BSU, home of first IP student mass action

>> Monday, October 24, 2016

Alfred P. Dizon

(Rocky Jake Ngalob of the Benguet State University’s planning and development office writes this week’s column)
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet - Through the years, Cordillera students have always been in the forefront of every street demonstration from registering their opposition to several issues: against unjust tuition increases in urban Baguio, to  environmental destruction and human rights violation plaguing rural home areas in  provinces. This sense of militancy is a glowing spark left by our ancestors, who for more than three centuries, managed to ward off Spanish colonizers in most parts of the Cordillera.
When the Americans came, Baguio became a model American colonial city with La Trinidad as the gateway to Cordillera. It was also around this time when special provinces were created. Among them, was Mountain Province which was established for the Igorots.
This move was devised to economically benefit the colonizers more. The American colonizers saw our ancestors to be weak, passive and easily preyed upon by their Christians neighbors and therefore submissive to their demands.
American education for non-Christians
With this our American colonizers, under the Harrison Administration in 1914 adapted an approach to integrate non-Christian Igorot tribes to the larger Filipino populace instead of being isolated. And only through the colonial education did their brand of integration aid our Igorot ancestors to “smoothly” adjust to the culture of the greater subjugated population.
However, on a judicious political-economic view, American education during that time was a double-edged sword. A humanistic and progressive education for all on one side  and a tool of suppression or a propaganda instrument against militant Igorots on the other. The American colonial education that time can also be construed as a mere ‘showcase of democracy’ inside American colonies to the outside world.
Unfortunate it may seem our Igorot ancestors, who then were students, notwithstanding the shady intent of American education, sustained Igorot militancy that had protected them from Spanish occupation or colonization. The deceptive education to suppress indigenous people’s militancy did not completely tame IP students from protecting their culture and welfare that was long safeguarded against three centuries of Spanish occupation.
In fact, the earliest recorded IP student protest movement happened in the Trinidad Agricultural School (TAS) now Benguet State University (BSU).
The TAS 1927 IP student protest
In a research documented by BSU history professors, Dr. Stanley Anongos and Tecah Sagandoy, from compiled news articles published in The Philippine Herald, the said protest was against then TAS Principal James A. Wright.
In the reports dated March 18, 1927 by The Philippine Herald said that on the night of Feb. 28, 1927, 205 TAS students, led by officers of the student body, forced a meeting to confront issues over policies of TAS that they opposed.
They met Wright, along with spouses Thomas and Ethel Herold, teachers of TAS and part of the Bureau of Education who just came from a party in Baguio City.
The meeting between the students and Wright led to altercations and resulted to physical confrontation.
The hostility ended when Thomas came to the rescue of Wright wherein he held out a gun. One version according to Bonifacio Marines, an author of The Igorot Diary, claimed that Wright was thrown into the Balili River and was rescued by Bado Dangwa who at that time served as a driver for Wright. Dangwa later emerged as political kingpin of Benguet for many years.
The following day, said student leaders went room to room and organized a student walk out as their gesture of opposition against Wright and how he was running the school. They claimed that Wright exploited Igorot students by compelling them to wear G-strings in front of visitors and by forcing them to perform cultural dances before dignitaries at Camp John Hay for their amusement.
Students were also overworked by which they were deprived of the privileges of Sunday breaks and holidays. Moreover, they were also asked to work for the friends of Wright without any compensation.
There were even recorded instances that some students were forced to work for the nursery stations of the Bureau of Forestry at Pacdal in Baguio in an arrangement that was vague.
The students portrayed Wright as a callous administrator who was fond of insulting and mistreating them. At times, Wright allegedly would express racial slurs like “dirty pigs” and “wild carabaos” against the students.
The imposed performance of cultural dances for the amusement of visitors, the wearing of g-strings and tapis were in the first place contrary to the whole idea of education and progress, as perceived then which was meant to change traditional ways of Igorots so that they would be at par with their lowland brother and sisters.
Gerard Finin, in his book, The Making of the Igorots stated that “…apparently feeling they were being mocked displayed in a manner which mocked their educational achievements, the last thing the young students wanted was an uninformed American watching the film to think of them as ‘backward people’. This was after their performance was filmed by the American Moving Picture Company.
The TAS 1927 protest gained audiences that prompted the Director of Civil Service and the Director of Education to create an investigation committee dubbed as the Gil-Summers Committee.
Though the investigation leaned against the students, it was still a victory on the part of the students who reminded the administration of Wright that the IP students of TAS are not to be bullied around. Also, the said protest confirmed the real view and reinterpreted the American standards on equality, democracy and education.
The TAS 1927 protest showcased also an Igorot trait, a very essential key ingredient to what is CordilLERA NOW.
It is our culture of collectivism that safeguarded Cordillera through the years. This culture was once again demonstrated by IP students in 1984 when they flooded the streets of Baguio to register their opposition against the environmental degradation happening in their provinces, from the Chico Dams in Kalinga to the Cellophil logging concessions in Abra, and the cultural bastardization most apparent in Baguio.
If the 1984 IP student protest through legislation is now annually commemorated as the Kaigorotan Youth Week, may this historical note rekindle support for the same to happen for the TAS 1927 student protest.
This way, our fellow IP youth in this generation will be reminded of their historical social responsibility to nurture unity and the tradition of militancy to effect genuine change, now, for the progress of the kaIgorotan, and for the whole country.
To fellow millennials, let this be a reminder. Let us not distort history. Let us learn from it, set the record straight while we give credit to where it is due.


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