Related Post: "Cordillera Day"
Cordi Day -- April 24 or July 15? The Cordillera People's Alliance (CPA) takes the first date, the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA) prefers the second. The former hoists Macli-ing Dulag's icon, the latter flashes Conrado Balweg's.
Who was Balweg? Let me try to answer the question from four perspectives:
Chadli Molintas Command & His Former Comrades in the New People's Army (NPA): He was a traitor to the Revolutionary Cause, he had become corrupt, he deserved the death of a criminal.
His Former Allies in the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA) and the Cordillera People's Liberation Army (CPLA): He started out right, but ended up being co-opted by the System; he started out as a true Revolutionary and Reformist, but ended up becoming the typical Politician and the despicable Treasure Hunter he once despised.
His Supporters in the CBA/CPLA/AFP Integrees: He was fallible as everyone is, circumscribed by his time as most are. He still remains an icon of the Cordillera's fight for justice and development.
His Other Friends: He was a real father figure who cared for his men as he would his children, a selfless leader who strove to identify himself with the plight of his comrades.
A wee boy in the last half of the '80s, I was one of those whose dreams were colored by this fellow Ibvyanao whose exploits were romanticized by the 1987 film, "Balweg: The Rebel Priest." He was our Robin Hood and William Tell. I was then the proudest of all the young boys in our hometown of Tabuk when I sat on Ka Ambo's lap in a Philippine Information Agency (PIA-Kalinga) car on our way to the provincial military HQ, Camp Juan M. Duyan, from the Radyo ng Bayan station. I was part of the small group of well-wishers who anxiously watched while two Huey helicopters whisked him and his bodyguards away to, presumably, Baguio City and wondered whether there was something ominous in the second helicopter's near crash when its rotor whacked the tip of a tree branch just after take off.
[caption id="attachment_761" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Camp Juan M. Duyan, Tabuk - AUS photo"][/caption]
Before that, I was part of the nervous throng in the St. Williams Academy gymnasium of Tabuk during the initial negotiations between Ka Ambo and government representatives. I gawked at the gaunt-looking but evidently fiercely determined CPLA troops whose queer-looking weapons included "frankenstein" automatics designed with metallic and wooden materials. They were as armed to the teeth and as alert as the military troops sent to secure the area. Somehow, seeing my father at the negotiation table with Angelo Daguio and Rene Quijano of DZRK behind him assured me that all would be well.
[caption id="attachment_762" align="alignnone" width="499" caption="Ka Ambo, St. Williams Academy (now St. Louis College) gymnasium, Tabuk"][/caption]
When we moved to Baguio in 1988, I frequented the "Cordillera House" atop Wright Park just to espy on the black-clad and fully armed "Sipla" (CPLA troops) and to get a glimpse of "Father Balweg." I was only able to see him a few times for he seemed to be always on the move in his white "Turtletop." My father eventually joined Balweg's CBA but, together with Atty. Joel Obar, Mailed Molina and James Sawattang, broke away from Ambo's leadership some years later. I would still see many Sipla in our house and elsewhere even after that -- without their freshly tailored black uniforms, good-looking combat shoes, and fresh supply of toothbrushes.
Among the issues and controversies Balweg found himself in was his alleged treasure hunting ventures which his critics said did not even spare the late Dictator's bust along Marcos Highway, his suspected "ghost projects," and his being implicated in the murder of his tribesmate, Banao pangat (tribal elder) and military reservist Col. Manuel Banggawan.
13 years after breaking away from the CPP-NPA, Balweg would be assassinated on 31 December 1999 in Malibcong, Abra by his former comrades led by his brother Jovencio (Ka Rudy) for a long list of "crimes against the people."
Was Balweg a figure worthy of emulation or one worthy of condemnation? Was he a true fighter for the people, or a dyed-in-the-wool pretender whose personal ambitions overshadowed the greater cause which he was supposed to live and die for?
Whatever ideological leanings or personal background informs your opinion of the late "Rebel Priest" Conrado "Ka Ambo" Balweg, I suppose you can't deny that he was once a force to reckon with, a potential unitive and punitive instrument against the ills we Igorots have commonly faced, like marginalization and intramural discord.
Thinking of Balweg on this 21st anniversary of Cordillera Day makes me consider how much about his life tells us about ourselves, how his failures and achievements are reflective of our (i.e., Cordillerans') struggles as a people.
I suggest we continue to reflect on who he was and what he stood for. In this respect, it doesn't really matter much whether we belong to the Right, Right of Center, Center, Left of Center, or Left. What really matters is how far our maturity can go as we attempt to examine and reflect upon the life of a friend and hero minus his/her halo, wings and whitewashed robe -- or of a foe without his horns, trident and blazing cloak.
Talna ken Kappia! :)
[caption id="attachment_755" align="alignnone" width="354" caption="ca August 1986. Interview with Rebel Priest Fr. Conrado Balweg in the house of the Ganggangans in Sadanga, Mt. Province by Augustus Ulat Saboy, then Station Manager of Radyo Ng Bayan Kalinga (DZRK), before the Mt. Data Sipat on 13 September 1992. This was Balweg's first and last interview with the government radio station before he surrendered to the government. With Saboy was Architect Guido Kub-ao of DPWH Kalinga Engineering District."]"][/caption]