The Cordilleras is a highland region in the northern part of Luzon. Its landscape and geography is dominated by the Cordillera Central, which also extends to parts of nearby Ilocos Region. This article only covers the area forming the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
The region is the homeland of the Igorot, a group of various culturally-related tribes such as the Kalinga, Ifugao, Kankana-ey, Illian, Baliwon and many others, spread in isolated communities in the various parts of the region. Despite differences in ethnicity and language, the Igorot have commonalities in costumes, music, dances and even customs. The Igorot consider themselves culturally distinct from most Filipinos, but are also proud of their Austronesian roots.
In the central part of the Cordillera, rice terraces abound - from Ifugao to Mountain Province, famous of which is the Banaue Rice Terraces. The UNESCO declared five clusters of rice terraces in various towns in Ifugao as World Heritage Sites. Other hidden rice terraces can found in Natonin, Mountain Province. Scenic terrains of cornfields can be found in Paracelis, Mountain Province, a town next to Natonin.
There are six provinces in the Cordillera Administrative Region:
- 1 Abra
- 2 Apayao — the northernmost province of the region
- 3 Benguet — home to the Ibaloy, Kankana-ey, and Kalanguya peoples
- 4 Ifugao — home to Banaue Rice Terraces and other rice terraces that form a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- 5 Kalinga
- 6 Mountain Province
- 1 Baguio — the region’s only true city, dating back to the American era, and the “Summer Capital of the Philippines” for its cool climate
- 2 Banaue — known for its stunning rice terraces
- 3 Bontoc — a gateway to Banaue and locations further north
- 4 La Trinidad — a small town with an annual strawberry festival and community artwork formed by 200 painted houses
- 5 Tabuk — a destination for whitewater rafting
- 1 Batad — a peaceful hamlet set amongst exhilarating views without the din of motor vehicles
- 2 Buscalan — come to get a traditional Butbut tattoo
- 3 Mount Pulag National Park — the summit views the third highest mountain in the Philippines are breath-taking
- 4 Sagada — famous for its beautiful caves, hanging coffins, and the serene mountains
The Cordilleras are one of the few regions of the Philippines not significantly conquered by the Spaniards. At the late 1500s, the Spanish colonial administrators have sent expeditions in search of gold, but many of these failed due to the rugged terrain and the hostile Igorot. Other colonial administrators sent further expeditions to pacify and Christianize the Igorot, but many of these largely failed. During that time, the Igorot were historically known as fierce headhunters, feared by the colonizers.
The modern Cordillera region dates back to the founding of Mountain Province during the American colonial era. Mountain Province occupied a larger region, including areas now part of Ilocos Sur and La Union, until 1920. Mountain Province covered most of the Cordillera until it is split into smaller provinces in 1967, and its territory reduced to a tenth of its original size.
The 1970s and 1980s were marked by a conflict between the Igorot and the Philippine government. After declaring martial law in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos ordered a dam be built along the Chico River, which many Igorot tribes opposed as it would be built on their ancestral land without their consultation. Empowered by his right to order warrantless arrests, Marcos ordered the neutralization of Igorot opposition to the dam's construction, which precipitated a conflict with the Igorot which lasted until the 1980s. Following the assassination of Macli-ing Dulag, a tribal chief of the Butbut Kalinga in 1980, Marcos eventually scrapped the dam project, but the low-level conflict continued until the ousting of Marcos in 1986. One lasting effect of the conflict is the wishes for Cordilleran autonomy; the Igorot consider themselves a distinct cultural and ethnic identity from most Filipinos.
The present Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) is created in 1987, and the Ilocano majority province of Abra, then grouped with Ilocos was moved to the new region. It is intended to be made an autonomous region like the former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), but laws supporting these are voted down twice in 1989 and 1997. The latest bill to provide the Igorot autonomy dates to 2014, pending approval from the Philippine government. The people of Nueva Vizcaya, a Igorot-majority province in Cagayan Valley, also support inclusion into a larger Cordillera region, but they are not included in the latest version of the bill.
Geography and climate
The Cordillera region is the only landlocked region of the Philippines, being surrounded by Ilocos to the west and Cagayan Valley to the east. It is largely mountainous, being the center of the Cordillera Central of Luzon.
The climate in the Cordillera is temperate in general, being cooler that the tropical lowland areas. It often sees frosts during the cool dry season from November to March (but there is no snow), and it rains a lot during the wet season. Average temperatures are generally between the mid 10s and 30s (50-86°F), and rarely reach over 30 even in dry season. Peak tourism season is during the cool period, especially during Christmas and New Year season.
The Cordillera is the ancestral land of the Igorot or the Cordillerans, the collective name of about thirteen highland indigenous ethnic groups that mostly escaped Spanish colonialism. The Igorot maintain a somewhat distinct cultural and ethnic identity from Filipinos, and retain many tribal aspects of their closely related but distinct cultures. There are about 1,500,000 Igorot scattered in the country, the majority in provinces forming CAR.
There are about 13 ethnic groups that are considered Igorot, the most notable being the Bontoc, the Ibaloi, the Ifugao, the Isneg, the Kalinga, the Kalanguya, and the Kankana-ey (pronounced cuhng-kuh-NUH-ee, the "ey" correctly pronounced ee). These peoples are closely related culturally and ethnically, the primary difference being in language, and also Austronesian as most Filipinos. Most Igorot continue to practice animist tribal religions, but there are significant numbers of converts to Christianity; the majority being Catholics, Protestants or Anglicans.
The Igorot, especially the Ifugao, are renowned builders of rice terraces, the most notable being the Banaue Rice Terraces. Other Igorot groups live by mining, forestry or hunting.
In contrast to most of the provinces of the Cordillera, the provinces of Abra and Apayao are majority Ilocano. Ilocanos form a significant minority in the Cordilleras, and their language serve as the lingua franca. Most Ilocanos in the Cordillera came from nearby Ilocos as part of a transmigration program in the 1970s. Abra was originally majority Igorot until the 1970s.
Ilocano is the primary language throughout the region, due to Ilocano migration to the region. The Igorot speak their respective indigenous languages like Ifugao, Ibaloi, Kalinga and Kankana-ey, which are also Austronesian languages, but will generally switch to Ilocano, Tagalog or English when facing visitors. Cordillerans are known for their better proficiency in English, something to do with their native languages having sounds found in English but normally absent in other Philippine languages, such as F, V and the schwa.
Despite being centrally located between Ilocos Region and Cagayan Valley, the region has limited entry points from neighboring regions and provinces due to its topographic configuration mostly of steep slopes and mountain ranges.
Driving to the Cordilleras is hard and dangerous due to the terrain, but they also provide a chance to see the scenery. Most roads entering the Cordilleras will be winding and bendy, and drivers must beware of the distances involved to travel between towns.
The major roads into the Cordilleras are Kennon Road and Naguilian Road/Quirino Highway (Route 54), Marcos Highway/Aspiras-Palispis Highway (Route 208), Benguet-Nueva Vizcaya Road (Route 110), all which lead to Baguio. Other major highways to the Cordilleras are the Abra-Ilocos Sur Road (Route 204) from Ilocos Sur and Kalinga-Cagayan Road (Route 52) from Cagayan. Less-traveled routes connect Apayao with northern Cagayan and Abra with Ilocos Norte.
Getting across the region is only by land, and is challenging due to the rugged terrain. The main route across the region is the Halsema Hwy (Rte 204), which connects Baguio with Bontoc. Travel is primarily by bus or jeepney, but most towns are only served by jeepneys, which are often packed full.
Tourist attractions in the region include the world famous Banaue Rice Terraces in the province of Ifugao. This is supposedly considered as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". Natural attractions of the region include the Sumaguing Cave in Sagada and the mummy caves of Benguet and Mountain Province. There are four national parks in the Cordilleras: Cassamata Hill, Mt Pulag (the third highest mountain in the Philippines with an elevation of 2,922 m of 9,600 ft above sea level), Mt Data, and Balbalasang-Balbalan (in the province of Kalinga).
Baguio, which was developed during the American era, has many sights dating back to that period, such as Burnham Park, Camp John Hay, the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and the Art Deco commercial buildings along Session Road. Other sights are its pine forests, Mines View Park and the Lion’s Head.
In Abra Province, the Pinaing (or Sacred) Stones in Dumayco stones are placed in the hollow of a huge Balete tree and symbolize the spirits of village ancestors. Don Teodoro Brillantes Family Museum displays Spanish artifacts and personal mementos of the Brillantes family. The Tugot ni Angalo are huge footprints believed to be made by a giant in San Quintin. The prints are 15 m long, 5 m wide, and 3 m deep.
Climb Mt. Pulag: Pulag is the highest mountain on Luzon and the third highest mountain in the Philippines. It has an elevation of 2,922 m (9,587 ft). Several trails can be used, the most difficult being Akiki and the easiest being Ambangeg. You will need at least two days to climb Mt. Pulag. Pulag Climb offers a package includes round trip transfer from Baguio or Manila, meals, tour guide and entrance fee.
Explore the stalagmites at the Libtec Underground River and Sibud-Sibud Cave in Abra Province.
Participate in the Arya Abra Festival, celebrating the creation of the province, and the Tingguian Festival, which features songs and dances of the Tingguian ethnic group.
Tapey or rice wines.
Landslides are a major danger, especially during the typhoon season. Roads in the region have more curves owing to the geography, and driving is clearly not for the inexperienced.