Here’s Part 2 of Gerard Finin’s article on the Igorot rally against then Baguio City Mayor Jun Labo because of his anti-Igorot remarks. You can read Part 1 of this article here.
The 1988 Igorot Demonstration
by Gerard A. Finin
Among the many protesters marching in groups were highlander commissioners and staff of the Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission, a body that had recently been appointed by Pres. Corazon Aquino to draft provisions under the newly ratified Philippine Constitution for granting the Cordillera a special status (along with parts of Mindanao in the southern Philippines) as an autonomous region—contingent upon approval by Cordillera voters in a plebiscite.
Another group of marchers consisted of young researchers from the University of the Philippines at Baguio Cordillera Studies Center, a social science research institution where highlanders and lowlanders are engaged in the systematic study of the Cordillera’s non-Hispanized culture and institutions, as well as other contemporary issues related to the highlands. Also marching were various student groups, the most boisterous of which chanted in unison, “Kaigorotan lumaban” [Igorot folks fight]. Several young men among these students stopped along the protest route to torch an effigy of Mayor Labo. On the sidewalk a normally dour curb-sweeper took notice of the youths and, exhibiting a broad grin, awkwardly clapped while holding her broom.
As the marchers slowly made their way past the majestic Burnham Park and up to city hall on an incline overlooking the park, a decrepit green jeepney with two loudspeakers on top parked near the building’s front steps to provide amplification for the invited speakers. Seeking to ease the palpable tension, and possibly preclude rock throwing, one of the protest coordinators, Fr. Pat Guyguyon, stepped forward to take the microphone and appeal for peace. As a native of Ifugao province and a long-time advocate for Cordillera causes, his serene appeal had its intended effect upon the crowd. Soon the speakers began taking their turns at the microphone on the city hall steps, addressing the crowd primarily in Ilokano, with some English mixed in. The inadequate speaker system reached no more than half the protesters, bringing the large crowd even closer together as they strained to hear and to see events unfold.
One of the first speakers, a middle-aged professional, read the “Igorot Manifesto,” written in a legal-style English. It proclaimed that the Igorots, “as a people” believe in peaceful coexistence with all other people “regardless of race, color, economic status and religion.”
The next speaker, Vice Mayor “Jimmy” Bugnosen, viewed as a “pure-blooded” Igorot, found himself in a slightly awkward position. Trying not to break ranks completely with the mayor, he said to the crowd in Ilokano, “My friends, I would like to thank you for the manners you have shown this morning. We also have here our brothers and sisters who are not from the mountains but who are from below and who feel for us, who feel what we are feeling.” A former leader of BIBAK, Baguio’s largest highlander student organization, he encouraged protesters to give the mayor the “benefit of the doubt” concerning the newspaper column’s veracity. For this suggestion he was booed. “We first have to show that we are Christians and peace-loving people,” appealed Bugnosen, but to no effect.
Perhaps put off by one of the previous speakers’ use of the word “manifesto,” or perhaps recognizing certain faces in the crowd, the vice mayor proceeded to talk about the Communist Party of the Philippines. “Yes, if possible, I would not like to see any red flags. That is why I would like to thank you my friends if I do not see any red flags. You know what I mean to say by that.” Changing course as a result of a less than enthusiastic response from the crowd, the vice mayor finished in bellowing Ilokano, “We should not lower our dignity because it is stated in the Constitution that our rights as a minority are protected.”
Not long after Bugnosen handed over the microphone, another local politician stepped up to address the protesters. “We the Igorot . . . are also legitimate citizens of the Philippines. . . . Our concern is to show our oneness as a people of the mountains. We will not allow ourselves to be stepped on.” The loud burst of applause that greeted these remarks suggested the degree to which his words echoed sentiments felt by many in the crowd. “My brother Igorots, my fellow Cordillerans, it is true today that there is solidarity in the Cordillera,” he concluded.
The protest then took another turn as young children began climbing the city hall steps in their neatly pressed uniforms to offer protesters an “intermission,” as it was termed. Accompanied by a guitar, the elementary school students broke into a form of musical verse called salidummay, a popular pan-Cordillera melody for which there are innumerable lyrics. Singing about love of freedom and hope for the future, the youngsters received a warm applause.
Next came a nun representing the Religious Association of Baguio and Benguet province. Many in the crowd exercised a measure of self-restraint by not booing when she said that everyone, even the mayor, “is created in His image and likeness.” The fact that the Sister belonged to a well-known Order and traced her origins to the Cordillera province of Kalinga seemingly helped the protesters remain amiable.
Next, bringing the crowd to a full crescendo was the voice of the former governor and former congressman from Mountain Province, Atty. Alfredo Lam-en. Well into his late sixties or early seventies, with a self-described John Wayne profile, Lam-en unabashedly sang out his greetings in Ilokano to protesters using a distinctively Cordilleran chant known as oggayam. Although the chant is often heard at village gatherings in Abra, Kalinga, and Mountain Province, few if any other Baguio attorneys would have been so unabashed in acknowledging their roots. “It is true that we are all Igorots here, even the nun who is the child of Jesus Christ,” chanted Lam-en, to a loud cheer of approval.
Calling attention to his own bloodshot eyes, allegedly caused by three sleepless nights after reading the mayor’s remarks, Lam-en used self-directed humor to evoke great laughter. At the same time, he warned protesters in a serious tone not to take the law into their own hands. Revealing the syncretic nature of religion in much of the Cordillera, the former governor stated that the powerful “non-Christian” deity, Kabunian, would deal appropriately with this matter. Lam-en, a cofounder in 1950 of the first Cordillera-wide youth organization that brought together students from all the highlander ethnolinguistic groups, had affectionately been introduced as “no other than our father from the Cordillera.” His closing words, “Mabuhay ang Kaigorotan” [Long live the Igorot], were loudly applauded, suggesting the degree to which the crowd appreciated their dual status as Igorot and Filipino.
Now the crowd waited anxiously to hear from the person whose remarks had sparked this demonstration, arguably the largest ever held in the city. After more than forty-five minutes of coaxing, Mayor Labo came down from his office to address the protesters who were now standing uncomfortably in the hot midmorning sun.
The mayor was surrounded by a group of police and military officials who scanned the crowd through their de rigueur RayBan sunglasses. Speaking in Filipino and broken English, he began by asking the crowd to recall a Rotary Club sign they passed during their march to city hall espousing truth and fairness. Then, suggesting a historical analogy, Labo said, “But somewhere in time, two thousand years ago, a great man was being crucified at a mount called Calvary for committing himself in the service of mankind.” Buffeted by a roar of disapproval and derision, the mayor soon abandoned the microphone and retreated to his office in a huff.
Shortly thereafter the protesters dispersed and in small groups went back to their schools, offices, and homes. If there was disappointment with the mayor’s reaction and failure to apologize, there was also a collective sense of pride and self-respect based on what the “Igorots” had achieved during the past few hours in asserting their collective self-respect as a people.
The demonstration captured in myriad ways the idea of the Igorots as the people of the Cordillera, as well as highlanders’ongoing concern about how they are seen in the eyes of the nation. Justifiable sensitivity to belittlement is gradually yielding to a growing awareness and pride that the Cordillera, through its rich array of indigenous institutions, offers all Filipinos an alternative and perhaps fuller representation of that which is truly Filipino. This volume seeks to offer a new understanding of the Cordillera during the past century that will contribute to nationalist discourse and inform contemporary policy.
SOURCE: Ateneo Press