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Geography The Gran Cordillera is the highest and largest mountain range in the Philippines. It comprises about 1/6 of the whole Luzon island with a total area of 18,300 km2. The Philippines, as an archipelago of 7,100 islands, is situated between the South-China Sea to the West and the Pacific Ocean (Philippine Sea) in the East. Its main islands are Luzon (on which the capital Manila is situated), Mindanao and Visayas. Total surface is 301,000 km2. People Population The population of the Cordillera is about 1.1 million, about 2% of the Philippine population. It is the ancestral domain of the Cordillerans ('people from the mountains'). It is divided into six provinces and seven ethno-linguistic groups: Abra (Tinggian), Apayao (Isneg), Benguet (Kankanaey and Ibaloi), Ifugao (Ifugao), Kalinga (Kalinga, Isneg), Mountain Province (Kankanaey). An alternative listing for the Northern Philippine tribes is: Apayao/Isnag, Abra/Tinguian, Kalinga, Gaddang, Applai, Mountain Province/Bontoc, Bontok, Bago, I-lagod, Kankana-ey, Kankanai, Balangao, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Ikalahan, Kalanguya, Karao, and Ilongot. During the American regime, the disparate people of the Cordilleras were not well understood and were all lumped together under the name 'Igorot'. In some circles, especially political ones, this term acquired a pejorative characteristic. In current usage, Northern Cordillerans use it disparagingly, when speaking of people from eastern Mountain Province.

(Kalinga student in traditional garb with hand-crafted weapon first produced in Kalinga during World War)

Culture and Language Each of the seven major ethno-linguistic groups has its own family of languages and cultures. Beside their own tribal cultures, there is a Cordilleran culture which is largely molded by the geography of the Cordilleras, and their common heritage of resisting the invading imperial powers (Spain, USA, Japan, and Manila), including the continuing adverse encroachments by lowlanders. Notwithstanding their resistance to invasion from the lowlands, the economic language used throughout the Cordilleras is Ilocano, adopted from the lowlander traders of Ilocos. Cordillerans are a group of indigenous people, recognized as such by Republic law, with their own sets of customary laws. Customary law takes precedence over Republic law. Tribal criminal law takes precedence over the Criminal Code of the Philippines. Murder and manslaughter, for instance is more usually dealt with under tribal law which might include blood debt, only satisfied by the death of the perpetrator. Tribal land law applies in preference to lowland registration law. Spanish deeds were never issued for the land in the Cordilleras since the Spanish were continuously repelled for the whole of Spanish colonial period. Cordillerans view land as the source of life, an integral part of their cultural identity, that traces its origins from the land. Land is considered sacred and tribal land can neither be owned nor sold, but it nurtured to produce life for the communal benefit. For Cordillerans, the loss of their land, or their alienation from it, can be equivalent to taking their lives. It is because of this belief that Cordillerans now and in the past have willingly shed blood to defend their domain from colonisers, and have fought for the right to remain on their land. Economy The Cordillera Autonomous Region is one of the country's richest regions in terms of natural resources. It is a major resource base of the Philippines. It contains 11% of the total area is agricultural rice fields, orchards, pig farms and pasture lands. 60% of the countrys temperate vegetables are produced in the area. It is the country's premier mining district. there are eight big mining companies operating which are mostly foreign controlled. Some 80% of the total Philippine gold production comes from the Cordillera. Another important aspect with respect to potential resources is that the Cordillera is home to the headwaters of the major rivers in Northern Luzon. If these rivers were to be damned it could provide at

least five million kilowatts of the total electrical needs (some 56%) of the entire country, but would displace entire populations, drowning their houses and rice terraces, covering existing roads, and ending complete cultures. Environment The mountains support a number of different types of habitat. Elevations above 1000m are covered in Luzon tropical pine forests of Benguet pine (Pinus insularis) except in the north of the range where the high slopes consist of Luzon montane rain forests. Two major problems threaten the environment of the Cordillera: dam projects flood river valleys and remove habitat and also cause people to flee their houses and seek refuge in other areas; mining project destroy forest areas and also don't create wealth and resources for the upkeep of the tribal lands. Current events In September 2000, the municipal council of Itogon, Benguet withdrew its endorsement of 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 CPA, in cooperation 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. Time will prove whether she will keep that promise. In December 2000, the Supreme Court of the Philippines dismissed a petition that questioned the constitutional legality of the IPRA. The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act came into existence in 1997 and gave 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 consulting the Cordillera people, this 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 fact that the Supreme Court had to dismiss the petition, because the vote had been 7-7, could be understood as another victory of the CPA. In February 2001, president Arroyo spoke with officials from the Cordillera Administrative Region, and promised to start rebuilding the infrastructure and offered the Cordillera people financial assistance for development projects. Some people were surprised when they found out that Arroyo spoke fluently Ilocano (the common language of the Igorot).