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The Pagta

The “Pagta”:
Kalinga’s No. 1 Contribution 
to the RP’s National Cultural Treasure

[Note: This article by A.U. Saboy – originally published in two series in the June 20 & 27, 1999 issues of the now defunct North Luzon Times – provides a historical background to the publication of the codified “Pagta” or the peace pact code of the Kalingas of Northern Luzon ( AUS was among the principal Kalinga tribal leaders who worked on the final copy of the published peace pact code. See online text of the Pagta @ - sms]

The Bodong is one of the world’s primitive institutions or governments practiced by some Cordillera indigenous groups, — most distinctively, the Kalingas who inhabit the midsection region of the northern Luzon geographic domain. Since its existence from time immemorial, the bodong had served as the superstructure of village people governance along their social, trade, commerce, and political governing system. By its operational existence, the bodong is technically a bilateral covenant between and among tribal groups with the villages or tribes enfolded into the bodong community (called the binodngan). The binodngan is thus covered by the benefits and privilege, among which is protection under the bodong’s paternal authority.

The codified and published Pagta or “the law of the Bodong” (literally translated “peace covenant or pact”) is Kalinga’s number one cultural and historical contribution to the country’s National Cultural Treasure. The pagta is actually the Constitution and By-Laws of the Bodong. It is a “code” or “covenant” adopted by a collective decision of tribal councils convened for the purpose of “warming up tribal relations and to discuss amendatory proposals of existing pagta. It also invests full authority on the bodong (the institution) to administer, supervise, and implement the pagta for and within the binodngan. The pagta was an unwritten rule of law since the Bodong came into existence. Its provisions were handed down to the generations by word of mouth. It could be said that– although it is evident from modifications in the old codal provisions vis-à-vis some codal items in the written paga – there were few alterations or amendments made on the unwritten provisions of the Pagta up to this writing. This may be seen in the lex talionis (law of retaliation) proviso where instant retaliation in case of killings is sanctioned – an old norm in the art of tribal war among villagers in the primitive Cordillera times.

The Pagta appears to be the answer to a popular agitation for the abolition of the Bodong and for its total extraction from the laws of the land in practice and in deed. In the 1960s there were calls for the scrapping of the Bodong through Congress. The idea was assailed by Bodong practitioners as unfair and “unconstitutional” because “one cannot just legislate out of existence an existing customary law embedded in the arts, culture and existence of a cultural community.” It was also held that the Bodong is an implacable part of the life of those practicing the art of primitive governance which cannot, by legislative fiat, be blotted out of existence.

The anti-bodong drive, however, has not died out. During the advent of the EDSA Revolution, a Kalinga Deputy Governor pressed for the bodong’s decapitation, reasoning out that it was an unproductive exercise of governance alongside the laws of the State in our country. Even among ethnic Kalingas, there are elders and professionals and tribal leaders who are being won over to the side of bodong abolitionists. They view the bodong as “anachronistic” and that its practice should give way to the full authority of our existing State Laws.

Bodong abolitionists have grounded their justification for scrapping the system on the fact that the Bodong, especially among Kalingas, has been used to promote the self-serving ends of some politicians to an extreme so much so that the ties are severed when a political candidate gets insignificant support from a tribal group which has existing peace pact ties with the tribe of the candidates. Such is considered inimical to the ideals and practice of the system and a “prostitution” of the bodong’s sacrosanctity.

In recent years, discontentments over the lopsided application of pagta in tribal conflicts had been felt especially along the imposition of penalties and indemnities. The Bodong community in Kalinga has been divided along pagta application standards. The “valley” group, considered as the “moderate” faction and representing the tribal communities in the Balbalan-Pinukpuk-Tabuk area, adopts the “amicable settlement” approach in solving intertribal disputes.

The second group is euphemistically (or derisively? – sms) called the “Kawitan” (rooster) group, apparently for their overbearing posture in dealing with tribal conflicts. This group is represented in the tribal communities of “Upper Kalinga” – the municipalities of Tanudan, Tinglayan, Lubuagan, and Pasil. They adhere to the “an eye-for-an-eye-and-tooth-for-a- tooth” practice. In vengeance killings, revenge is exacted upon any member of the tribe or on immediate relatives of the assailants. 

Attempts to level off the vengeance killing by amending the pagta on instant retaliation in case of violence have failed in all bodong conferences held purposely for this lex talionis provision. The bodong community remains divided in the application of the law of retaliation – the bodong communities in Upper Kalinga still adhering to automatic retaliation, while those in “Lower Kalinga” region remaining steadfast in their moderate approach to the practice.

Frustrations over the abolition of the retaliation provisions of the pagta, however, gave way to renewed attempts to amend it. In 1973, the provincial government of Kalinga-Apayao sought to convene a Summit of Tribal Leaders with its principal agenda of standardizing the pagta. Its obvious target was the “automatic retaliation clause” of the unwritten law.

The sudden relief of Provincial Governor Rolando T. Puzon held off the “Summit,” and the pagta amendedment proposal ended up only on the drawing boards.

Undaunted, the pro-amendment proponents resuscitated the proposal. When Amado B. Almazan took over as provincial governor, he plunged into a series of tribal conferences and consultations on the bodong pursuing the standardization move conceived by the Puzon Administration. This was so far the most serious and aggressive move to revise th pagta. Preliminary consultations were made among tribal leaders and barangay officials. The first of these consultations was held at the Tabuk National High School. The “pagta standardization” was discussed during the two-day consultation, but there was no concrete stop taken to carry out the idea.

In 1982, the provincial government of Kalinga-Apayao sponsored a “Bodong Conference” with peace pact holders, tribal leaders and government functionaries participating in a three-day bodong conference. Then Regional Human Settlements Director Gen. Prospero Olivas, the keynote speaker of the affair, urged the participants to restructure the laws of the bodong in order to install it as an agent of change and development, not only in the province but also in the country.

The convention drafted the pagta which was presented by a Committee headed by the late Board Member Castro B. Lammawin. The same was approved by the 600-strong convention participants and was later turned over to the “Style Committee” for its codification. It is significant to note, in this respect, that the primary steps in the pagta amendments were the brainchild of two non-Kalinga and non-Binodngan (tribal communities governed by the pagta) political leaders – Puzon and Almazan. To them, the spade work on the succeeding efforts to standardize the pagta and for its putting into writing must be credited.

The Kalinga Bodong Federation (KBTF) pursued the 1982 Bodong Convention agenda. Under its president, former Governor Tanding B. Odiem, renewed attempts to amend the pagta, especially on the revenge clause were staged in several conventions and consulitations. There was not much headway seen in the standardization and writing of the pagta until the administration of Governor Laurence B. Wacnang picked up the agenda then on a precarious step to being thrown into the dustbin of history.

Comments taken from old Wordpress blog:

8 Responses to "The 'Pagta'"

    Oh brother, you coud not be more wrong. Bodong is only necessary because of our people’s penchant for tribal wars. Your pride being an IKalinga is admirable. However, you are clinging to a romantic notion filled with fallacies.Follow this line of reasoning and tell me if the analysis is correct: We do not need a peace pact if we are peaceful, right? Since we often break our own peace agreements we have to go to the bodong process, over and over again.
    I love my culture but don’t take me wrong. It is indeed high time to reexamine whether our proud attachment to bodong is doing us favors.
    Your thoughts, sir Scott.
    • kakabsat,
      i agree that we need to “reexamine whether our proud attachment to the bodong is doing us favors.” i only caution us not to take extreme positions. i think the issue should not just boil down to whether the bodong should be scrapped or retained. we must talk about how this institution should adapt to the times, which means that there are aspects of the bodong which should be either cast off or embraced. just like any other society, kalinga will continue to evolve and along with it go the practices, institutions and symbols we hold dear.
      on the other hand, we must remember too that there are aspects of the larger society which do not really change, like the slow or even uncertain grinding of the wheels of our mainstream justice system, which the bodong may effectively address. you, of course, know that our papangat have been talking about how criminal and civil cases should be settled by interfacing our regular courts system with the bodong. i do not pretend to know much about the bodong, but i sense that we can still profit from it when purged of its parts that call for blood at the slightest injury. i think the recent case between Sabangan (not Sadanga, as I erroneously wrote earlier) and Tulgao can provide us sound ideas to work on. one ceremony in the bodong i wish preserved is the padolnat, which can simply mean a regular village fellowship that celebrates our having forsaken the old, wild ways of seeking justice.
      it is indeed not wise to cling to whatever idyllic notion we have of our past, but it is equally myopic for us not to see the good we can still salvage from it. i have just started going back to my roots and i hope to truly become a student of our culture. i had been remiss in taking part in the gatherings of our people and i now realize the need to be deeply involved in the discussions about the issues vexing us. i don’t have much to contribute, but i am willing to listen and learn. i will continue to study the bodong and i hope to share worthwhile ideas with you later.
      thanks for continuing the discussion. let’s talk some more… :)
  3. I agree in your take on discarding the ugly features and improving those admirable. However, sorry for the this tired cliche but it is painfully true here: it is a lot easier said than done. I do agree that we should not take an all-or-nothing attitude here but again, the very essence of bodong is that the peace agreements are very much tied to our fierce nature. One such case in point is what sir Scott mentioned above: Tulgao-Sagada (not Sadanga) case. Most iSagadas have long discarded tribal wars and bodong (not all though, such as the case of Dallic-Fidelisan) and the Tulgaos are still known are among the fiercest in Kalinga. Imagine if the Tulgaos are near the iSagadas and they both practice tribal wars and bodong. Intervention was only quick because instant retaliation was not quicker.
    What if it was the iSadangas who committed the crime? The Tulgaos know who the iSadangas are, even who migrated in Kalinga. See what I mean?
    Overheard: “Istay nu iSadanga nu pinmatey ta intako mangayao ad Maredsa”
    • it is heartening to note though that in this case the Tulgao people did not retaliate right away. yes it is easier said than done, but it can be done. i just had a small talk with Judge Buliyat last Sunday about the bodong and I was happy to note their spirited drive to purge the bodong of its savage past. :)
  4. we make war to gain peace… He he.. Triba peacemaker
  5. sometimes the bodong system is the only vialble means between tribes to settle a dispute. but given the dynamic changes in kalinga the pagta is seemingly becoming more irrelevant in the aspects of justice and law enforcement. coming from the law enforcement and a personal witness and victim to tribal wars, i believe the ‘budong’ should be suppletory and let the laws of the land prevail…. for a more lasting and enduring peace in kalinga.
    • i am still trying to learn more about our peace pact system and it seems to me now that much of it have become anachronistic. to jettison it totally, however, seems unwise and i guess you’re right about the bodong serving a suppletory function to our mainstream justice system. thanks kabsat for your ideas.

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