from: Lang-ay Festival 2005 Souvenir Program
For decades, the whole Cordillera region was identified by this one name — Mountain Province.
Mountain Province lies at the heart of the cordillera mountain ranges in Northern Luzon. The province is bounded on the north by the provinces of Kalinga, Apayao and Abra; on the south by Benguet; on the east by Ifugao and Isabela; and on the west by Ilocus Sur.
The province is inhabited by hard-working people of the sturdy Malayan race referred to as “Igorots”. Scholars differ in their theory on the origin of our people. A prominent number though support the contention that the various tribes came from the South East Asia mainland. According to existing records, Spanish exploratory efforts on this area started as early as 1663 up to 1665 which were unsuccessful because of the harsh terrain and hostility of the Igorots. Succeeding forays into these mountains were abandoned for some time because this proved to be an economic burden to the Spanish government. On the later part of the 1850′s, a famous Spanish explorer, Guillermo Galvez and Antonio Hernandez, a mining engineer, explored as far as Lepanto, Bontoc and Kiangan territories. In 1859, the tribes of Bontoc, Western Ifugao an Southern Kalinga were placed under one “commandancia” in the Bontoc-Lepanto area while the rest resettled in Amburayan, Cabuagan, and Northern Kalinga, Kiangan, Ifugao and Benguet were under another “commandancia”. In1890, Christianity was established on Igorot soil.
In 1898, a number of Bontoc Igorots joined the fight against the Americans but being superstitious, they were easily awed by the American “magic sticks” prompting them to retreat to their mountain abodes. Towards the end of the war, Flipino forces were driven northward to the Cordillera Mountains. General Gregorio H. Del Pilar with some 300 Igorot braves defended Tirad Pass to enable Generl Emilio Aguilnaldo to escape through Bontoc. The Bontoc-Lepanto area was eventually occupied by the Americans. Temporary headquarters were established in Cervantes. Major Rice, the commanding officer, became acting military Governor until the establishment of a civil government in 1901.
After the Spanish-American war, the mountain region were reestablished and the Bontoc-Lepanto area was recognized as a province in 1902 with Bontoc, Lepanto , Amburayan as the sub-provinces and Cervantes as the capital of the new province. Dr. Hunt was made the acting Governor, but he stayed in Bontoc, not in Cervantes.
In 1903, All Saints’ Mission, the first Episcopal/Anglican Church in Mountain Province, was opened by Bishop Charles and father Walter Clayton Clapp at the present Poblacion Bontoc.
In 1904, Father John Armitage Staunton, Jr. and his wife established Saint Mary the Virgin, the Episcopal Mission Center in Sagada. Ten years after, twenty buildings were constructed. Among them is Saint Mary’s High School.
That same year, the first government school in Bontoc was put up under the supervision of Provincial Governor William Reed. The following year, other schools were established in Alilem, Angaki, Besao, Kayan, Sabangan and Sagada. Alilem and Sagada had American teachers while the rest were non-Igorot Filipinos.
In 1907, the mountain regions were organized as the Mountain Province and became a special province of the Philippines with the following sub provinces: Bontoc-Lepanto-Amburayan, Ifugao, Kalinga, Benguet and Apayao. Mr. Samuel Kane, the Provincial Supervisor, was appointed as the Governor and Bontoc became the Provincial Capital. The only building that existed in Bontoc at that time was the twenty-year old Spanish garrison which became the temporary quarters and office of the Governor and his staff. The construction of other government buildings among them a hospital, a provincial jail and several school houses started at that time.
In 1908, this former Mountain Province was again sub-divided into seven sub-provinces: Benguet, Bontoc, Ifugao, Lepanto, Amburayan, Kalinga and Apayao. Later Amburayan and Lepanto were in cooperated by the sub-province of Bontoc and Benguet, respectively leaving the five sub-provinces known as BIBAK. In the early part of 1908, two Belgian missionaries of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Fr. Constancio Jurgens and Fr. Sepulchre, took the Spanish trail from Candon through Conception, Tirad Pass, Angaki, Kayan, Sagada to reach Bontoc to re-spread the word of God.
In March 1911, the Saint Vincent’s School was formally established under the direction of four missionary sisters of he Canoness of Saint Augustine from Belgium. (Photo credit: Saint Vincent’s High School)
Historical records show that there was a brewing disenchantment among the people of these mountain regions in the manner the national government treated a larger mass of the old Mountain Province. This triggered the tide for the clamor for a better and workable political and geographical grouping. In 1925, the Honorable Henry A. Kamora, Benguet Representative to the Lower House of Congress, filed a House Bill proposing the first sub-division to pare down the old Mountain Province into two separate provinces. The Bill did not take off the ground and was reintroduced in 1933 and was again presented in the 1935 Constitutional Convention, but met the same fate as the Kamora Bill.
In the year 1928, Dr. Hilary P. Clapp, the first Bontoc-Physician educated in the United States was appointed District Health Officer of the Mountain Province.
In 1931, after years of laborious planning and working, the Bontoc-Baguio road was finally opened to traffic and was rehabilitated by the Lepanto Mining Corporation and the Dangwa Development Corporation in 1946.
Hon. Felix Diaz, Sr. was the first Igorot to be appointed as Governor and as Assemblyman for Mountain Province in 1934. Honorable Diaz’s administration immersed in the rehabilitation and reconstruction from the ashes of past devastation and conflict. He was also a delegate to the 1935 Constitutional Convention in Manila. He was then replaced as Assemblyman by a former Public School Supervisor named George Tait. Mr. Tait was the first Bontoc to be elected as Assemblyman of Mountain Province during the Commonwealth Government in 1935.
In February 1942, the dreaded Japanese Army arrived in Bontoc via Nueva Vizcaya and Kiangan route. A garrison was established in the town. The Anglican Mission dormitories were made quarters for officers. Dr. Hillary Clapp was made Governor of Mountain Province.
During the country’s fifth Congress in 1962, the Honorable Alfredo G. Lamen and the Honorable Luis Hora authored House Bill 4600 which proposed the subdivision of the old Mountain Province into five (5) new provinces, it also failed to pass muster.
In 1965 the province was divided into 3 Congressional Districts under the administration of Hon. Bado Dangwa. The First District of Mountain Province (excluding Besao, Tadian and Bauko), Kalinga and Apayao represented by Congressman Juan Duyan; Second district was composed of Baguio and Benguet under Congressman Ramon Mitra; and the Third district was comprised of Ifugao, Tadian and Bauko with Hon. Luis Hora as the Congressman. Hon. Duyan with Hon. Hora authored House Bill 1526. The resolutions drawn up by the constituents of Bontoc and other parts of the old Mountain Province, from political leaders down to civic leaders, were forwarded to the national legislative body to drumbeat for the immediate approval of the said bill.
This time, the lobby won for Mountain Province its first birth pangs. The bill was passed by the Senate and on June 18, 1966, the bill was approved by then President Ferdinand Marcos and became Republic Act 4695, otherwise known as the Division Law of Mountain Province. The 4 distinct provinces of Benguet, Kalinga-Apayao, Ifugao and Mountain Province were finally born. The new Mountain Province under the aforesaid Republic Act which was once comprised of the sub-province of Bontoc has now the following municipalities: Barlig, Bauko, Besao, Bontoc, Natonin, Paracelis, Sabangan, Sadanga, Sagada, and Tadian. Bontoc was made the provincial capital.
On Friday, April 7, 1967, a year after the Subdivision Law was approved; the new Mountain Province was legally and officially operational with the following first set of provincial officials being designated to compose the Provincial Board: Hon. Alfredo G. Lamen-Governor; Hon. Victor S. Dominguez-Vice Governor; Hon. Pio F. Felwa; Hon. Alfonso Layog and Hon. Alejo Manao as Board Members. Luis Hora was the Congressman.
In November 1967, the first election in the history of the new Mountain Province took place. there were only two political parties at that time, the Liberal Party with Alfredo G. Lamen and Pio Felwa as candidates for Governor and Vice-Governor, respectively; and the Nationalista Party with Timothy Chaokas and Victor Dominguez for Governor and Vice-Governor, respectively. Atty. Jaime Gomez also vied for the position of Vice-Governor as an independent candidate. Alfredo G. Lamen won the gubernatorial race against Timothy Chaokas while Gomez prevailed over Dominguez and Felwa.