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

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THE PAGTA:

KALINGA’S NO. 1 CONTRIBUTION TO THE PHILIPPINES’ NATIONAL CULTURAL TREASURE

by AUGUSTUS ULAT SABOY

[Note: This article by Gus Saboy – originally published in two series in the June 20 & 27, 1999 issues of the now defunct North Luzon Times which he edited – provides a historical background to the publication of the codified “Pagta” or the peace pact code of the Kalingas of Northern Luzon (http://www.kalinga.gov.ph/). Modesty dictated that Gus did not, in this article, mention the fact that the Kalinga Bodong Congress or the codification of the Pagta were his brainchild. He lived long enough to become one of the principal Kalinga tribal leaders who worked on the final copy of the published peace pact code toward the end of the ’90s.- smsaboy]

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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.

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

  1. Author’s gravatar

    Additional response to Ramon Arellano’s comment dated 18/04/2021 at 21:09:

    Here’s a proof that the Philippine government recognized the ancient Kalinga Bodong system and prudently and dynamically incorporating its laws and practices into the applicable local laws of Kalinga province.

    Kalinga Peace Pact Holder Recognition by the 13th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines http://legacy.senate.gov.ph/lisdata/1153577!.pdf

  2. Author’s gravatar

    My Response to Ramon Arellano’s comment dated 18/04/2021 at 21:09:

    You have just belittled and trashed an ancient culture older than the invading Spaniards. The Kalinga Nation Culture and its governing laws are well alive and preserved since time immemorial. Thanks to the Summer Institute of Linguistics for the preservation of our language and culture in their global archives and also to the University of the Philippines for preserving our language, songs, customs, and tradition. Thanks also to the Philippine government for finally recognizing this priceless culture and also incorporating our Bodong laws (Pagta) into the local Kalinga province laws. I invite you to come to Kalinga and witness this unique and rich culture and festivities of my people the Kalingas.

  3. Author’s gravatar

    @ Ramon Arellano sir, thanks for the comment. Ideally, it would be great if IPs were allowed to follow their customary laws independently to some extent — a
    set up which could be possible under a federal system of government. Even with the limited leeway afforded us by our state laws, however, Kalinga communities have been able to retain and practice some of their tribal traditions alongside mainstream practices. A case in point is the vojong/bodong which, through the Matagoan Bodong Consultative Council (MBBC) in the City of Tabuk, has been instrumental in aiding the local trial court to declog its dockets. Some Kalingas, however, have been calling for the abolition of the bodong so I don’t know how long we can hold on to this and our remaining tribal practices.

  4. Author’s gravatar

    Our existing state laws cannot preserve the culture of one tribe. It is better for that tribe to be allowed to practice their culture in an independent way, while balancing it with the laws of the country when the entire country is concerned.

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