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Igorots in partnership for development
by Ryan Mangusan

Before anything else, I am an Igorot by heart.

The Igorots are proud indigenous peoples of the Cordillera. They are the free, hard-working, and peace-loving people who own the land that was independent from Spanish conquistadores ever since. They never submitted themselves to foreign invaders. They are the very people whose everyday life is based on the dictates of their unique culture and customary laws and would see to it that these traditional culture and customary laws be handed down to the next generation.

Their system of governance is based on the dap-ay or ato system where old men as council of elders (COE) meet and discuss community concerns and resolve disputes. They may be victims of several discriminatory and derogatory statements by ignorant people, but none of these conquer the determination and resiliency of an Igorot, rather it gives more opportunity for unity. Education and strong family ties brought the Igorots to the different parts of the globe.

As the concept of community involvement and gatherings is innate among them, organizations and associations are formed in their areas for them to have a venue for belongingness and a home away from home. Commonly, there are BIBAK or BIMAAK associations, small gatherings among the Igorot community which became an outlet of pressures from work and homesickness. It is through these associations where they actually first hold the gong or spread their arms to dance, acts which they never did when they were in the Philippines.

It is a general observation that it is only when Igorots go abroad that they learn and appreciate their culture more than when they were in their motherland. Partnerships among the Igorots had always been bound by their cultural values of inayan or lawa (taboo), ob-obbo (bayanihan spirit), and tinikang (sharing), etc.

The sound of the gong is an identity of the Cordillerans just as how their spear and shield and their handwoven cloth depict how empowered and sturdy they are.

Igorots are also believers of spiritual beings. In whatever they do as part of their culture, they ask the Lord’s blessings through their chants, dirges, songs, and dances. These gave birth to the formation of the Igorot International Consultation (IIC).

The IIC which was conceptualized by the late Rex Botengan, former editor-in-chief of the Igorot Quarterly, is a periodic gathering of interested Igorots "by birth" or "by heart" all over the world. Activities during the IIC include simultaneous sessions that dwell on issues, interests, and concerns generally common to the Igorots. There are also social interactions to unite and reunite the Igorots, especially those who are abroad. To date, there have been nine IICs conducted in different countries and hosted by various Igorot/Cordilleran organizations:

IIC1 – West Covina, California, USA - September 1995
IIC2 – Virginia, USA - July 1997
IIC3 – Baguio City, Philippines - April 2000
IIC4 – London, United Kingdom - June 2002
IIC5 – St. Louis Missouri, USA - July 2004
IIC6 – Melbourne, Australia - April 2006
IIC7 – Banaue, Ifugao, Philippines - April 2008
IIC8 – Vancouver, Canada - August 2010
IIC9 – Baguio City, Philippines - April 2012

In every IIC and its allied activities, ceremonies are done through the incorporation of the Igorot culture. This way, it is believed that the call for unity and partnership among its participants and the Cordillera community as a whole shall be stronger and more intact.

During the 9th IIC held in Baguio, Mayor Mauricio Domogan led the opening ceremony. With the etag (smoked meat) as an offering, the sapun di labeg was performed to ask the gods for success and prosperity during the four-day event and for bountiful blessings for the Cordillera region. It was followed by the tebyag where dancing and shouting are done to show approval of whatever good thing that was asked. The launching of the book "Igorot by Heart," a compilation of selected speeches during the past IICs, was done in an indigenous way or through the tukab (opening) of the gusi (jar) with rice wine to spread the knowledge and wisdom from what is written in the book. The closing ceremony of the 9th IIC was the cultural day at the Pooten’s residence in Asin, Tuba, Benguet.

A thanksgiving ritual by the Benguet elders from the Municipality of Tuba was performed after a successful IIC and for the generosity of the property owners, Richard Stone and Conchita Pooten. Domogan also performed the pitik or a prayer of wish by a person in authority.

The Igorot Global Organization (IGO) is a non-sectarian, non-partisan, and non-profit organization formally organized in April 2000 during the ICC III at Green Valley Country Club. The membership of this organization includes anyone with Igorot/Cordilleran lineage, anyone married to an Igorot family, anyone interested in Igorot/Cordillera causes and concerns, or anyone with a heart for Igorots/Cordillerans. It may be recalled that IIC formalized the IGO in its third consultation in Baguio City through an organizational meeting convened by Botengan. As such, the COE was elected by the IGO members. There are no hierarchy of positions in the COE, as they merely compose the members.

The COE members shall convene and serve as the managing and administrative arm of the IGO to implement programs and projects derived from the ICC.
IGO is dedicated to the preservation of the culture and existence of an indigenous Filipino group called Igorots; the upliftment and advancement of the Igorots to be more productive members of society; and in promoting and sharing with the world the rich heritage and history of the Igorots.

The 9th IIC took place for the third time in the Philippines and was convened twice in the City of Baguio under the management of the IGO-Philippines. Attended by 191 participants, this year’s IIC with the theme, "Igorots in partnership for development," is in line with the government’s public-private partnership program. Topics during its plenary sessions focused on partnering of the IGO with other sectors of the society, like the government.
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