Pechen; its role in conflict resolution

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Conflicts have existed in all cultures, religions, and societies since time immemorial. As long as humans have walked the Earth, philosophies and procedures for dealing with conflicts have been part of the human heritage, differing between cultures and societies.

In a study conducted by Fritz Krieg F. Allawey titled, ‘The Indigenous Peace Process of Bontoc, Mountain Province’, he discussed the role of Pechen more than just a peace process or conflict resolution system. Also,  its purpose of ironing out misunderstandings and conflicts and seeking retributions for any wrong done, it aims to bring back the old cordial times keeping the tribe unified.

Causes of Conflicts between Tribes

Among the Bontoc tribesmen, there are numerous reasons of conflict. Through interview and group discussion conducted and the documentary analyses made, the researcher found that Mountain Province is inhabited by a number of different tribes and that tribal dispute on boundary, water resources and crime-related incidents. Conflicts with tribal implications are also a common problem in the province, as it could suddenly breakout and rapidly escalate and affect the innocent victims especially students and employees who are residing in Bontoc, being the melting pot of different tribes of the province and other tribes from other Cordilleran provinces.

The parameters of conflicts before are different from what are considered conflicts today. In the past, the limits of conflict which are covered by peace pacts are merely on killing of a person by someone from another tribe or village and conflicts on territorial boundaries. These are customarily the causes of tribal wars. However, conflicts today which are included in the pagta  settled by elders already include physical injuries including accidents, theft or robbery, and transport or use of marijuana and its derivatives.

 The Pechen

The pechen is a ritualized oral contract between two villages with the purpose of establishing peaceful relations. It is a contract held in safekeeping by a particular ato/ator of each village. An ato/ator, is a place in the community where the elders meet and all decisions for the village are made. Some of those decisions include contracts made between two tribes or villages. Such contract had existed for many generations.

There are two general kinds of peace pacts or pechen, the Inator Pechen (ato-based) and the Inafung Pechen (household-based). The Inator Pechen is the peace pact which is held in an ato while the Inafung Pechen is conducted in the house of a peace pact holder.

In the Inator Pechen, all members of the ato share expenses. The cost is considerable on the household holder and his family for the Inafung Pechen. An easy consensus is arrived at than that of the inator pechen. It is the preferred kind for the sharing of both responsibility and privilege by a larger number of peace pact holding elders.

On the other hand, those of the inafung pechen undeniably reflect the prestige and relative wealth of the peace pact holding household. The resilience of the ato as a major socio-political institution in the Bontoc culture determines the resilience of the inator pechen more than the availability of households willing to hold and administer inafung pechen. The peace pact of either or both however is held for the entire village or community.

Penalties for Offenses

            Penalties for offenses or commission of a crime by a tribe member are not absolute and universal. Mr. Luis Chinalpan, an elder of Barangay Samoki, said that Penalties for offenses before depend on what is written or verbally agreed during the Peace Pact.           Penalties or multa depends mainly on what the peace pact holders of both tribes agreed as stipulated in the pagta which was agreed upon during the peace pact.

A preliminary meeting, senglip, is agreed upon and set by both parties. At this meeting, the circumstances surrounding the latest conflict are discussed and made even. Any past transgressions by either party on the other are threshed out and corresponding retribution or fines agreed upon. Upon satisfaction of conditions for peace talks to proceed as set by the parties in conflict, formal negotiations for peace pacts commence until the terms of the agreement known as tulag or pagta is finalized.

The following are some of the conflicts or cases settled by the elders of Bontoc; in the Tetep-an, Sagada and Saclit, Sadanga Conflict, it was agreed upon by both parties that the penalty of P130,000 should be completed and be turned over to the Saclit party.

Also, in the Gueday, Besao and Lias, Barlig Case, with the help of the tribal elders of both parties and the LGU, they agreed on the following conditions: the suspected party would pay the aggrieved party P250,000 as amicable settlement money; secondly, an affidavit of desistance and other pertinent documents required by court for the dismissal of the case shall be submitted; lastly, both parties also agreed to observe indigenous rituals to formally forge a peace pact to strengthen the friendship or brotherhood of Lias and Gueday.

This penalty was embodied in the pagta imposed under the pechen used by Bontoc barangays when settling cases with tribal implications. Series of talks between the said two tribes resulted in an agreement to restore and maintain the brotherhood and peace between them in accord with their native customs and traditions.

The peace pact contains the boundaries of each tribe to which they assume responsibility for the protection of life and security any member of the tribe and offenses and civil payment. Offenses and civil payment were categorized into life, physical injuries, property, and marijuana and its derivatives.

The court of law respects the verdicts of the elders. Cases which were settled in by the elders are legally binding because agreements or tulag has been made or there is the Pagta which was made prior to the commission of the crime. The said agreements are also notarized by lawyers after witnesses from either tribes or parties shake their hands. In fact, there were no cases whatsoever that have been elevated to courts because the elders expertly brought the disputants together to reach an amicable settlement.

Truly, we are fortunate in the Cordillera to have the pechen as a traditional way of resolving conflicts. It also serves as way of nation building in the different areas of Mountain Province.#Grazilla P. Manengyao

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