In the mid-morning of Saturday, February 7th, I and PeaceBuilders Community, Inc. (PBCI) CEO Rev. Dann Pantoja (Kuya Dann to me) boarded a bus in Manila bound for Baguio City. It was the start of PeaceBuilders’ February 2015 Listening Tour in the Cordillera Region, with objectives which I have previously detailed. We spent the night of the 7th at the Baguio Village Inn and, on the morning of Sunday the 8th, met up with Twinkle Alngag Bautista, PeaceBuilders’ fulltime missionary to the Cordillera Region, who had been planning our trip for months, and who would orchestrate our meetings with many Cordilleran leaders and public officials over the following twelve days, all to help us better understand how to practice and promote a Peace And Reconciliation framework within the communities of the Cordilleras.
Twinkle, Kuya Dann and I went to the Baguio bus terminal after breakfast and caught a bus for the City of Bangued in Abra Province. That night we took our dinner with Mailed and Loida Molina, Cordilleran elders and leaders in the campaign for Cordilleran self-rule and autonomy from what many Cordillerans term “Imperial Manila.” In opening our dialogue with the Molinas, Kuya Dann offered a description of PBCI’s methods and uses which he would repeat often over the following two weeks. “We have nothing to offer except our two ears,” he began. But good listeners can be of great service, he explained, and PBCI often renders indispensable aid to parties in conflict by recording and relaying one side’s message to the other, all in the interest of Peace and Reconciliation. Through dialogue and understanding, violence and injustice can often be addressed and allayed.
Mailed Molina told us about the beginnings of his career as an activist. During the dark days of Martial Law, he was a young theological student. He came to Abra to organize the citizenry against the government’s planned construction of a hydroelectric dam on the Chico River – a project which would have flooded and destroyed the ancestral territories of many Cordilleran tribespeople. It was a dangerous time for activists. “Some of my comrades were salvaged [killed].” Some were sent to prison, and “some just disappeared.” Mailed and Loida struggled side-by-side while their three children were raised by relatives far away. To this day, the Molinas are campaigning for the rights of their fellow Cordillerans. Mailed drew a parallel to the Moro people’s struggle for self-rule. “We have the same aspiration. They want autonomy; we want autonomy.”
As one Cordilleran to another, Twinkle shared the story of the journey which brought her to PBCI, and to being a full-time PBCI missionary to the Cordillera. “It was always a struggle growing up with a Cordilleran identity in the Philippine state. We weren’t taught Cordilleran history or folklore. I wanted to help my people, and I wondered ‘What is my framework as a follower of Jesus Christ?’” She knew she needed to find a Christ-centered framework for conflict resolution, and this led her to apply to PBCI. “When I went to Mindanao, I saw that their cries are just like ours. But I needed to go back to my province. We have all these beautiful values to harness.” Mailed Molina agreed, “The Bodong means peace. It protects life, property, and values.”
The next day, Monday the 9th, we remained in Bangued. Twinkle and I had a lunch meeting with two pastors who told us their strategy for the advancement of Abra Province’s Indigenous People. You can read what they told us here.
After lunch, Kuya Dann, Twinkle, and I visited the offices of a local NGO called Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government (CCAGG), where we met with founders Aniceto C. Baltar and Pura C. Sumangil. Sumangil told us of CCAGG’s inception during Martial Law. Abra, she told us, is still a difficult place, but in those days it was more difficult. If you angered someone in government, the next day you might find yourself dead by the wayside. And yet Baltar and Sumangil took that risk. They decided to monitor government projects, said Sumangil, because they wanted to be sure that social services would reach the people. “If there is money for the road, the road should be fixed. If there is money for the irrigation system, use it as well.” Soon, the government saw the value of this sort of citizens’ watchdog organization, and engaged CCAGG to monitor the implementation of projects. “So it was beautiful, because that was our first engagement in government … You can imagine, it became a people’s movement for transformation and development.” Sumangil and Baltar reminisced about the highs and lows of their small, grassroots organization that became a government-funded NGO.
The record of our trip — Where we went, Who we met, What they told us — is continued in Part 2.