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Tribal rituals cleanse, unite towns

May 17, 2009

KABAYAN, BENGUET, Philippines—The cultural belief in gods and spirits proved helpful as a coping mechanism for the Igorot communities shocked by the recent helicopter crash on Mt. Mangingihi that killed an advance party for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Tinoc Mayor Lopez Pugong said he was unsure if the name of the crash site had something to do with the mountain’s name.

“Mangingihi” is a Kalanguya term that refers to the state of being lost in the middle of a forest, with the lost one finding it very difficult to return to where one came from, Pugong said.

The officials and residents of two adjoining towns argued briefly over the exact location of the crash that occurred on April 7—Barangay Tawangan in Kabayan, or Barangay Eheb in Tinoc, Ifugao?

But their dispute ended there. Culture became a unifying thread, particularly for those who took part in the rescue operation and who subsequently complained of bad dreams caused by the sight of the mangled bodies of the dead.

On May 1, the Ibaloi of Kabayan called their mambunong, and five days later, the Kalanguya of Tinoc asked for their own mumbaki.

The two native priests performed the cleansing rituals—called sarey in Kabayan and lawit in Tinoc—to help the rescuers overcome nightmares, drive away the bad spirits and restore the serenity of the mountain forest that, they said, was disturbed by the crash.

Although held separately, the rituals were united in purpose.

Mambunong Lacio Ostin, 109, was assisted by his colleague Apelis Manio, 78, presiding over the sacrifice of two pigs, three dogs, two chickens and nine jars of tapuey (native wine) to appease the gods. The ritual was conducted at the Tinoc municipal grounds.

Despite bad weather, mumbaki Lakay Hasulas performed the traditional prayers, oversaw the sacrifice of a black pig and a chicken, and partook of the baya (native wine) right at the crash site.

The rituals were also meant to put a closure on the crash and prevent a similar accident from happening again, according to Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan and Ifugao Gov. Teodoro Baguilat Jr.

The two officials said in separate interviews that even as the victims’ families had come to terms with the tragedy, the communities could not simply let it pass without “cleansing” rituals held.

Measure of relief

Kabayan Mayor Faustino Aquisan and Tinoc Mayor Pugong said the communities welcomed the holding of the rituals in the belief that without these, the accident could bring bad luck to their lives.

Aquisan said the rituals served as a measure of relief for the residents of Barangays Lusod, Tawangan and Ballay, all in Kabayan, who were the first to volunteer to help find the helicopter.

No one among the chopper’s pilots and passengers who left Baguio City for Banaue on April 7 to prepare for Ms Arroyo’s visit survived the crash. They were Undersecretaries Jose Capadocia and Marilou Frostrom, Perlita Bandayanon, Brig. Gen. Carlos Clet, Maj. Rolando Sacatani, Capt. Alvin Alegata, Quarter Master 3rd Class Demilyn Reyno and Sgt. Roe Gem Perez.

3rd and worst

Aguisan said the crash was the third in the area near Mt. Pulag, the Philippines’ second highest peak that straddles the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya.

In 1953, a plane crashed on Mt. Patayokyok near Pulag. A helicopter also crashed in Kayapa, Nueva Vizcaya, in 2001.

“Since the April 7 incident was the worst, [it was very important] that the rituals be performed,” Aquisan said.

Heroes of the search

Credit must be given to the residents of Barangays Tawangan, Lusod and Ballay in Kabayan and Barangays Eheb and Poblacion in Tinoc, according to Thomas Killip, presidential assistant for the Cordillera.

“Without them, the search could have taken longer. Their culture dictates that they help in disasters that happen within their domain,” he said.

Killip joined local officials who went to Poblacion in Tinoc on April 8 to oversee the transport of the bodies from the crash site to Loakan Airport in Baguio.

“The search was difficult because there are ravines where the searchers can trip and fall into. The way to the site was also foggy, very cold and slippery. Worse, there were leeches along the way,” Killip said.

Farm-to-market roads

But the people braved these conditions and offered help, he said. “They led the way and helped clear the forest.”

Aquisan and Pugong expressed thanks to Malacañang for recognizing and awarding certificates of appreciation to the people who had helped in the rescue.

The two mayors also hoped that the chopper crash showed the national government how badly the towns of Kabayan and Tinoc needed farm-to-market roads and livelihood projects.

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