Once Upon a Time in La Trinidad: Chronicles of Genuine Igorot Leadership Traits

With the growing disgust at the apparent descent of Benguet politics into dirty waters, perhaps it would be a breath of fresh air to look back at the glory days when honesty, integrity, and sincerity were the key features of public service. Let us summon the pages of history to remind us of who and what we are as a people and maybe one day soon, our dream of a better Benguet (Baguio and La Trinidad included) will be within our grasp.

The Philippine insurrection of 1896 against the Spaniards reached Benguet by the midyear of 1899. The Katipunan came to Benguet, united the Ibalois, looted and burned Spanish buildings at the Commandancia and established the Benguet Province under the Government Republic of the Philippines. Through the leadership of Juan “Ora” Cariño, Mateo Carantes and Piraso, the Ibalois rose at 500 strong men. With 500 other Katipuneros, they looted and burned the Commandancia. The last Commandante fled for Bontoc. The resistance ensued until Spain ceded the Philippines to the Americans.

 Several social changes occurred during the American period. Freedom of religion was granted to the indigenous Ibaloi people of La Trinidad. This enabled them to enjoy their old customs and traditions without any inhibitions. They were also granted suffrage and slavery was abolished. Education was introduced. The Americans introduced both iron tools and vegetables. Private property was introduced. Political organizations among the residents began to be organized. Labor began to be paid and money became an important feature in the economic lives of the people.

Throughout this period, the Igorot brand of leadership dominated the early political landscape. Various community influencers emerged as shining examples of genuine leadership- the Igorot way. Here are some prominent early Ibaloi leaders of La Trinidad and the values they displayed.


Pihasso was a known “baknang” (rich upper class) during his time in the second half of the 19th century in Tacdian, La Trinidad (now comprising the barangays of Shilan, Bahong, Tawang, Alapang, and Alno). He and his brother Safang-the grandfather of former Vice Mayor and Councilor Priscilla Baban, own extensive landholdings in the area and have the most number of cattle in Tacdian. Pihasso was engaged in cattle trading and sold cattle to as far as Tarlac with the “insurrectos” or revolutionaries as one of his buyers.

It is because of these transactions and being a leader of the community that the Spanish authorities accused him of collaborating with the revolutionaries. He was then taken as a prisoner together with prominent Benguet leaders, Magastino, Ahino (Juan Oraa Cariño), and others. He was brought to Manila to serve as trustee prisoner in one of the residence of a high ranking Spanish official.

Left alone one day in the house and while cleaning the floor, he found some coins which are quite valuable at that time and returned them promptly upon the arrival of the Spanish official. Deeply touched by his simple ways and remarkable honesty in many instances, the officer recommended Pihasso’s release and subsequently, he was appointed as “Cabesa de Barangay” until his death. He was reportedly buried in his official white suit symbolizing not only his official position but also the virtue of honesty and integrity for which his leadership was known for.


Clemente Laoyan spent a life of service to the people in whose heart he is well endeared and remembered. He was truly a leader among the people and he served La Trinidad for six terms as Municipal Presidente. He is one of the best examples of the Igorot “grassroots” or community based democratic leadership. The plight of the people remained his utmost priority during his incumbency.

As a farmer and politician, he led his people in struggles involving issues with the Spaniards at the onset of the American regime. He made sure that the new land titling procedures and concepts are well understood by the people and he encouraged his “kailyans” to have their lands surveyed and titled in accordance with prevailing law at that time. Though his advice was ignored by some due to the difficulty of understanding such concept, he still labored hard to help the people retain the lands they were occupying.

He taught his constituents to be decent and kind when dealing with each other and even when transacting with the Americans. He was a leader-benefactor who welcomed people in his home and provided the help they need so long as it is within his power and means. He died in November 5, 1947. His remains were not interred for forty days during which a continuous feast was held in his honor. His remains were buried under his residence at La Trinidad.


Quidno, a prominent community leader from Tacdian was elected as Municipal Presidente from 1929 to 1931. He is officially known per Municipal records as Abela Binay-an. It was during his term that the Americans were looking for a place to set up a military camp, and so they requested for his assistance. Sensing the importance of this establishment, he then convinced his brother-in-law, Pacdit to donate a portion of his pastureland for this purpose. This is now the present Camp Dangwa (formerly Camp Holmes) PNP Regional headquarters.

Aside from being a great negotiator, his stint as a public servant was heavily against any form of corruption. He did not hesitate to act on any allegation of corrupt practices and initiate extensive investigation to ferret out the truth. On one particular case, the Municipal building, located then at the present Provincial Capitol, was burnt allegedly by the Municipal Treasurer who was being investigated for malversation. The culprit reportedly owned a number of vehicles for hire which were subsequently confiscated and sold to Mr. James Wright, American head of the Trinidad Agricultural School (now Benguet State University). Mr. Wright later on sold the vehicles on easy terms to Bado Dangwa. This was the beginning of the well-known Dangwa Transportation Company.

Quidno, loved to perform “Cañao” everytime there are dignitaries visiting the municipality. He was proud showcasing the Ibaloi culture to visitors and locals alike. The “Cañao he hosted at the Mansion house awed foreign dignitaries and inspired them to invest not only in development projects but more importantly, in the preservation of the Igorot culture.


Baniwas served as Municipal Presidente for two terms in 1906 and 1908. He was known to be a rich man having inherited vast tracts of land from both his parents’ side at Bahong, Tacdian. On his father’s side, he inherited what was termed as “payew ni iuwak”, a considerable size rice fields said to have cultivated by the “iuwaks” but later on abandoned. The “iuwaks” were originally based in Kayapa, Nueva Viscaya, and they speak a mixture of Kalanguya and Ibaloi.

It was during his term when there was an attempt to carry of the “Kaha” or treasurer’s safety box towards Baguio as the City was preparing its City charter to include La Trinidad as part of its territory. Allegedly, a high ranking official had the “Kaha” stolen to ensure no objection from La Trinidad was forthcoming as they would need money to finance any opposition. Upon receiving the report, Baniwas himself immediately rode his horse and was able to catch up with the thief at “Poshongan”, now known as Km 3. His firm stand against intimidation and treachery was the emblem of his tenure. He never bowed down to anyone and he always puts the best interest of the municipality at the forefront of his decisions as a public servant.

(Sources: Research compiled by Marcelo Abela from La Trinidad Clans and "Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development Protection Plan Draft. May 2006.)


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