In the Philippines’ developed areas, one can very well take the presence of justice for granted. There are halls of justice for hearing court cases, police stations ostensibly for keeping the peace, and cell towers providing a strong signal to keep everyone connected. But the farther one travels from the big cities, the less one sees of these symbolic and practical structures, and the less one feels the weight of the law.
The Philippines boasts an awesome range of features—from modern commercial districts in the great plains to isolated communities in tiny, far-flung islands and uplands. In these faraway places, crime often goes unpunished because there is no way to report it. Conflicts between clans, often over land boundaries, endure for generations. Violence during elections, almost always between ruling families, is so common it has become a fixture.
But change is in the offing, thanks to the advance of technology.
The Cordillera, home to indigenous peoples, is marked by a challenging geography and is among the most remote and isolated areas in the Philippines. According to the Department of Public Works and Highways, the region has the smallest number of paved major roads in the country, and those roads are easily rendered impassable by inclement weather.
In the province of Abra, for example, two tribes—the Maeng from the town of Tubo and the Belwang and Masadiit from the town of Boliney—have been at each other’s throat for decades over a single land boundary. A promise to cease hostilities in 1977 and again in 1993 came and went without any change in the combative posture of the contending parties. Not even the traditional bodong, the peace pact ritual between and among Cordillera tribes formulated in antiquity precisely to end bloody tribal battles, has made a difference.
It took a forward-thinking congressman and cutting-edge technology to end the conflict. This past week, Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat Jr. was summoned by an indigenous organization called the Tipon ti Umili para iti Panangsaluad ti Nakaparsuan (or Tipon for short) to mediate the lingering disharmony in Abra. Because the contending parties could not agree on the disputed boundary, Baguilat found a truly objective arbiter: 3-D (three-dimensional) mapping programs. “Both sides agreed to adopt 3-D mapping, as well as government cadastral surveys, as basis for settling their boundary dispute, thus upholding the bodong,” Baguilat reported. He chose the mapping tech because the contending parties were in vehement disagreement with the boundaries presented in existing national perimeter maps.
Earlier this month, the Cordillera police director, Chief Supt. Benjamin Magalong, announced plans to utilize satellite-aided maps to ensure that all police stations in the region would be connected to the Internet. The maps are to be drawn up using the Geographic Information System, which integrates data gathering and capturing and analysis of geographic features. The Cordillera’s high and hostile terrain makes it extremely difficult for the Philippine National Police to cover the entire area. Magalong said the PNP would give his police force computers so their maps, as well as their crime reporting, could be updated. The police will thus be able to communicate with each other and keep track of crime incidence better.
The Cordillera police will certainly have the cellular signal to do so, as 306 cell sites have been built in the region, ensuring coverage of 90.91 percent for Ifugao and 96.30 percent for Abra. More new technology will be arriving in Baguio City to support the nascent BPO (business process outsourcing) and e-commerce sectors. All this is crucial considering that Abra has repeatedly been identified as an election hotspot, with armed men deployed by local politicians. Maybe this will be the change the Cordillera needs for a peaceful future despite its location.
All told, it looks like an auspicious beginning for the equitable dispensation of justice nationwide through the use of modern technology. The developments in the Cordillera are good news for far-flung regions that have long suffered from government neglect; others long mired in the problems of the past are certain to benefit from its example. These remote areas, saddled by land conflicts and unpunished criminal acts, will now set foot in the 21st century.