Farewell to an unsung hero of Cordillera autonomy
He was a silent man who spoke a thousand thoughts. A low profile mentor, adviser, and a friend to many Cordillerans who are now fulfilled professionals and great leaders. A God-fearing family man who devoted most of his time, his thoughts and resources for Cordillera autonomy.
He was the brains behind the late Cordillera People’s Liberation Army founding chairman, Fr. Conrado Balweg, and Cordillera nationalism. A think-tank on regional development, peace process and Cordillera ethnology. And he was the most reliable primary source of information on the Cordillera struggle for autonomy.
Fernando D. Bahatan Jr. or manong Jun died on Jan. 13 at 82. He was laid to his final resting place in Banaue, Ifugao on Jan. 25.
I first met manong Jun in 1987 during the negotiation and signing of Executive Order 220, which created the Cordillera Administrative Region.
I heard the rhythmic punching of typewriter keys in room 2 of the Cordillera House in Baguio City. He was fast hitting the QWERTY keys with only his left and right point fingers often crisscrossing. At least I beat him by using two to three fingers typewriting. We learned we are both from Ifugao and we are related by last syllable Baha-tan and Guimba-tan.
Manong Jun was an honest, consistent, and loyal adviser of the late Fr. Balweg. But he never took advantage of that relationship.
From 1987 to 1988, Fr. Balweg lost his top commanders and aide during an ambush in Abra. Balweg had also a falling out with his chief negotiator while traditional politicians and interest groups suddenly hovered around trying to share from the fruits of the negotiated creation of CAR.
But somebody stayed on with Fr. Balweg to help reorganize, strategize, and implement time-bounded actions – it was manong Jun. His technical expertise and writing skills helped Fr. Balweg sustain the implementation of EO 220 and steered the CPLA into its role.
I was a witness during sleepless nights and overtime meetings together with his wife, Marcelina, a close relative of Balweg. Great ideas on self-determination and autonomy were discussed along with community elders, leaders, and CPLA commanders.
I heard great dreams of good governance and self-sustaining Cordillera communities.
I often notice the depth of ideas when manong Jun and the late Sadanga, Mountain Province mayor Gabino Ganggangan speak their minds.
During meetings, evaluations and negotiations, I never saw manong Jun raise his voice or express frustration during stressful events but he always looks at something positive at the end of the day.
A selfless man, he never said no to anyone asking help. There was even a time when manong Jun and manang Marcy offered their house as office unconditionally just so to ensure implementation of programs.
Manong Jun had a passion for sustainability and community development. He worked and stayed with the CPLA in their rough settlements while guiding them and writing proposals.
Being together in this endeavor, we could have packaged a proposal to a German foundation if not for the untimely demise of Fr. Balweg when he was assassinated by the rebels in Malibcong, Abra in December 1999.
Manong Jun shared his vision of a peace and meditation center in 1999.
He thought of his homeplace where he can plant lemongrass, fruits, and native tree species. We talked about the regeneration of the native alimit tree, a water-generating tree specie.
I know he developed his own peace center in their ancestral land in Banaue. He found peace there, yet continue to dream about the elusive Cordillera autonomy. I know he was writing a book on Cordillera autonomy for he is the only authority I know who can narrate about the struggle for autonomy. How it all begun, the key players, the joys and frustrations, betrayals and negotiations. He knows. He was there.
As manong Jun concluded in his draft, he said “The pursuit for autonomy had been decorated with splits between and within groups, with protests and counter-protests, with petitions and counter-petitions, with court cases and counter-court cases and many more showing the intellectual finesse, accommodation of opinion, and vibrancy of Cordillerans.”
Many have gone ahead in the great beyond, but their dream of a Cordillera autonomy remains alive in our hearts and an inspiration for the generations to come.
Farewell manong Jun, my friend, my mentor, my comrade.
(Editors’ note: The author is a former Baguio journalist turned Mathematics teacher in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A)