhile, there is an increasing number of Igorots as OFWs/diaspora, whose remittances help keep the Philippine economy afloat.


(1) Igorots are actively participating in the electoral system on the congressional, provincial, municipal and barangay levels, which effectively supplants their traditional leadership institution  and their belief and rituals related to its maintenance.  With the exception of a few Igorot politicians, they are in varying degrees drawn into the politics of the elite and the bureaucrat capitalists characterized by political patronage, graft and corruption, family dynasty and subservience to the oligarchs, local and foreign big businesses.

(2) Electoral contests are carried on a civil level. Political differentiation due to clan and ethno-linguistic origin and religion is not an issue. Recently, Congressman Mark Go of Baguio City District earned respect for his leading role in rejecting the bill to re-impose the death penalty, while Congressman Ronald Cosalan was praised for supporting Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Gina Lopez in issuing order to suspend operation of Philex Mining.  He was quoted saying that “mining failed to alleviate the lives of the residents of the mining towns of the province.”  

(3).Two plebiscites, the latest in 1998 on the setting up of a Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR) were rejected by the people of Benguet. However, recently all Cordillera legislators signed House Bill 5343 “Act Establishing the Autonomous Region for the Cordillera (ARC) to pursue regional autonomy and to prepare for the transition to a federal government as prioritized by President Duterte.” The issue of genuine autonomy within a federal state will have significant economic, social, cultural and political implications.

On the whole, Igorots like all other national minorities/indigenous people in the Philippines suffer from national oppression, state neglect and discrimination.


There is a significant growth in strength of Igorots taking up the challenge to be changemakers and movers on the political, economic, social and cultural arena.

The Santhanay, an organization of farmers along the Agno River in Salupirip, Itogon spearheaded the opposition to the construction of the San Roque Dam. Benguet farmers joined organizations like Apit-Tako which campaigned against WTO, support for the farmers and protection of farmworkers. Igorot mine workers joined labor unions and supported communities against destructive mining firms.

Schools set up Cultural and Traditional Learning Centers to propagate Igorot cultural heritage.  Dap-ay Kordillera spearheaded the use of cultural art forms to articulate the struggle of the people against destructive mines and dams, and their dream for peace and justice. Environment groups such as Salakniban iti Amianan are actively raising environment issues and concerns, launch fact-finding missions and campaigns (Save the Bued, Abra River Campaign). Agricultural-cultural-environment festivals such as the Adivay are being held on the municipal levels. Churches which had been instrument for colonization and pacification, are now uniting for peace based on justice and promotion of Igorot culture and dignity.  Igorot teachers, health workers, entrepreneurs, professionals, women, youth-student join provincial, regional and national organizations to empower them to uphold their sectoral rights and enhance their role as changemakers and movers.

Igorots are joining the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) which, since 1984 led the movement   for the right to self-determination, genuine autonomy and defense of land, life, livelihood and dignity.

Igorots are achievers in their area of work or specialization. Recent achievers are Dr. Ryan Guinaran was a 2016 Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awardee. Philippine Military Cadet (PMA) cadet Eda Glis Mapanao from Buguias was in the top ten of her 2017 graduating class.

Abroad, Igorot/Cordilleras are organizing themselves to promote their cultural heritage and be in solidarity with other overseas Filipino workers and migrants to uphold their rights and to respond to the issues and concerns. (Note ICBE Barcelona 2013  passed a resolution calling for the Commemoration of the Madrid World Trade Exhibit; ICBE Vienna 2015 signed a petition to SCRAP Philippine  Mining Act 1995). Many earned respect and reward for their outstanding performance in their work, in cultural events and as entrepreneurs.


Of all provinces in the CAR, Benguet is the most urbanized and integrated into a capitalist system. Its mines are owned and controlled by foreigners and local oligarchs. These mines displace the residents and pose a threat to their livelihood and environment. Massive hydroelectric dams to meet the needs for the mining corporations and industries in other regions displaced several communities. There is a rapid depletion of its natural capital. Agricultural production is integrated into the global economy. Land for agricultural production is limited and state assistance to increase production, market system is lacking.

(2) Changes in the economic life inevitably impact on traditional culture and society. The drive for profit, competitiveness in the market is undermining the practice of shared production, sharing of wealth, community life and values celebrated in dances. 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.

(3) Major changes in the economic, political, cultural life of the Igorots, often beyond their control, are taking place. Amidst all the changes, the Igorots are resilient. They are rediscovering and asserting their history, peoplehood and cultural heritage. They unite with other Cordillerans to defend land, life, and livelihood and advance the right to self-determination. They are forging unity with other sectors and the entire Filipino people for fundamental socio-economic-political changes. 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. 

May Kabunian and the spirits of our ancestors bless the Igorot changemakers and movers.     



Presentation by Cesar Tomilas Taguba of Adaoay, Kabayan, Benguet at the 9th ICBE Consultation, Rome, Italy, 29 April 2017. 

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