You cannot dissociate Fr. Conrado M. Balweg, SVD when you talk about the more recent quest of the Cordilleras for autonomy. Incidentally, even while waiting for the results of the 1986 Bar Examinations and while being a legal researcher at the UP Law Center, Diliman, I had already started working with Fr. Balweg (on the aspect of Cordillera Autonomy) which continued for thirteen years until his assassination in the year 1999. I was his personal legal counsel, legal counsel for the Cordillera Budong Administration (CBA), Cordillera Peoples’ Liberation Army (CPLA), and member and legal counsel of the Cordillera Panel during the RP-Cordillera Peace Talks in 1986-1987 which culminated in the creation of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
Fr. Balweg was a native Tinggian from Bangilo Malibcong, Abra. When he was a seminarian in the SVD Major Seminary in Tagaytay, many times his superiors had to look for him and every time they found him, he would be mingling with the pineapple farmers. At the time of the ordination of the batch of Fr. Balweg in 1974, they were the highest in number of seminarians to be ordained all throughout the SVD Seminaries in the world. There were fourteen of them to be ordained. It was a rare ordination. Because of this, so many visitors from all over the world arrived in Tagaytay to attend the ordination. The night before the ordination, the bishop called on all the candidates for ordination and surprisingly announced that Conrado M. Balweg will not be included in those to be ordained the following day because Balweg appeared to be leftist. He needs to be reformed and reindoctrinated. The other thirteen (13) candidates were shocked and told the bishop that if Conrado M. Balweg will not be included in the forthcoming ordination, they will not allow themselves to be ordained the following day. The bishop reconsidered his announcement. After the ordination the following day, instead of sending Fr. Balweg to Rome to be reformed as is usually done, his superiors sent him to Salapadan, Abra to be the parish priest. At that time in 1974, Martial Law was just proclaimed and that, it was the height of the opposition by the Tinggians against Cellophil Corporation, a plastic factory that illegally appropriated more than five-hundred thousand (500,000) hectares of Tinggian Lands. At that time also, it was the height of opposition of the Kalingas to the proposed Chico River Dam in Kalinga province to assist the natives. Fr. Balweg actively organized and supported social action centers in Abra and Kalinga. Because of this, the military concluded that he is a communist. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), through the New People’s Army (NPA), took this opportunity and offered help and assistance to Fr. Balweg to wage war against the government but Fr. Balweg refused the offer because he was not convinced with the policy of the CPP-NPA regarding the process of elimination: that anyone who turns against the CPP-NPA must be eliminated. According to Fr. Balweg, in the Cordillera culture, life is so treasured that even a lost animal must be found. One day, in 1979, while Fr. Balweg was travelling from Manila to Abra, he stopped over an SVD convent in Pangasinan and he was informed that his convent in Salapadan, Abra was ambushed by the military. Fortunately, he was not inside his convent as he was travelling. He did not anymore continue to go home to his convent in Salapadan, instead, he went directly to Amacian, Pinukpuk, Kalinga (the place of his mother) where the CPP-NPA took the chance to offer Fr. Balweg, again, help and assistance. Because of the situation, Fr. Balweg agreed to become a member of the CPP-NPA. First, he organized and headed a squad of NPA among his own relatives. In the latter years of his being an NPA, he was the Company Commander of the Lumbaya Company, the elite company of the NPA in the entire Philippines. It was a composite of Igorots from the provinces of Abra, Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Apayao. This is the only company of the NPA that is feared of by the military because during military operations, it is not the military that is running after the Lumbaya Company but it is the latter running after the military because of their expertise in war and their knowledge about the terrain.
While Fr. Balweg was with the CPP-NPA, the issue on the “process of elimination” persisted so that, in an attempt to resolve it, Fr. Balweg and the CPP-NPA agreed to a plenum but when the date agreed upon arrived, no member of the CPP-NPA arrived, particularly members of the Central Committee. Because of this, in 1985, Fr. Balweg and his group, the Lumbaya Company, decided to split from the CPP-NPA. The CPP-NPA in the Cordilleras was crippled because of the split and Fr. Balweg was a target of liquidation.
Then comes the 1986 People Power Revolution. Congress was abolished and, by virtue of the Freedom Constitution, Corazon Aquino was the legislative power. Her first official act when installed as president was to call on all revolutionary forces for peace talks. It was only the CPLA which succeeded in forging a peace pact (“sipat” in Kalinga term) with the Philippine Government. This happened in Mt. Data, Bauko, Mountain Province on September 13, 1986 when President Corazon Aquino, then Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and then AFP Commander-in-Chief Fidel V. Ramos among others met Fr. Balweg and his group and signed a peace pact usually called as the “Mt. Data Sipat” or the “Mt. Data Peace Accord”. In this agreement, among the terms, aside from cessation of hostilities was the pursuit of the establishment of a Cordillera Autonomous Region.
In early 1987, in pursuance to the Mt. Data Sipat, President Aquino appointed Ambassador Emmanuel Pelaez as head of the Government Panel while Fr. Balweg heads the Cordillera Panel ( in which Fr. Balweg chose Abrino Aydinan [a former NPA in the early 1970’s but who was amnestied in 1976] as his alter ego). The peace negotiations was conducted at the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). The Balweg group was insisting on an Organic Act for the Cordillera Autonomous Region as, after all, Cory Aquino was then the legislative power. But without special attention to the 1987 Constitution being then drafted and ratified, Article 10, Section 15 thereof provided that it is Congress who will draft the Organic Act. As the Balweg group decided to get out from the peace talks, Cory Aquino suggested an alternative and that is the creation of a special region (Region 14) for the Cordilleras which resulted in the signing by President Aquino of Executive Order 220 creating the Cordillera Administrative Region (wherein the Cordillera Provinces [Bontoc, Ifugao, Benguet, Apayao, Kalinga and Abra] will compose a separate region) purposely to prepare the Cordilleras for an eventual autonomy. Unlike during the time of Marcos, by virtue of PD No. 1, Marcos intentionally divided the Cordillera provinces most probably for political purposes, the provinces of Apayao, Kalinga and Ifugao were joined to Region 2 (Cagayan Region) and the provinces of Mountain Province, Ifugao and Benguet were joined to Region 1 (Ilocos Region).
The signing of EO 220 in July 1987 may not have happened or would have been stalled if not for the ambush by the CPP-NPA on the group of Fr. Balweg on June 21, 1987 in Licuan, Abra in which eight (8) of the high-ranking officials of the CBA-CPLA were killed. The writer of this article is one of the survivors. This ambush hastened the signing of EO 220. Before and even after the signing of EO 220, hundreds of lives were sacrificed in the altar of Cordillera autonomy.
After 28 years of being an administrative region, still, many ask: Quo Vadis Cordillera autonomy? Had Fr. Balweg and group succeeded in negotiating an autonomous region and not merely an administrative region (if not for Article 10, Section 15 of the 1987 Constitution) most probably the Cordillerans progressed better from being autonomous. If only our political leaders are serious in pursuing autonomy, most probably, we would now be autonomous. But all is not lost. Even the Supreme Court in “Nestor G. Atitiw, Et. Al., Petitioners, versus Executive Secretary Ronaldo B. Zamora, et. al., Respondents in G.R. No. 143374, September 30, 2005 is optimistic and mandated: “It is hoped that Congress will pass another Organic Act which is finally acceptable to the people of the Cordilleras.”