Book launched to understand Cordillera’s struggle for autonomy

EXCERPTS and different views during the Martial Law years are accounted from the different individuals who participated during the struggle for autonomy through a monograph launched on Sunday morning to express the region’s decades quest for autonomy.

The monograph, “A Victory Postponed; Stories on the Quest for Self-Determination in the Cordillera,” talks about the nuances of ideals between then the CPP-NPA and the forming of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA) and other factions fighting for self determination and regional autonomy.

Amongst those who shared their experiences in the book include former comrades of Fr. Conrado Balweg, the fighting priest who took an arms struggle during times of oppression.

The book shares stories from student leaders who became armed rebels of the New People's Army, who then sided with the CBA-CPLA, after learning some communist ideals did not appeal to benefit the idealism of being a Cordilleran.

Ten individuals who shared their experiences were Gabino Ganggangan, Fernando Bahatan Jr., Lawrence Bayongan, Armando Watil, Andres Ngao-I, Modesto Sagudang, Henry Gupaal, Nestor Atitiw, Mariano Tagtag and Ernesto Garado.

The story revolves around the booming years of industrialization during the Marcos Years of the 70’s and 80’s when the Cellophil plants in Abra caused massive discontent among the indigenous Tingguians, after CRC’s project of large scale logging affected their ways of livelihood and their environment.

Akin to the Chico River dam project of the government, strong opposition started to escalate after indigenous residents learned their ancestral lands would be affected to the extent of being submerged.

It was militarization that brought about the misery during these years of martial law, as one of the sharers say in the book.

Without prior consultations, companies started showing up on these areas where large-scale projects start to build up.

The death of Macli-ing Dulag in Kalinga sparked an armed struggle in the cordillera, news moved fast and young men joined the NPA who have already infiltrated the country sides with their propaganda. Many more deaths caused an uprising in the ranks of the communist armed group and many civilians had been killed.

Andres Ngao-I recalls, “I was a teen ager that time, a wide eyed kid who saw the determination of our elders in warding off the big companies and cronies of Marcos in building what they called developments without consulting the people,” adding most of his male kin joined in the struggle while he learned more of the military injustices from his days as a college student at Saint Louis University as an engineering student.

Henry Gupaal, the close aide and driver of Fr. Conrado Balweg, recalls after breaking away from the NPA, CPLA leader Balweg had his life already in trouble as the communist group threatened his very existence.

“I was given an errand to take a part in the premier showing of “Balweg” in Metro Manila while Fr. Balweg was in Licuan-Baay, Abra meeting and discussing opinions for development with the elders in the area,” Gupaal said.

“The convoy that carried high ranking commanders of CPLA, who were going back to Bangued got ambushed by the NPA and all of them were killed, except a radioman who was riding at the back was spared but had his leg amputated,” he adds. “Luckily, Fr. Balweg was late and stayed a couple of hours more in Licuaan-Baay to answer questions from the elders, otherwise he would been killed too.”

Last week, a government-sponsored dialogue to unite the factions of the CPLA took place in Mt. Data Hotel, where the first “Sipat,” was held in 1986 under the Corazon Aquino Administration. The CPLA factions shared their differences but promised to unite and collaborate to correct their differences to finally attain Autonomy in the region.

However, one of the founding groups who are clamoring for genuine autonomy reacted to the press release coming from the government agency. The Cordillera People's Alliance declared they were not around during the said dialogue and no representative was ever sent to the said event.

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) with the City Government of Baguio launched the book to pave way for the people of the Cordillera to have a better understanding of autonomy.

“It should serve as a guideline in giving the public a big picture why the Cordillera needs to be Autonomous,” Neda Regional Director Mila Rimando said.