From Under This Hat: Taking a stand with Tannaw

By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
www.nordis.net

Yesterday, after the assembly of the Women’s organization in Mountain Province, a simple but grand tribute was given to the grand (as in great) mother of Bontoc. Compared to the general physique of Igorot women, she radiated unusual strength and was statuesque in her days.

Just her posture commanded full attention and respect to what she represented and what she had to say … to this igorot macho society, and made everyone listen. Though her voice was gentle and even musical to the ear, people listened to her, and craned their necks to get every word.

I came to know of the story of the protest against the opening of the mines in Mainit, when I was with another local newspaper but only realized she was one of those active in the protest much much later through a former lawyer of the mining company who was awestruck by the women’s strong support in the community protest then, and he said it helped him make his decision to quit lawyering for the mines.

She is the mother of Helen with whom I became friends with in our childhood when we were some eight or nine years old. Whom I met again decades later in Bontoc with her sisters. Getting to know Tannaw and her brood more made me put her on the highest pedestal for friends, mothers, for women leaders and for modern warriors. She was tops like my own mother.

It was around this time of the year in 1987, I found myself and a colleague then with the Philippine News and Features (PNF) covering a meeting of the group that broke away from the New People’s Army (NPA) in April that same year, under the late Fr. Conrado Balweg and then Senator Butch Aquino. It was a meeting organized by Balweg’s group to meet with the senator brokering peace in the Cordillera, allegedly to solve the insurgency problem the “peaceful way.”

Among the Cordillera delegates was a group of women from Bontoc led by Mother Petra “Tannaw” Macli-ing. We arrived in Bugnay the day before in time for the early morning meeting. We stayed in the hut built by the MRDC for the people of Bugnay, farmers’ cooperative. We were visited that night by Balweg’s vice commander looking his best, considering the circumstances, but smelling of liquor and as he took his seat he started cocking his chrome plated pistol before us. Mother stood across him alongside us and in her mother voice reminded the man that should a gentleman go visiting, the women at that, he should not go smelling of alcohol looking roughshod and showing off his gun. Because it is late and we have many things to do tomorrow, it is best we go home and rest for the night. There will be plenty of time to speak tomorrow, she said in Bontoc.

An imagined chill came in and the room became tense and quiet. He exchanged some greetings maybe but if anything was said then, all talk was already inaudible to me. I waited for a big bang. He turned out to be respectful after all, and took mother’s advice to call it a night as we were all tired after the long travel from the city and he from… I did not hear, some place above the barrio. Mother was cool, very cool. And we slept well that night.

The day of the meeting, mother woke us up and rushed us through the morning rituals and breakfast, like we were her own. Over coffee we talked about what to expect in the meeting and prepared ourselves to ask questions about Balweg’s proposal for a separate Cordillera governed by the Bodong. It was the time to ask the splinter group to explain.

Being born and raised an Ibaloy, the only knowledge I had was whatever I have read on the Bodong, and I asked mother Tannaw everything I could on the bodong to better understand what the meeting that day would raise on the bodong as the system of governance in the Codillera. With what mother shared and instructed me. This talk with her made me more equiped and confident to participate in the program of the day. All she told and taught me that morning I was able to use in the discussions in the meeting. It put me in a place where I comprehended very well why the bodong cannot be the system to govern the Cordillera autonomous region and Balweg was completely wrong to even propose it.

Of the hundred gathered there, six or seven of us women from outside Kalinga seated ourselves on some rocks near the speakers area and we were told later that behind us several peacepact holders and local elders gathered, in deference to mother Tannaw, the woman considered with the status of a peacepact holder. In the program, their version of the national situation and the Cordillera situation was shared to rationalize their proposal for the bodong system as the form of governance for a separate Cordillera region.

There was an open forum where we fielded our questions, I and my companion who was Bago from the La Union boundary area raised our hands one after the other. Pointing out that not all of the Cordillera are Binodngan areas (non bodong practitioners). Several across the ground drew nearer or stood up as if to get a better reception and listened to the exchange. Even to Balweg who was answering the queries and explaining to the audience looked like he was taken aback and shook his head.

Mother later (year in, year out) told me he saw Balweg kneel before us just before the cooks (kitchen) called for a break (from the heating up discussion), and announced that lunch was ready. I only remember he came near us and pleaded that we do not raise the questions there and that we can talk more about it later. The meeting broke up and did not convene later because the main speaker, Sen. Butch Aquino went to Sadanga or Saclit instead. And, that begins another related story. # nordis.net

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