A busy street in the City of Bangued, Abra Province, where indigenous tribes and communities of migrants from the neighboring provinces live and work in close proximity — and where the native inhabitants often feel economically shortchanged.

Since the 8th of this month, PeaceBuilders CEO Rev. Daniel Pantoja and I have been traveling around the Cordillera region of northern Luzon under the guidance of PeaceBuilders’ own native Cordilleran missionary Twinkle Alngag Bautista. One major objective of our sojourn in the North is to listen and take note of the concerns and aspirations of Cordillerans — particularly those who are working to bring peace and prosperity to their people and region. We need to hear these voices now as we make plans to support and nurture the newly formed PAR Kalinga community, which Twinkle envisions as a staging ground for her broader goal of organizing PAR Cordillera. We pray that these Peace And Reconciliation communities will minister to the people of the Cordillera region by promoting the Four Harmonies, including “Harmony with Others — Sociopolitical Transformation,” and “Harmony with Creation — Economic Ecological Transformation.” To this end, we need to listen and to collaborate with like-minded Cordillerans in the religious, civil, and political sectors.

On Monday the 9th, in the City of Bangued, Abra Province, Twinkle and I met with two Christian ministers who belong to the Tingguian people group, the native inhabitants of Abra. The Reverand Father Fernando Bello Boyagan and Pastor Jimuel C. Bakidan are both leaders in the Tingguian campaign for economic and political justice. They told us a bit about the culture of the Tingguians; about the marginalization and exploitation to which they are being subjected; and about how Tingguian community leaders are working to rectify these injustices.

The Tingguians share their native home with migrants from the neighboring provinces of Ilocos. In the times when the Philippines was a Spanish colony, the coastal Ilocanos had much greater contact with the Spaniards than did the Tingguians of the remote interior. Because of the Spanish influence, the Ilocanos gained a level of worldliness and technological and political savvy far in advance of the Tingguians. Thus, Ilocano migrants to the Abra region tended to lord it over their Tingguians neighbors as masters. Today, though many Ilocanos have intermarried with the Tingguians and some have embraced Tingguian cultural ways, the legacy of the colonial inequalities still pervades relations between the Tingguians and the descendents of Ilocano migrants. Out of Abra’s 27 municipalities, 19 have a Tingguian majority, yet ethnic Ilocanos dominate the province’s politics and hold most of its wealth.

The Tingguians’ disenfranchisement persists, said Boyagan, because hungry tribespeople often vote with their stomachs instead of with their heads. May is a lean month for native farmers, and this is when the politicians hold their elections. They buy the votes of hungry farmers, and they subvert the traditional Tingguian leaders through patronage. The result is that the votes of the Tingguian majority support politicians who care little for the Tingguians’ interests.

Boyagan and Bakidan lead an organization which aims to unite the Tingguian people by rallying their traditional leaders to speak with one voice in demanding the tribal rights guaranteed under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997. They are also advocating political autonomy for the greater Cordillera region. We at PeaceBuilders commend the courage of Boyagan and Bakidan, and the love they have for their people. We will always add our voices to the cries of those who seek justice, peace, and human rights for every tribe and nation.

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