Bodong: A Tool for Governance
[originally published in 4th Qtr 2004 issue of Gongs and Drums, the official publication of DILG-CAR]
The past few years have seen a sustained interest among various sectors at institutionalizing efforts to protect, preserve, and refine our country’s indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP), especially in relation to local governance.1
Underlying these efforts is an increasing recognition by concerned individuals and groups of the vital role of IKSP in promoting people empowerment and nation-building. There is also the perceived need for both national and local governments to be more sensitive to the indigenous peoples’ cultural integrity the neglect of which has only fuelled pockets of social unrest among Filipino IPs across the long, turbulent history of the country.
In the Cordilleras, this quest to make indigenous culture more relevant to contemporary times (or, perhaps, to make government more relevant to contemporary cultural communities) has once again elevated to the bar of scrutiny what seems to be the region’s most controversial tribal practice, the Bodong, and perhaps the most controversial tribal group, the Kalingas.2
Owing to the frequent incidence of tribal wars among some Kalinga sub-tribes and between these and other tribal groups outside Kalinga, many Cordillerans have blamed the bodong system as the root of all these evils and have thus vigorously called for its abolition. Conversely, others have not been so ready to give it up because of its abolition’s perceived vital socio-political implications.
This brief essay attempts to present the basic features of the Bodong, including several issues surrounding it. It is anchored on the thesis that this indigenous institution can still be made as a powerful tool for good governance if we but unveil its real essence and remove from it the cobwebs of human misconduct that have distorted its image for years, years that have only brought bloodshed and backwardness to the tribal peoples of Kalinga.3
Kalinga authorities on the subject suggest at least three terms from which bodong arose – podon (“holding of hands”), bobod (“to bind, a binding material”), and beddeng (“boundary”). The word thus carries the idea of people meeting together or of “making people’s minds meet” to forge a peace pact, especially in relation to their respective boundaries.4
Bodong, therefore, basically means a peace pact, or a socio-political institution for the establishment or maintenance of friendly relations among villages or tribes. Akin to the modern concept of a “state,” it has the following elements:
1. People (tatago)
2. Territory (piglis/bogis/kais)
3. Law (pagta)
4. Sovereignty/Recognition (evidenced by the inter-tribal pacts established and the principle of kulligong (lit., “to encircle”) which entails respecting a binodngan (member of a pact tribe) and his or her property anywhere outside the ili (village).
The Peace Pact Process
Generally, five major levels are undertaken in the indigenous peace pact process:
1. Selection of Arbiters. Called mansasacosak, arbiters are chosen from neutral or third parties to initiate or maneuver the establishment or restoration of bodong ties between conflicting tribes.
2. Peace Offering/Blood Money. After the involved parties agree to an amicable settlement of the dispute, the mansasacosak delivers the podpod or gusgus, a payment (in the form of money or other valuables) offered by the offending party to the aggrieved party to prevent the former to take revenge.
3. Exchange of Implements. Certain metallic items (e.g. spears, bolos, headaxes, coins) are exchanged between the two parties. This act is referred to as the sipat (lit. “slap.”5
4. Feast of Goodwill. A mini-feast called singlip or simsim (“taste,” “sip”) is partaken of by the parties involved.
5. Negotiation Proper. Termed inum (“to drink”), this final stage involves a host of activities including the lonok (“to swallow”) where a pig or carabao is slaughtered for the palanos (welcome or entertainment feast), review and revision or the existing pagta, and other forms of socialization.
The whole process usually transpires within two to three days.
Far from being anachronistic to modern times, the bodong still plays a key role in the cultural and socio-political processes among Kalingas.
1 The Local Government Academy (LGA), for example, has conducted a series of workshops on “Mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge System in Local Governance” (MIKSLG) north and south of the country culminating in a Regional Workshop on MIKSLG in the Asia-Pacific on 14-16 October 2004 at the Astoria Plaza Hotel, Pasig City. The project was made in coordination with the De La Salle University (DLSU
The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), in partnership with the University of the Philippines (UP), International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), and the European Union (EU) also made its own research on “Indigenous Peoples and Local Governance.” One of the workshops held for this purpose was held on 19-20 November 2004 at La Consolacion Villa, Camp 7, Baguio City.
2 Although this tribal practice has found its niche among all the major Igorot tribes in varying forms, this article focuses on the bodong of the Kalinga since they alone, among all the tribes in CAR, have institutionalized the custom through a written peace pact code, the pagta, and the establishment of a province-wide Bodong council of elders which was once headed by the Provincial Governor. Further, while the other major tribes in CAR largely adopted the mainstream judicial system, the Kalingas have chosen to resolve a great number of inter-tribal conflicts through the Bodong.
3 Mr. Cesar Liporada, a member of the Committee on Indigenous Peoples Concerns (CIPC) of the Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR), cited in a still-to-be published paper that of the 21 cases of tribal conflicts in CAR from 2000 to 2004, about 86% involved several Kalinga sub-tribes.
4 Sources of information for this article include, among others, this writer’s personal interviews with the late Pablo Gonayon of Pinukpuk and Barcelon Panabang of Balbalan, Kalinga; some personal copies of various documents including the still unpublished annotated version of the pagta; lectures of Atty. Basilio Wandag and Congressman Laurence Wacnang during the 29 October 2004 “Peace Forum” held at BSU, La Trinidad, Benguet; and some published works. For more detailed and insightful discussions on the subject, this writer recommends the following: Sugguiyao, Miguel. The Kalinga Hilltribe of the Philippines, Quezon City: ONCC, 1990; Ayang-ang, Samson, Sr. The Kalinga Bodong and Its Implications for Education. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Baguio City: Baguio Colleges Foundation, 1973; Bacdayan, Albert S. The Peace Pact System of the Kalingas in the Modern World. Michigan: University of Microfilms, Inc., 1967. Barton, Roy F. The Kalingas: Their Institutions and Custom Law. Chicago: UC Press, 1949).
5 In cases where the pact is entered into by two tribes who have had no prior armed conflict, the exchange is termed as allasiw.
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