In Northern Luzon, in the beautiful province of Kalinga, made of mountains and waterfalls, lives a tribe of the same name. The Indigenous People of Kalinga have found balance between progress and tradition, and live a semi-urban lifestyle while respecting the tribal law.
I have been living with them for a few weeks, and have been blessed with the opportunity to discover the pochon. Loosely, the pochon means “peace pact agreement” between two subtribes of Kalinga. Included in the pochon is the indigenous way of settling a dispute: when a conflict arises between two subtribes, members from both subtribes meet to try and find a solution that will suit both parties, even if it takes days of discussion. The Kalingas only use the Philippines’ justice system as a very last resort.
Today, the pochon is called to solve what would be a very private conflict in the western world. Jericho* has been married to Mary for 8 years. Recently, he discovered that his wife had been having an affair with Daniel*, one of her colleagues, and that she was now pregnant with his child. Daniel is also married, and comes from another subtribe. Elders and eminent members of both tribes have come to Jericho’s house to try and find an acceptable solution. Mary and Daniel are not allowed to assist, but they will accept whatever the council will decide.
When the meeting starts, the tension is palpable. One of his sisters stays inside the house with Jericho to make sure he stays calm. He is hurt, angry, and does not really want to take part in the discussions. He is set on divorcing his wife.
The discussions go on for many hours. Even though many people participate, everybody is silent as one after the other stands to speak:
“We want Daniel to pay a penalty, he is the one who fathered the baby”
“We understand the need for penalty, but please keep in mind that the situation could be the other way around, and don’t be too hard on us”
“Let me tell you of a similar story and of its outcome”
A young woman takes the minutes, for archive.
On the other side of the house, the garden and the kitchen are buzzing with activity. The children play and run around the squealing pig being butchered for lunch: meals are a crucial part of Kalinga culture, and offering a four-legged animal to your guests is a sign of respect, especially in a context of conflict.
When lunch is ready, both parties have reached an agreement. Jericho and Mary will divorce, but Jericho will not sue Mary, thus allowing her to keep her job at the government (infidelity is a penal offense in the Philippines). Jericho will keep the house, and Mary will move back to her mother’s house with their two daughters, aged 4 and 8 years old. Daniel will not divorce his wife because she just gave birth to their fifth child, but he will be paying a penalty for moral damage. In reality, the fees and the penalty will be the responsibility of the whole tribe: Daniel would not be able to pay, and this way he will be reminded that his actions have an impact on everyone. The agreement is put to paper, and signed by all the participants.
The afternoon is used to discuss details of the agreement, and smaller matters. At the end of the day, Jericho is much calmer. Is he happy with the process? “Yes, he says, I know they are wiser than me and have a better understanding of the situation. Without them I would already have done something that I would have regretted”
The whole process took one day, cost one pig, and the outcome considered each party’s best interest. We are very far from the years-long, humiliating and pricey trial, and it looks like Kalinga has a lot to teach us…
*The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved