08/21/2004, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

Kalinga, a land of tribal wars and fragile peace

by Sonny Evangelista

The Church has the hard task of changing the culture of war and vengeance of some Filipino tribes.

Manila (AsiaNews) – Helped by the police Father Luis Katutubo (not his real name) recently led a raid against a bar used as a cover for a prostitution ring. The bust was successful and netted the bar's owner, a member of the Tulgao tribe, who was arrested. Father Luis had previously led another raid against a notorious thief, a member of his own Tinglayan tribe. Both tribes live in Kalinga, a province located on the island of Luzon, north-east of the city of Baguio.

In doing what he did Father Luis stepped out of line and violated tribal rules. What could happen to him? To answer one must first understand the local culture.

Unlike crimes committed in Manila or other regions of the Philippines, which are normally dealt with by the judiciary and the courts, tribal culture in Kalinga is still strong and often leads to feuds and cycles of violence.

Despite the local Church's commitment against violence, intertribal warfare is commonplace. In Kalinga culture, a victim's family must find peace and solace in vengeance. So deeply ingrained is the practice that it has been nigh impossible to eradicate. Death and murder fuel such a desire for vengeance that tribesmen hardly ever forget it.

Conflict usually involves neighbouring tribes. The thirst for "justice" entails unlimited collective responsibility that knows no boundaries for it can as easily strike a student living in Manila as anyone living within the tribal territory. All it needs is that offence be given. And in a chain reaction violence begets violence, a chain that can go back several generations, the memory of the offence passed on from father to son. What for, vengeance? Reasons need not be important –killing a neighbour's chicken for example– but important are the consequences.

None the less, tribes do reach peace. They do so by "binding together", that is by agreeing to a bodong or peace pact that appeases victims and their families. In the whole of Kalinga more than 600 bodongs are in force, each with its own terms and conditions. There are so many and they are so varied that a tribe might have as many 17 distinct peace pacts with its neighbours, each bodong serving as a conflict resolution mechanism for the two tribes involved, and no other.

Therefore, what could happen to Father Katutubo for stepping out of line in helping put the bar owner and the thief behind bars?

In the first case, given the culture of vengeance, Father Luis's act could be used as a pretext to strike his tribe. In the second case, the thief was released thanks to political pressure and could take revenge even though he is a member of the same tribe and the local community testified against him. Moreover, wearing the priestly cloth or being a member of a religious order brings no guarantees against involvement in intertribal warfare. Whether a feud starts depends on how tribesmen react.

To outsiders this violence seems unfathomable, but it has lasted so long in Kalinga that local law enforce authorities tend to turn a blind eye.

Despite its best efforts and the fact that two thirds (65%) of Kalinga's 271,000 residents are Roman Catholic the local Church has unfortunately been unable to stamp out intertribal feuds and acts of violence.

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