Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Conrado Balweg was born in 1944 to a poor farmer family in Cordilleras Mountains. The family belonged to the Tingguian, a tribal minority often referred as “people from the mountains”, primitive and underdeveloped.  Many people believed that the tribe were into headhunting and animism. To escape from the branding, Conrado and his siblings were sent on mission schools. His parents chosen the career of a priest for Conrado.

Conrado attended a priest school of the international order of the Steyler missionaries, the "Societas Verbi Divini" (SVD). From here, he heard the teachings of Marxism and the Liberation Theology.

The lectures of Liberation theology has more influence on Conrado.  According to the teachings of the Liberation Theology the church has to focus its attention to social work especially to the poor and discriminated people. Some of the supporters of the Liberation Theology sympathize with socialist, also communist society models.

However, the Roman Catholic Church frowned upon the teachings of Liberation Theology. Pope Paul II asserted that the Church must do social work but “the conception of Christ as a political figure, as a revolutionary or person engaged in subversive activities does not correspond to the catechism of the church.” Those who contradict the teachings of the Rome especially for theologians, priests and nuns entered the possibility of excommunication.

In 1974, at the height of  Martial Law, Conrado was ordained and became the first priest from the tribe of the Tingguian. Even before he was a seminarian, he devoted his time to social work. While he was serving as a priest in baranguay Sal-Lapadan, he called for structural reforms. He protested against the multinational timber companies which invaded and disproved the historical claims of ownership of the natives due to lack of documents. He accused the Marcos government of being corrupt and uncontrolled.

In 1979, Conrado set aside his Bible and carried a gun as he joined the Cordillera People’s Army, the NPA in his region. He was nicknamed Ka Ambo and became “Robin Hood of the Cordilleras,” a local idol. He married his comrade Corazon "Azon" Cortel and gave birth to five children. At that time he was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Conrado spoke in his CPA teachings the necessary use of counter-violence against rulers and big landowners. He maintained that “guns will not win the war, but the justness of the cause will … we have the support of the masses.”  

He admitted in a newspaper interview that his group killed 46 government soldiers and six armed forces informers in 29 collisions with the armed forces. Because of his admission, the Marcos government put a price on his head and ordered his capture – dead or alive.

During the course of his struggle, Conrado denounced the CPA/NPA as a totalitarian organization, acting against the interests of the Igorots and ruled by city dwellers in the lowland. He formed his paramilitary group Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA).  The two groups fought each other, accusing each one of crimes and tortured of people. It was a fight between brothers because CPA was headed by Jovencio, Conrado’s brother.

In 1986, when President Corazon Aquino took the seat in Malacanang, Conrado and his CPLA agreed to sit in the negotiating table. He was given amnesty and the government considered the comprehensive regional autonomy he was fighting for Cordillera Region.

In 1987, a film biography of Conrado’s life was release.

In 1999, Conrado was murdered.

According to reports, Conrado was on vacation in their family house in Malibong, Abra. He and Jovencio had an argument and a shot went through from outside the house killing Conrado on the spot. It was believe at that time that Jovencio was engaged in his assassination. Police reported that Conrado was killed by Jovencio but the statement was later retracted and pointed to an NPA hit man as the killer.

In 2000, investigations revealed that it was not Jovencio who killed Conrado but a communist guerrilla. Procorpio Tauro alias Pyro and Ka Lito was the masked gunman who shot dead with an Armalite rifle the leader of the CPLA in December 31, 1999.

Father Conrado Balweg fought for the self-determination of the people of Cordillera that lead to the creation of Cordillera Administrative Region.

                Philippine Star

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