Tribal warfare is a fact of life for the indigenous peoples. And it takes just a perceived wrongdoing to spark one. The bond among tribesmen is as strong as blood relations that attacking one member incurs the ire of the whole tribe. A tribe would also rather go to war than surrender a suspected criminal among their ranks. And when the tribes are on war footing, movement becomes restricted, lives and livelihoods are disrupted and lost, and everyone suffers.
For a long time, no one dared to interfere in the way the tribes settled their differences. But the Tabuk local government decided that the cycle of vendetta killings and tribal warfare had to stop. Thus, in 2001, the Matagoan Program was born. Apart from creating a more secure community where people could live free from fear, the Matagoan program also sought to reduce or eradicate the commission of common crimes. At that time, the high incidence of crime was dampening investments and local merchants were even opting to leave for safer areas.
The Tabuk local government first organized the Matagoan Bodong Council (MBC) which was composed of the head of the Municipal Peace and Order Council plus eight other members who represent the eight original sub-tribes of the locality. The MBC was tasked to settle disputes between tribes or within the tribes, promote the Pagta or agreement of the bodong or peace pact, and to conduct annual dornats or the renewal of peace and unity vows. The MBC was later expanded into the Matagoan Bodong Consultative Council (MBCC), which also served other Kalinga sub-tribes such as the Pasils and Tinglayans and immigrants residing in Tabuk such as the Ilocanos, Igorots and Tagalogs.
Then the Tabuk local government established closer relations between the police and the community by Tabuk, Kalinga Resolving Tribal Animosities conducting peace fora, training of tanods (village guards) and lupons (village arbitrators) and establishing communication hotlines. After which, the local government pursued activities, such as youth camps and scholarship programs, that harnessed the participation of the youth in peace advocacies.
From 2002 to 2007, the Matagoan Program helped settle 33 of 35 tribal conflict cases. The preventive measures, such as the annual dornats or renewal of peace pacts, significantly lessen the number of tribal conflicts. The dornats strengthen the bonds between the tribes and lessens the chance of conflict erupting between them. Police records also indicate that within the same period, the crime volume in the locality also went down. Moreover, the crime solution efficiency went up from 80% in 2003 to 89% in 2007. The improved peace and order situation led to more investments. In 2003, there were only 651 registered business establishments but in 2007, this figure climbed to 774.
With the decrease in tribal conflict was the increase in economic activities because the members of the tribe were now focused on their livelihoods. This led to better agricultural production and reduced poverty incidence. The peace and order gains also meant better delivery of health and social welfare services as government personnel were no longer hampered by security issues. Under the Matagoan Program, the infant mortality rate which stood at 7.8 in 2003 went down to 3.7 in 2007 while maternal mortality reduced from 1.0% in 2003 to 0% in 2007.
The success of the program owes much to the active participation of the people. Without the people’s involvement, the peace and order situation would not have improved at all. In the strategy formulation process undertaken by the various community sectors, the people themselves identified what should be done, what resources were required, who should do it, and when to carry out the intervention. The religious, medical and legal sector campaigned against illegal drugs and pursued transformational leadership trainings for the youth. The business sector equipped the tanod and police outposts with lights to encourage the latter to remain in their posts.
The areglo (out of court settlement) is one of the cornerstones of the Matagoan Program. The MBCC views areglo as a worthy alternative to the courts because it costs less and takes less time to resolve cases. In its dispute resolution function, the MBCC utilizes the practice of manuugudan or amicable settlement which is part of the indigenous culture in the locality. A lot of people especially the natives also prefer the areglo over the courts because the justice it dispenses is not punitive but restorative. One innovative breakthrough is the “no gopas” (no vendetta) policy laid down by the MBCC. This policy prohibits the severance of the bodong.
The program could easily be replicated by LGUs with the same peculiarities as those of Tabuk. The program is simple because it employs existing customs, practices and beliefs of the native residents. It maximized the cooperation of tribal leaders and enhanced the systems and procedures that are still relevant in these communities. In addition, the conflict resolution methods do not require legal representations nor too much formality. The practice is time-honored and grounded on mutual respect, understanding and cooperation among the parties.
Tribes that already practice the bodong can easily incorporate the innovations instituted by the MBCC such as the outlawing of the gopas, prohibiting the coddling of criminals, conducting annual dornats and the setting up of a permanent peace body. And the Tabuk LGU is more than willing to share the systems and mechanics of the program.
There is now widespread acceptance of the Matagoan Program even among local immigrants who now also make use of the conflict resolution services of the MBCC. Replicating the program on a wider scale has the potential of making tribal warfare a thing of the past.