The only landlocked region in the country, it is bordered by the Ilocos Region in the west and southwest, and by the Cagayan Valley on the north, east, and southeast. Prior to the 2015 census, it is the least populated and least densely-populated Region in the country.
The region, officially created on July 15, 1987, covers most of the Cordillera Central mountains of Luzon, and is home to numerous ethnic people collectively. Nueva Vizcaya province has a majority-Igorot population as well, however, was put by the American colonial government in the early 20th century in Cagayan Valley region instead.
During the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, Christianization and eventual subjugation of the mountain region proved difficult for the Spanish colonial government. Several comandancias were established by the Spanish colonial government in strategic areas of the mountain region. Among them were Amburayan, Cabugaoan, Kayapa, Quiangan, Itaves, Apayaos, Lepanto, Benguet, Bontoc, Banaue, and Tiagan.
On August 18, 1908 during the American regime, Mountain Province was established by the Philippine Commission with the enactment of Act No. 1876. Ifugao, which was part of Nueva Vizcaya province, and the former Spanish comandancias of Amburayan, Apayao, Benguet, Bontoc, Kalinga and Lepanto, were annexed to the newly created province as sub-provinces. Amburayan was later abolished in 1920 and its corresponding territories were transferred to the provinces of Ilocos Sur and La Union. Lepanto was also reduced in size and its towns were integrated into the sub-provinces of Bontoc and Benguet, and to the province of Ilocos Sur.
After Philippine Independence
On June 18, 1966, Republic Act No. 4695 was enacted to split Mountain Province and create four separate and independent provinces namely Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao, and Mountain Province. Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao were placed under the jurisdiction of the Cagayan Valley region, with Benguet and Mountain Province placed under the Ilocos Region.
Cordilleran history during Martial law
After the declaration of Martial law by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, the region became the focus of militarization as a result of local objections to the government’s push for the Chico River Dam Project near Sadanga, Mountain Province and Tinglayan, Kalinga. Frustrated by the project delays caused by the opposition, Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree no. 848 on December 1975, constituting the municipalities of Lubuagan, Tinglayan, Tanudan, and Pasil into a “Kalinga Special Development Region” (KSDR), in an effort to neutralize opposition to the Chico IV dam.
Empowered by Martial Law to conduct warrantless arrests, the 60th PC Brigade had arrested at least 150 locals by April 1977, accusing them of supposed subversion and of obstructing government projects, and various other offenses such as boycotting the October 1976 Constitutional Referendum. Individuals arrested included tribal papangat (leaders/elders), young couples, and in at least one case, a 12-year-old child.(p9) By December 1978, parts of the Chico IV area had been declared “free fire zones”, no-man’s-land areas where the army could freely fire on any animals or permit-less humans at will.
On 24 April 1980, Marcos-controlled military forces assassinated Macli-ing Dulag a pangat (leader) of the Butbut tribe of Kalinga.The assassination became a watershed moment, marking the first time the mainstream Philippine press could be openly critical against Marcos and the Military, and building up a sense of Igorot identity which eventually led to cordillera autonomy.
On February 14, 1995, Kalinga-Apayao, one of the five provinces of the region was split into two separate and independent provinces of Apayao and Kalinga with the enactment of Republic Act No. 7878.
Several attempts at legalizing autonomy in the Cordillera region have failed in two separate plebiscites. An affirmative vote for the law on regional autonomy is a precondition by the 1987 Philippine Constitution to give the region autonomy in self-governance much like the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao in southern Philippines. The first law Republic Act No. 6766, took effect on October 23, 1989 but failed to muster a majority vote in the plebiscite on January 30, 1990. The second law, Republic Act No. 8438 passed by Congress of the Philippines on December 22, 1997, also failed to pass the approval of the Cordillera peoples in a region-wide referendum on March 7, 1998.
At present, a third organic act of the Cordillera is in the offing supported by the Cordillera Regional Development Council.
In September 2000, the municipal council of Itogon, Benguet, withdrew support for the San Roque Dam project. The project had met a lot of resistance, because of the reported failure of its proponents to update its Environmental Certificate of Compliance (ECC) and to submit a watershed management plan required for a project of that magnitude. The San Roque Dam was to become one of the biggest dams in the world and would threaten the living environment of the Igorot.
The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), an indigenous rights organization in the region, in co-operation with other organizations, had highly resisted this project and thus booked a little victory. However, in May 2001, president Arroyo declared that the San Roque Dam project would continue anyway because it had already started and therefore was difficult to stop. At the same time she promised to not sacrifice the environment, to resettle the people who will lose their houses, to compensate other people, and to initiate no other large-scale irrigation projects in the future.
In December 2000, the Supreme Court of the Philippines dismissed a petition that questioned the constitutional legality of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), and act which came into existence in 1997 giving the peoples of the Cordillera decisive influence over the establishment of foreign mining companies. In this act, ownership over the lands was regarded as communal, rather than individual and thus coincided more with the view on ownership of the Igorot. The IPRA was totally different in tone than the 1995 Mining Code.
Without consultation from the people of the Cordilleras, the Mining Code gave companies the freedom to devastate tribal lands, allowed 100% foreign ownership, and gave companies the right to displace and resettle people within their concessionary areas. Some influential people filed a lawsuit with the Supreme Court against the IPRA, because it contradicted with the Mining Code and would therefore be unlawful. The petition was dismissed in a 7-7 vote by the Supreme Court.
A bill creating an autonomous Cordillera was filed in Congress in 2014, but it was not backed by strategic politicians in the region due to lack of support from the national government. However, in 2017, all provincial congressmen within the CAR jointly filed a new Bill creating an autonomous Cordillera, the first time in three decades where all provincial district representatives called in unison for autonomy. The move was made due to the election win of President Duterte, who publicly supported the creation of an autonomous Cordillera. However, questions lingered on the issue of Nueva Viscaya’s exclusion from the proposed region, despite being culturally and geographically part of the Cordilleras, leaving Nueva Viscaya Igorots left out from the proposal.