Kennedy, a Kalinga pangat


BAGUIO CITY — Whenever communities in Kalinga mention him, they would always describe him as their brave, humble, and good looking leader. Beyond his good looks and valor, his family treasure him as Kennedy Bangibang whose love for family, the Cordillera and the Philippines is immeasurable. To the rest of us, he is the life size picture of a Kalinga warrior.

BACK TO WORK. Kennedy Bangibang, NDFP consultant for Cordillera and National Minority affairs flies to Oslo, Norway immediately after release to raise concerns of indigenous peoples and national minorities in the country at the first formal talks between the NDFP and the Duterte administration. Photo courtesy of Kodao Productions
BACK TO WORK. Kennedy Bangibang, NDFP consultant for Cordillera and National Minority affairs flies to Oslo, Norway immediately after release to raise concerns of indigenous peoples and national minorities in the country at the first formal talks between the NDFP and the Duterte administration. Photo courtesy of Kodao Productions

A native of the Taluktok tribe of Tanudan, Kalinga who graduated valedictorian in elementary, his brothers describe him as intelligent and a diligent student. He graduated with flying colors in High School. Hopes were high among his family and his tribe that he would become a topnotch Civil Engineer. He was, however, drawn to the lives of resisting masses along the Chico River and mining communities in Benguet that opened his eyes to the realities of national oppression and imperialist plunder against the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera.

His comprehension of the root causes of oppression and underdevelopment in the country especially on the issues of national minorities drove him to embrace the principles of a national democratic revolution as a solution, and he decided to participate in the struggle. His almost three decades in the revolutionary movement tempered him to be highly disciplined and unwavering, for which he has come to be known and well respected.

In the warrior’s blood

He was in High School when the resistance against the World Bank funded Chico River Dams heightened. This struggle, as he narrated, awakened the warrior inside him because the dams threatened their ancestral territory. His tribe is among those who were ready to shed blood to defend their homeland. Kennedy would always find time to listen and learn from his tribe and other people in protest. He witnessed how their elders forged solidarity among other tribes with the common objective of defending their territories. “Iti tribu, no kasapulan nga ag-armas tapno agdepensa, maaramid,” (Among the tribes, when it is necessary to take up arms in defense, it shall be done) he said.

His people’s willful defiance against the giant dams was answered by the government with military violence. Because of that, Kalinga tribes realized that resolutions, petitions, protest actions, and delegations addressed to government were not enough.

He proudly recalled that male members of various tribes in Tanudan and other municipalities joined the New People’s Army (NPA) in batches as they believed that it was only through armed resistance that they can fight against the battalions of the state armed forces deployed along the Chico river to quell the tribes’ resistance.

While the events unfolded through his high school years, the issue of national oppression has been inculcated deep in his consciousness. This consciousness was deepened when he attended several of what he called “schooling” given by the NPA in their village. He came to realized that fighting against national oppression should not be isolated from the nationwide resistance against the Marcos dictatorship, and the national revolution towards an end to imperialist control and to the lording of local landlords and big capitalists. As his consciousness widened, he learned that it is possible to build a society where the democratic sectors including national minorities can live in the absence of injustice.

The pretty face and the poet

When he was in college, he used his free time organizing youth and students in Baguio and Benguet together with other activists. His colleagues would fondly describe him as tall, dark and handsome who would always be the cause of swooning among girls in schools and communities. One of his batch mate said he was a “crush ng bayan” (peoples’ crush) and was never a womanizer.

He is not just a pretty face as he is also good with words. In 1983, he composed a song entitled, “Bumangon Ta’y Amin” (Let’s all rise). The tune was patterned to a traditional Kalinga melody. This is still the perfect song, he said, to describe the aspirations of the Cordillera people for which he will negotiate in the peace consultations and negotiations. One of the stanzas of the song goes:

“Karbengan pampulitika, (Political Rights)
Panagdur-as ekonomiya, (Economic progress)
Panagbigbig ti Kultura, (Recognition of the culture)
Pudno nga autonomiya” (Genuine Regional Autonomy)

The song is also a call for unity among all sectors to rise and fight for the aspirations as a people.

Even when he decided to wield a rifle, he did not drop his pen. He continued writing poems and songs describing the situations of indigenous peasants whom he always mingled with. He did not only describe situations but proposed actions. When he was captured, he used his pen to free his mind by composing letters and poems which he often sent to communities and to newspaper outfits.

In his letters, he would always cite Mao Zedong with a quote that says, “In times of difficulties, we must not lose sight of our achievements.” He explained that it serves as a reminder to himself and to his comrades whenever they face desolate situations.

Other revolutionaries would complain that his compositions are too long. “Kilometriko met nga agsurat dayta lakay,” (The old man writes in kilometers). One example is the anthem of the Cordillera Peoples Democratic Front (CPDF). The song they said is too long to memorize and has an eclectic melody which many have difficulty in learning. Akbar defends himself that he cannot tell a story in a few stanzas. The melody of the anthem he added is as beautiful as the Cordillera mountains with its high and low notes, and slurs. Some of the stanzas of the song goes:

Panangidadanes a nailyan (National oppression)
Masapul a gibusan ay, ay! (Must end)
Bukod a panagkeddeng (Self determination)
Itandudo, Gun-uden (Assert and achieve)
Umili nainsigudan (Indigenous Peoples)
Ilaban, Salakniban ay, ay (Fight/Defend and Save)
Daga a nagtaudan (The ancestral land)
Kultura a nabaknang (and our rich culture)

Braving the aftermath of a split in the NPA

Kennedy was starting to make a life-changing decision to join the NPA in 1986 when a clique formed by Fr. Conrado Balweg split from the NPA and organized his followers as the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA). They turned against former comrades and vilified community organizations and worst, the CPLA begun assassinating leaders of open-legal mass organizations especially the leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA). The faction even disclosed the identities of families in the communities that they have come to know while in the NPA. This has wreaked havoc in the ranks of the NPA and most especially among communities that were actively opposing the dam projects.

Kennedy said, he had to help. Initially, he went to the guerilla zone to help in consolidating the communities that were disillusioned. When he witnessed how grave the havoc was, he decided to formally join the armed struggle in the first quarter of 1987. Since then, Kennedy would be known as Akbar. The name was indelibly attached to him that despite his attempts to change it, he would still be identified as Akbar by many of his comrades and the community people.

One of the women in an upland village in Kalinga narrated that after the CPLA split, Akbar was among those who frequented their village to rectify and explain what happened. At first, most of the houses would close their doors to him and make foul comments. One time, Akbar approached their house and her sister banged the door before he could knock. He saw Akbar patiently sitting at their door step. She decided to open the door and invited him in. “Ammok a nasayaat isuna a tao. Tunggal malagip ko diay a pasamak ket makasangitak,” (I know he is good person and whenever I recall that scene, I cannot help but cry) she said.

The woman added that Akbar humbly and patiently visited their village countless times until the NPA regained their community trust. Until today, the villagers including their elders have high respects for him. For a long time that Akbar shared his friendship, he became part of their family. “Kasla ama mi met laeng isuna. No adda kamali nga aramidem ket ungtan da ka. Makasangit ka ngem pagsayaatan met piman amin nga advice na,” (He is like a father to us. He scolds you whenever you do something wrong. It is painful sometimes but all his advice are for our own good) she explained. In explaining to them the local and national issues, Akbar she said is patient. He can explain issues all day until the locals can grasp it.

She added that Akbar had been hands-on in helping them avail of a rice mill which has helped the women be liberated of the arduous task of pounding rice. He even guided them in managing the use of the project for it to be sustainable. The rice mill she said is still working up to this day.

His brother also narrated that when their tribe was informed of his release, they were jubilant and immediately requested that he stayed with them as they confront another greed-driven energy project. The elders however gave way to his crucial role in the peace talks.

The peace maker

For the Kalinga tribes who have met Akbar, he may be considered as one of the most passionate peace makers. Almost all the tribes in upland Kalinga have asked for his advice regarding the resolution of tribal conflicts. According to the elders, Akbar’s advice are founded in the principle of just peace and to avoid tribal wars. He always iterated the disruptive effects of tribal war in terms of livelihood and also its impact on the education and security among children.

One of the journalists who has interviewed him several times mentioned that Akbar has a firm grasp of the issues of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera. “He spoke with a clear goal to have IP rights to land and cultural integrity be protected and defended. He is also articulate on the issues of the grassroots,” the journalist mentioned adding that Akbar is a disciplined leader.

The Kalinga tribes are happy that he can be part of the consultations for the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPh) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). They are confident that he can negotiate for the concrete issues faced by the Cordillera People and other National Minorities in drafting the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio Economic Reforms (CASER).

Akbar in a phone interview said that he is happy to be released from jail after three years, five months, and 20 days and to be able to participate in the peace consultations. The downside, he said, is that he left the other political detainees still incarcerated.

Akbar assured that the issues of Cordillera and other national minorities will be discussed. His participation he added will help in putting details rather than generalizations on the affairs he is representing.

On the hand, Akbar cited one of the principles of tribal peace talks that would be worth emulating in the GPh-NDFP peace negotiation. He explained that in the countless times that he participated in the peace negotiations of Kalinga tribes, the two parties will only put down their rifles when the talk has been concluded and when they have both agreed on something. “Isunga kasapulan pay a seryoso a ramuten no apay nga agrigrigat ti umili. Resolbaen ti kararamut ti problema sakbay a nga pagtungtungan ti panangibaba iti armas,” (Therefore, we have to seriously dig into the root causes why people suffer in destitution, and resolve the root causes before we can talk about laying down arms,) he further explained.

Akbar and his unwavering spirit

When Akbar was asked how he remained firm in his principles while incarcerated and mourning the brutal murder of his wife by the 41st Infantry Brigade in Abra in 2014. He said that when he committed to help wage in the armed struggle in the countryside, he knew that death and incarceration are part of the civil war. “Madi tayo a matay wenno maibalud ngem realidad dayta ti gubat a kasapulan tayo nga akseptaren,” (We do not want to die or to be captured but these are realities of the war that we have to accept,) he said.

In September 2014, his wife, Recca Noelle Monte or Ka Tet was killed and her remains bore brutal signs of desecration. Her autopsy result shows no sign of gunshots but her skull was crushed and her bones were dislocated. The sorrow, he said. was indescribable especially that he was helpless in jail. He described, the memories of Ka Tet and the overwhelming family and community support helped him to stay on tract.

“Ammok a naranggas ti gubat ken narungsot ti kalaban. Nakarigrigat ngem kasapulan nga umaddang a paabante no kayat tayo a magun-od ti arapaap tayo a masakbayan,” (I know that this war is brutal and the enemy is ruthless. The process of acceptance was crushing but we have to move forward if we like to achieve our dream for a better society,) Akbar said. #


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