BAGUIO CITY — In his uggayam (traditional chant), Ama Julio Longan, 68, of the Taloctoc sub-tribe of Kalinga urged his audience in a human rights rally to join mabtad, where Cordillera communities and groups are urged to collective act for finding James Balao, missing since September 17.
Mabtad is a traditional call and practice in Kalinga and Mountain Province, particularly in the binodngan or bodong (peace pact) practicing areas. Members of communities are mobilized during calamities or in dire need – whether it is due to man made acts or natural ones, explained Ama Longan, a veteran in the restoration in broken peace pacts in Kalinga.
“If a community member who went to hunt failed to return, mabtad is used to call the people to look for the missing person. The same when someone is allegedly taken by their enemy tribe, the community able-bodied men are called for war with their enemy,” he explained in Ilocano.
Mabtad is characterized by sadness. Hence in gatherings, gongs, which reflect happiness, are not used. Instead, people use kalasag (shields), pakipak (bamboo instruments) and gayang (spear) in producing sounds, Longan pointed out.
Mabtad is adopted in the case of James Balao, whose mother hails from Mountain Province, he pointed out. It is not only on Balao, a founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) where mabtad was used.
Earlier in October 1987, Ama Daniel Ngayaan, of Tanglag, was abducted by members of the late Conrado Balweg’s Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), a state para-military, at the Cagaluan Gate in Lubuagan, explained Ama Longan.
Ngayaan’s tribe mates, members of the peace pact holders’ organization Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA), and the CPA were called for the mabtad, to look for the abducted and missing Ngayaan, then CBA chairman and CPA vice-chairperson.
“We went to look for Ngayaan in different places, including forests, rivers, military camps, among others,” explained Longan, present president of the Cordillera Elders Association (CEA).
The family of Ngayaan filed a habeas corpus petition, a legal remedy praying to the court to order the person or group holding him to bring him in court. The petition was filed after the late Conrado Balweg admitted in an interview that his group abducted Ngayaan. The court however denied the said petition.
Balao’s family and friends also filed a petition for the resurfacing of the abducted Balao. It is not through the habeas corpus but a petition for a writ of amparo, believed a stronger remedy. The legal remedy, amparo was recently issued by the Supreme Court to compel a person or entity to produce a missing person and if the person is not in their position, to exert efforts for information of the missing person or subject of the amparo.
The regional trial court of Benguet is expected to issue its decision on the Balao’s petition for writ of amparo, the first in the region.
The petition is claimed to be a complimentary remedy used by the Balao’s family and their friends to locate and surface James Balao, now missing for more than three months.
Unselfish indigenous rights advocate
Longan said he knew James since they were lobbying for the inclusion of indigenous rights to the 1987 Constitution being drafted by members of the then Constitutional Commission appointed by then Pres. Cory Aquino in 1986.
“He was a staff of Commissioner Ponciano Bennagen, who was endorsed by the indigenous peoples,” Longan added.
Longan added, Balao, who used to be a staff of the CPA, helped Bennagen in introducing provisions of the 1987 Constitution which recognizes indigenous peoples’ rights to their culture, tradition and ancestral lands. He clarified though that those were output of the indigenous peoples’ and their technical know-how.
Under Section 22, Article II of the 1987 Constitution, the State is mandated to recognize and promote the rights of indigenous cultural communities while in Section 1, Article X, it mandates that there shall be autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras.
Longan claimed that these provisions on indigenous peoples were not at all included in the past constitutions.
“Here is an unselfish person who served the people without expecting anything in return. It is high time for us to pay in return by joining the mabtad,” Longan said.
His uggayam reverberates: “Uggayam, o gayaman, bareng no maawatan, turay a kadakdaksan, tapno miruar ida no ayanat nangipupukan, ta saan met a masida wenno makan (I hope it will be understood, by this worst administration, to tell us where they had imprisoned (James), as he (James) is not a viand or a food.) # Arthur L. Allad-iw