|Last updated: December 12, 2006|
THE CORDILLERA: ITS LAND AND PEOPLE
As a physical region, the Cordillera — Gran Cordillera Central, to be complete — is a row of great mountain ranges occupying half of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. Its rugged mountainous backbone contains many peaks exceeding 2,000 meters in height, with rolling hills and stretches of river valleys along its flanks.
Around 230 km long and 120 km wide, with an irregular shape, the mountainous region's estimated total area is about 17,500 square km.
Thus, the Cordillera is both the highest and the single largest mass of mountains in the entire Philippine archipelago.
As a recently-defined administrative region, the Cordillera is composed of the six provinces of Apayao, Kalinga, Abra, Mountain Province, Ifugao, and Benguet, plus the chartered city of Baguio. These provinces have a total land area of almost 18,300 square km.
The bulk of the Cordillera mountain range, as a physical region, is covered by this Cordillera administrative region (CAR). The Cordillera's foothills extend into a few other adjacent provinces in the nearby Ilocos and Cagayan Valley regions.
The Cordillera region is very rich in natural resources. It is especially famed for its huge gold deposits, pure stands of pine forest, and rich soils and water sources that have enabled its people to sustain agriculture on mountainside rice terraces.
The Cordillera is more heavily populated compared to the other mountainous areas of the Philippines. Based on the year 2000 census, its six provinces and one city has a total population of more than 1,365,000 people.
As in the rest of the country, the great majority of the region's population are peasants engaged in farming and other small-scale production and side occupations. The next biggest sector is composed of formal wage workers and informal odd-job workers in non-farm occupations. There is also a sizeable number of students, salaried employees, and professionals in the few urban and town centers.
A big bulk of the Cordillera population is composed of closely-related indigenous peoples. Collectively, our peoples are popularly known as Igorot. Often we are also grouped into a number of ethnic or ethno-linguistic identities, such as Apayao or Isneg, Tinggian, Kalinga, Bontoc, Kankanaey, Ibaloy, Ifugao, and Bago.
These groupings, while convenient, do not fully reflect the real particularities and the extent of diversity among the region's peoples. In fact, most of us indigenous peoples identify ourselves primarily with specific communties called ili (literally, home village, hometown, or home territory).
Each ili is a self-identifying community with a specific territory, which is its ancestral land. While there are diverse types, an ili usually consists of a closely-knit cluster of villages, or a core village and its outlying hamlets, whithin a more or less defined territory.
Bigger and more diverse populations are found in Cordillera's melting pot areas, such as those in urban (or rapidly urbanizing) Baguio-Benguet and in the foothills and valleys adjoining the great lowlands of Luzon. In these areas, the original indigenous communities have given way to hybrid communities composed of varied mixtures of indigenous and migrant peoples.
The Cordillera peoples face the same problems as the rest of the Filipino nation. These basic problems have been summed up by the national democratic movement of the Philippines as imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism, whereby only a small national elite reaps great political and economic benefits. On the other hand, millions of peasants and workers, even the middle class, are marginalized and exploited while the nation reels from one crisis to another.
As indigenous peoples, we additionally suffer a distinct problem of national oppression and ethnocide at the hands of foreign colonial powers in earlier times, and presently by the present Philippine state and its foreign masters. Our people have been forcibly integrated into the dominant social system and prevented from seeking our own way to development. At the same time, the system subjects us to various kinds of discrimination and inequalities.
As a violation to our inherent right to self-determination, ethnocide and national oppression as directed against our peoples have the following forms and manifestations:
• State denial and non-recognition of our rights of collective
ownership, priority use and management over our ancestral lands and resources
To combat national oppresion is to assert our right to self-determination. That is our right to freely choose and develop our own path as indigenous peoples. CPA believes that the best way to exercise this right, while remaining part of the broader Filipino nation, is for our peoples to advance genuine regional autonomy (GRA) within the framework of a united, independent, and democratic nation.
But attaining GRA is not just a matter of putting new laws, setting-up new agencies, and new sets of officials into place, GRA hinges on the attainment of full national freedom and genuine democracy. It requires an overhaul of the entire socio-political system. Thus, CPA participates in the Filipino people’s movement for national freedom ang democracy and links with other progressive forces in completing this historical task. #