By BENEDICT SOLANG *
This occasion of the anniversary of International Human Rights Day, and the Northern Luzon Assembly of SELDA, is an opportune time to tell the story of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army’s (CPLA) atrocity, to pursue justice for victims and to remind that the government is as well culpable for the CPLA terrorism in the Cordillera. Until now the remains of Ama Daniel Ngayaan murdered in 1987 by CPLA has yet to be located.
The CPLA story, past and present, is a notable example of government ignorance and opportunism in dealing with Cordillera indigenous people’s politics and issues, as well as in addressing civil war in this part of the country.
CPLA emerged from NPA split and foists its narrow indigenist politics
At the end of Martial rule and assumption to power of Cory Aquino, armed struggle by the New People’s Army (NPA) with tribal warriors in its ranks raged in the Cordillera country side. This was popularly in defence of land and life against the destructive Chico dams and Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC) logging, Mainit mines, militarization that accompanied these projects, and against the U.S.–Marcos Dictatorship.
In 1986, under the leadership of the Lumbaya Coy- an elite NPA unit composed of indigenous red fighters, split from the NPA and set up the CPLA (Cordillera People’s Liberation Army). This was reportedly under the leadership of Fr. Conrado Balweg a.k.a. “Ka Ambo”. The CPLA then foisted the narrow indigenist “Ambo” analysis and prescription- that the distinctness of the Cordillera merited separation from the Philippine State; thus the objective is for a “Cordillera nation”, with the Bodong indigenous political system as its form of government. Such indigenist narrow politics caused disunity in the ranks of the NPA and among diverse Cordillera peoples, as well as reverse discrimination against none indigenous people in the Cordillera.
Cory Aquino abandons CPA and coddles CPLA, the CPLA terrorism and government silence
The EDSA people power revolution marked the end of the Marcos Dictatorship which was a period of human rights violations. Oppressive fascist Martial Rule educated the Filipino public that human rights violation is perpetrated by the State. With the assumption to power of so called ‘democracy icon’ Cory Aquino, the expectation was that human rights violations would end. It was therefore a huge disappointment that human rights violations continued nationwide under the Cory Aquino regime, and more so with its all out war call “to unsheath the swords of war”.
Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the camp of Cory Aquino were once one in the anti dictatorship struggle that culminated in the EDSA revolution. Upon Cory’s assumption as President in 1986, a delegation of CPA leaders was one of the first groups received by Corazon Aquino in Malacanang . This was in recognition of being allies in the anti dictatorship struggle, and in addressing particular Cordillera issues like the Chico dams. But when CPLA emerged from the split with the NPA, government being true to its undemocratic ruling class elite character, forgot about the democratic people’s movement in the Cordillera. It instead embraced and coddled an elite personality led armed group – CPLA, and pampered it with political and financial support as well as military accomodations.
In the Cordillera, terrorism by the CPLA (Cordillera People’s Liberation Army) traumatized the militant people’s movement led by the CPA (Cordillera People’s Alliance), with the murder of some officers and members. CPLA was then supported and even coddled by government. Thus for a time, CPLA was positioned by government in Cordillera political affairs. Our collective memory is of CPLA terrorism, during the supposedly liberal democratic regime of Cory Aquino. It is a dark mark of State partnership with the paramilitary CPLA that unleashed atrocities on the open legal people’s movement in the Cordillera.
CPLA terrorism in the Cordillera is marked by the murder of CPA officers: Ama Daniel Ngayaan and Romy Gardo in 1987. Still at the height of CPLA – military terrorism against CPA, Robert Estimada and Ferdinand Bragas were murdered in Bontoc in July, 1988. They were both staff of Development Agency of Tribes in the Cordillera (DATC) – a CPA affiliate NGO based in Bontoc. There were other CPLA and military victims in communities. The CPLA terrorism targeted progressive Cordillera leaders and activists, as well as organizations that criticized narrow indigenist CPLA politics and opportunism.
Such terrorism was marked by government inaction and silence. Somehow this indicated government complicity. And government harnessed all out support for CPLA. This scenario initially confused the people’s movement. If President Cory the “democratic icon” was indeed a people’s leader, why did she tolerate CPLA terrorism and even support them? President Cory later reaped the people’s anger when it became apparent that she was for her class and the elite like Conrado Balweg, the self centered leader of CPLA.
After all, President Cory was not really for the people. And shame on her, she allowed CPLA atrocities against the un armed Cordillera people’s movement during her term. CPA and the families of CPLA victims will persist in seeking justice. The people’s movement will always remind government of its complicity in the terrorism unleashed by CPLA. And also to justly condemn the Cory Aquino regime, as well as succeeding regimes, for their continued support and coddling of the CPLA.
For the Cordillera people’s movement, the all out government support for the paramilitary CPLA, even when it terrorized progressive leaders and organizations; has educated us on the realities of the Cordillera and the national situation, as well as the tortuous road to genuine social change. CPLA had been an extension of government in the Cordillera. Government and CPLA used each other. Opportunism served their mutual interests, to the detriment of the Cordillera people. Government – CPLA relations has also revolved on ruling class elite politics. Exercise of leadership that caused divisiveness and that advanced personal rather than common interests, is contrary to genuine indigenous leadership. Being pangat or panglakayen is not for personal gain but for community unity and the common good. The people’s movement view CPLA leadership characterized by individual interest and opportunism, show deterioration of indigenous values and discipline on integrity, common good and democracy. These are paramount Cordillera indigenous people’s values.
It is not easy to understand why government has continued to pamper and reward CPLA. But this is all in the system of elite and corrupt politics with undemocratic opportunist traits, characteristic of the ruling class pyramid social structure of Philippine society. Another angle was the Cory Aquino regime’s ignorant and wrong view that by coopting the CPLA, the armed struggle in the Cordillera would the solved.
It is also history that the NPA had announced their death penalty on Conrado Balweg aka “ Ka Ambo”, founder of CPLA. Ka Ambo had boasted of killing Ama Daniel Nayaan. This has to be seen in the context of a divided and unstable Philippine society, with an on going civil war. Thus the Peace Talks should be pursued more fervently and sincerely by the GRP and the NDFP, towards just and lasting peace.
Progressive politics of the people’s movement and the particularity of the Cordillera people
The progressive politics of the people’s movement led by the Cordillera People’s alliance (CPA), is that the Cordillera people have a particularity with the specific problem of National Oppression. This is seen in violation of ancestral lands with oppressive land laws, no respect and undermining of indigenous socio political systems with commercialization of culture, discrimination, government neglect and militarization. As national minority (NM) or indigenous people (IP), they have the right to self determination to decide on their economic, political and cultural life. Thus the aspiration for Regional Autonomy (RA) as form of political self determination; and for people based socio economic development that nurture land and the environment, sincerely address people’s welfare and national development.
And the Cordillera people as Filipinos are one with other Filipinos in addressing the basic problems of Philippine society. The common goal in social change for the majority of Filipinos is for a truly sovereign, democratic, and socially just society. Pervasive historical injustice, oppression and exploitation institutionalized in the pyramid social structure divide our society. Thus a section of the population resort to armed struggle. Philippine history records revolts and resistance which continue until the present. The sustained armed struggle waged by the NPA is touted worldwide to be the longest running insurgency. And a vibrant open legal people’s movement for genuine social change has been in place since Martial Law and even earlier.
The progressive people’s movement led by CPA exposed the narrow indigenist politics of CPLA to create a “Cordillera Nation”, and arrogance to impose the bodong system as the form of government. There are other indigenous socio political systems in the Cordillera like the dap ay, as well as the already existing western based system of governance. CPA also exposed government political support for the positioning of CPLA leaders – namely “Ambo” Conrado Balweg, their elder’s organization Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBAd) in the Cordillera Executive Board (CEB) of the Cordillera Regional Assembly (CRA), in the newly formed Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
Widespread debates in the grass roots and among professionals ensued between the CPA’s enlightened and progressive politics on the Cordillera; as differentiated from the narrow, divisive, indigenist CPLA politics. History unfolded in the past more than three decades and the politics espoused by CPA has prevailed and continues to be affirmed.
Regionalization of the Cordillera is an achievement of the broad mass movement
Regionalization of the Cordillera had been a broad popular clamor, initiated by the national democratic movement asserting the Right to Self determination with Regional Autonomy as the appropriate political form of self determination in the Cordillera. And Regionalization of the Cordillera as a physically integrated homogeneous indigenous people’s region is a step towards Regional Autonomy.
The progressive democratic politics of “Regionalization and Beyond”-or exercise of self determination through Regional Autonomy and not secession, was immensely popular at the grass roots ; among Cordillera professionals and politicians, and even at the national level. Thus the impetus for the provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution on Regional Autonomy for the Cordillera and for Muslim Mindanao.
The regionalization of CAR was formalized by President Cory Aquino through Executive Order 220 in 1987. But this was just mere formalization, as the movement for “Regionalization” of the Cordillera was already a broad popular work in progress led by the Cordillera People’s Alliance. When CPLA emerged in 1986, it coopted this political initiative with government support. Thus CPLA changed its earlier tune “Cordillera nation” to ride on the popular clamor for Regionalization. With momentum and popular push by the broad Cordillera wide mass movement, the realization of Cordillera Regionalization was already realizable and inevitable. Thus the Cory Aquino – Conrado Balweg so called sipat (peace pact) at Mt. Data in 1987, did not create “Regionalization” of the Cordillera. This was already an achievable clamor from the earlier efforts of the mass movement. It is not right to attribute to only two people what had been achieved by the broad mass movement.
CPLA transformed into a socio economic group
A recent update on CPLA, was its transformation in 2011 as a socio economic group by a MOA with the government Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process (OPAPP). Conversion into a socio economic group as Cordillera Formation for Peace and Development (CFPD), supposedly terminated CPLA as an armed group.
It should be pointed out that packaging of CPLA as a socio economic group is opportunistic to legitimize its being a channel for development funds in the Cordillera, instead of such funds being coursed through regular government agencies. This also served counter insurgency as part of OPLAN BAYANIHAN. With millions of socio economic funds, CPLA now as CFPD continues to be pampered by government. Through government support, CPLA remnants may manage to sustain presence in Cordillera affairs. Such fund support again manifests government coddling of this group. But whatever good, if any, that CPLA ever sets out to do is always blotted by its notorious human rights record.
Lessons in addressing the particularity of Cordillera people and Peace Talks
This CPLA experience is instructive that in the struggle for particular indigenous people’s rights, there must be sufficient knowledge and discernment and to beware of narrow indigenist politics like that of the CPLA. Until now there has been no justice to the victims of CPLA atrocities. And government is challenged for its complicity with CPLA , as well as its inept handling of the insurgency and the particularity of indigenous people’s politics in the Cordillera. The people’s movement must also be vigilant against the likes of the CPLA, that will try to exploit the Cordillera situation and its national minority or indigenous people’s particularity, for their elite and selfish interests.
The government has also opted to talk “Peace “ with the CPLA rather than with the NPA. Yet from sustained reports in the papers even recently, there are armed encounters by AFP and NPA in various locations in the Cordillera. Then and now, the NPA is obviously much alive. Whereas CPLA has been continuously eroded by wrangling over funds and government positions.
CPLA factions had been in local headlines due to involvement in land grabbing or other questionable behavior like being declared persona non grata by Baguio City. History should now judge government on its ineptness and opportunism in coddling and talking peace with the CPLA. Looking back now with the benefit of history, it may be observed that it was a blunder for government to have talked Peace with the CPLA instead of the NPA. What has government achieved for the Cordillera people and the Filipino nation by talking peace and investing so much political and financial support and military accomodations for a splintered and weak CPLA that further broke into even weaker factions.
The reality over the years up to the present is of continuing insurgency by the NPA, as well as a sustained progressive people’s movement that had recovered from setbacks due to CPLA terrorism. And this is the situation until the root causes of the insurgency and aspirations of the progressive mass movement are addressed.
Collective memory to prevail over historical revisionism in Cordillera history
The CPLA story must be told and retold for collective memory to prevail. There is need to draw the lessons in resolutely advancing the peoples democratic struggle, to correctly address the national minority/indigenous people’s particularity, and to relentlessly pursue justice for the victims. The Cordillera people’s movement will always remind government of its culpability in the CPLA story.
There has been romanticism of CPLA especially its main architect –“Ambo” Conrado Balweg, in the movies and in media. Widespread political consciousness and maturity is needed, to rise above such shallow romanticism, narrow indigenism and opportunism. For the people’s movement, no amount of revisionism can alter the history of the CPLA – with its notorious human rights record.
Where ever democracy is thrashed, and cries of victims of injustice reverberate, collective memory is necessary. It helps anchor our perseverance in the continuing quest for justice and genuine democracy. And collective memory must be continuously re told to defeat revisionism that threatens to distort Cordillera history, our history particularly on the CPLA. # nordis.net
* This article is an abridged version which was originally presented by Benedict Solang at Northern Luzon Assembly of SELDA, in the University of the Philippines, Baguio City, on December 10, 2013. — Ed