Meet Nueva Vizcaya’s "Texas Rangers"
by Ben Moses Ebreo
DUPAX DEL NORTE, Nueva Vizcaya (18 October) -- The sky darkened and rains poured hard over the compound of the town hall here as young and old members of the Bugkalot tribe scampered for cover.
That was sometime in September last year. For ordinary villagers, it was a normal Saturday, but for the Bugkalots who have hiked for a day along with their guns, it was an important event to meet Philippine National Police director general Arturo Lomibao, whom the natives have regarded as their brother.
Despite the rains that hampered Lomibao’s air travel, the Bugkalots gladly complied with the accounting of 20 or so assorted rifles as police regional director for Cagayan Valley P/Senior Supt. Jefferson Soriano asked them to secure the province’s boundaries from any armed intrusion.
The Bugkalots brought down their guns, concealed in sacks to facilitate the retirement of SPO4 Lopito Protacio who was then the Supply Sargeant of the then 131 Philippine Constabulary Company in the province to whom the weapons were accounted under his name.
Bugkalot Armand Pasigian said the guns were given to them during the term of Lomibao as provincial commander of the defunct Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police(PC-INP) in the province from 1986 to 1988, considered as the peak of insurgency in the province.
“We have requested for these weapons to protect our village from strangers who would attempt to disrupt our peaceful lives,” he told PIA.
Aside from their assorted guns, the Bugkalots also rely on their native weapons such as bow and arrows, bolos and spears in maintaining peace and hunting wild animals in the forest for their livelihood and food.
The Bugkalots, formerly known as Ilongots in the 1960s and feared for their fierce headhunting practices have long been settled within Nueva Vizcaya’s boundaries near Aurora and Quirino provinces.
Unknown to many, their exploits and efforts also highlighted their role as guardians of the province’s boundaries for years.
Fr. Pedro V. Salgado, Dominican promoter of justice and peace and professor of Philippine Dominican Center of Institutional Studies in his book The Ilongots, published in 1994 described the tribe’s identity as peace loving people who refuse exploitation through foreign and domestic intrusion.
Salgado’s book also attributed the tribe’s molded Christian values by the New Tribes Mission (NTM) who helped in advocating moral teachings since the 1960s to become peaceful villagers.
Even in the 1960s, a peace pact to stop tribal wars among indigenous communities in the province was initiated to stop the head hunting practices of the Bugkalots. This was followed in 1975 by government agencies during the operation of logging company in Dupax del Norte town as lowlanders were also employed and mingled with the tribal communities.
Ruben Bastero, regional director of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples(NCIP) said the Bugkalots have been very loyal to the government since efforts to pacify their head hunting activities started in the 60s.
But even before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared an all-out war against the New People’s Army(NPA) last month, the Bugkalots have long been listed the rebels under their order of battle.
Like the classic movie ‘Texas Rangers’ whose title tells the story of common villagers who were victims of atrocities and eventually volunteered as deputized marshals to totally wipe out the outlaws and maintain peace in their village, the Bugkalots have also a reason for being.
Living near the province’s borders with Aurora and Quirino provinces such as in Conwap Valley, composed of barangays Binuangan, Diayan, Yabbi, Guingin and New Gumiad in Dupax del Norte town, some of the Bugkalots who also rely on horses for transportation then were deputized as either members of the defunct Community Home Defense Forces (CHDF) or Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit(CAFGU) by the military to thwart NPA rebels in their areas. Their deputization was strategically justified considering the unpaved roads and lengthy travel time of military response to their areas, police officials said.
“Instead of waiting for very long hours for our response, arming them as peacekeepers would be more appropriate,” a police official said.
The presence of the FCA logging company triggered the influx of New People’s Army rebels in the area, demanding revolutionary taxes.
To some Bugkalots and other tribal communities, it was an opportunity for employment to earn for their families. “Some of the Bugkalots also served as bodyguards and security guards of the logging company and its officials, “ said Kankanaey Abad Langpawen, 56.
Langpawen said the conflict between the armed Bugkalots and NPA rebels evolved on their varied philosophies of claiming for benefits with the presence of the logging company.
Before the end of 1987, NPA rebels dressed in military uniforms entered a Bugkalot community and easily disarmed the 5 Bugkalots as CAFGUs within a school compound in barangay Binuangan in Dupax del Norte town and massacred them including 2 other natives.
“They were easily disarmed because the insurgents were in military uniforms, the Bugkalots thought they are real officers and even complied from their orders of military drills, the others were not present,” said 44 year old Cirilo Bunggay, a Bugkalot of barangay Belance.
Families and relatives of the victims have cried for revenge but this did not materialize. Police officials here said there has been no intrusion of the NPA rebels within the Bugkalot communities after the incident.
Since then, the Bugkalots’ loyalty to the government never waned and has even more strengthened.
The Bugkalots’ transformation of their identity as fierce head hunters into peaceful and democratic way of life was shown in their participation to development projects of the government such as the introduction and completion of the multi-billion Casecnan Multi-Purpose Irrigation and Power Project(CMIPP) in Alfonso Castaneda townPolice Senior Inspector Rodolfo Almendra of the police provincial office said that with their deputization as guardians of peace in their community, there has been no record of abuse or any crime they have committed by using their guns. “In fact, they are more disciplined than some gun owners in the lowlands,” he boasted. (PIA NVizcaya) [top]