On July 15, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) will celebrate Cordillera Day with the traditional gong relay that will showcase the rich heritage and colorful traditions of the region.
Cordillera Day Opening 2010 (Photo from Philippine Information Agency Archives)
The region commemorates its 29th founding anniversary this year with various activities involving both the public and the private sectors. CAR was created by virtue of an Executive Order signed by then President Corazon Aquino in 1987; the provinces included were Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao, and Mountain Province. Several years later, Kalinga-Apayao was split into the two separate provinces of Kalinga and Apayao. Currently, the region also includes the chartered city of Baguio.
Celebrating Cordillera Day officially started in 2015 after President Benigno Aquino declared July 15 as a special non-working holiday in the region so that Cordillerans can have the chance to commemorate the historic establishment of their region.
Follow the Trail of the Gong
The unity gong is passed in a ceremony at La Trinidad, Benguet. (Photo from Philippine Information Agency archives)
One of the main events during the celebration is the gong relay, or the passing of a traditional gong or gangsa from one province to another. The relay usually starts one week before Cordillera Day, thereby making it a week-long celebration, culminating in the arrival of the gong in the host province. This year, Baguio City is the designated host, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development Regional Office is the host government agency.
The gangsa is a ubiquitous part of Cordillera culture. It is used in traditional ceremonies and rituals by all of the indigenous groups living in the region. Its unmistakable clanging sound is used in celebrations such as weddings and traditional gatherings like the cañao, where both old and young members of the tribes dance to the rhythm of the gong’s vibrant sound. Hence, it is not surprising that the region has chosen the gong as its regional symbol.
Let us follow the trail of the gong and discover the riches of this mountainous region.
July 9 – 10: From Baguio City to Ifugao Province
On July 9, the gong, while in the care of local government officials, will travel from Baguio City to the land of the Rice Terraces, the province of Ifugao. It will be turned over to Ifugao officials on July 10, in the provincial capital of Lagawe.
The rice terraces in Batad, Banaue, Ifugao (Photo from tourism.gov.ph)
Ifugao is well known for its majestic rice terraces that span several municipalities. Built by Ifugao farmers themselves, the terraces are considered as the 8th Wonder of the World, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Agriculture fuels the local economy of the province with their traditional products such as highland rice, which has been cultivated there for the longest time, as well as native coffee.
Pinuneg is Cordilleran version of blood sausage (Photo from Kwento ni Toto Facebook Page)
In Lagawe, visitors wanting to taste a uniquely Ifugao treat should look for native sausages called ”pinuneg.” Pinuneg was traditionally made with pig’s blood as the base, which is why it is also called “blood sausage.” The recipe, however, has been tweaked to suit the taste of tourists.
Igorot wood carvers (Photo from Filipinos Around the World Facebook Page)
Meanwhile, tourism also makes up a big part of the province’s economy, as visitors continue to flock to Banaue and nearby municipalities to experience local culture. Among the indigenous groups in the region, the Ifugaos are the ones known for their craftsmanship in wood carving. That makes wood products popular souvenirs among tourists.
July 10 – 11: From Ifugao to Kalinga
On July 10, the gong leaves Ifugao for Kalinga province, where it will be received by provincial officials in Tabuk City on July 11.
Bugnay (Photo from Proud Bisaya Facebook page)
Tabuk is the only other city in the region, apart from Baguio, and can serve as the jump-off point for visitors looking for nature-based activities in Kalinga. Whitewater rafting on the Chico River, for example, is one of the more popular adventures here. Another is rappelling down the now unused Canao Bridge, situated between Barangay Calanan and Barangay Bulanao.
Like Ifugao, Kalinga also has a heritage site called Naneng Village, a village that was built by the Catholic Church in the 1920s. The houses in this village are made mainly of hardwood like narra, guijo, and lauan—wood that are already considered rare. More on the local produce: a local berry called “bugnay” is cultivated in the province and made into bugnay wine. Berry picking at the Bugnay Berry Orchard in Ryan’s Farm is another interesting activity that visitors can try.
July 11 – 12: From Kalinga to Apayao
From Tabuk, the gong will then be transported to Apayao on July 11, to be turned over to Apayao officials on July 12 in the town of Luna.
Apayao is the region’s northernmost province and, hence, also one of the region’s lesser known provinces. It is mainly accessible via Cagayan province.
Apayao boasts of natural wonders such as the Lussok Cave and Underground River, several waterfalls like the Bayugao Falls, as well as caves that are best for a spelunking adventure. Trekking is also popular among mountaineers; organized treks to Marag Valley and Mt. Macalino are a regular activity.
July 12 – 13: From Kalinga to Abra
On July 12, Apayao officials will travel with the gong to Bangued, Abra. The next day, July 13, Abra officials will receive the gong in the province’s capital town.
The Tangadan Tunnel welcomes visitors to Abra (Photo from Ilokano Ako, Proud Ako Facebook Page)
Bangued, Abra is an urbanized municipality, more so than the other municipalities in the region.
Bangued, Abra is the province’s commercial center where various local businesses operate. Compared to other municipalities in the region, Bengued, in fact, is considered more urbanized and developed. Having educational institutions from elementary to tertiary levels, it also serves as a center for education in the province.
The main place of interest in Abra is the great Abra River, which is held to be the sixth largest river system in the country. Water in the river is said to originate from Mount Data in Mountain Province, which then flows through Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, and then ends up in the province of Abra, where it is joined by Tineg River.
July 13 – 14: From Kalinga to Mountain Province
On July 13, the gong will leave the province of Kalinga for its next destination: Mount Data, Bauko Municipality, Mountain Province, where it will be received by provincial officials on July 14.
Terraces at Barlig, Mountain Province
The mountain is situated in the central part of the Cordillera mountain range and has an elevation of 2,310 meters. It is a national park that is home to the watershed that feeds the Abra River. Mossy oak and pine forests can be found in the park, which is also known for its great biological diversity. A great number of species of mammals and plants can be found here.
Mountain Province is located in the Cordillera Central mountain range, which is also the explanation behind its name. The more popular places of interest in the province are the tourist town of Sagada and the different rice terraces that are found in the municipalities of Bauko, Bontoc, Barlig, Besao, Natonin, Sadanga, and Sagada.
On July 14, the gong will make its way back to Benguet province, where it will make a quick stop in La Trinidad before proceeding to its final stop in Baguio City. On July 15, there will be a foundation day program at the Baguio Convention Center, which will be participated in by local and regional officials, as well as guests from national government agencies such as CHED and the Supreme Court and the Philippine Constitutional Commission of 1986. The program will be followed by a civic-military parade around the city.
Visiting and Shopping Tips!
Since there will be a parade, as a visitor, you are advised to find a suitable parking space early in the morning. Or you can take the option of leaving your car at the hotel and just hopping onto one of the many taxis in Baguio. Walking is also a healthy alternative, so long as it is not raining.
During the parade, traffic may become heavy so it is better to watch out what time the parade will start and finish, and to get out of the vicinity before or after the scheduled time.
Unlike Panagbenga Festival, Cordillera Day will not be bringing merchants and sellers together to showcase and sell their products. Nevertheless, this should not stop visitors from doing any shopping. Traditional Baguio pasalubong, or gifts to take home for family and friends, such as peanut brittle, ube jam, and strawberry jam can be bought at the Baguio Public Market or the Maharlika Trade Center. Fresh strawberries are available but very expensive at PhP400 per kilo, because it is off-season. Baguio vegetables, on the other hand, are available at the public market at regular prices. Other souvenirs such as keychains, handwoven coin purses and wallets, and small wood carvings can also be found at the Maharlika Trade Center.
If you come to Baguio with second-hand or vintage shopping in mind, you can go to the numerous ukay-ukay shops (thrift shops) in Bayanihan Building near Burnham Park or in Skyworld along Session Road. If you are one of the more adventurous bargain hunters, check out the night market along Harrison Road across Melvin Jones Auditorium. The night market happens nightly, beginning at 9:00 PM.