Benguet Province

Benguet ProvinceBenguet is situated in the southern part of the Cordillera Mountain Range in northern part of the Luzon Island. It is surrounded by Ilocos Sur and the Mountain Province in the north, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya in the east, La Union in the west, and by Pangasinan in the south. Baguio City, at about 1500 meters above sea level, is the “summer” capital of the Philippines, it is located in the south central part of Benguet. It is a highly urbanized city, with an area of 49 sq km and a population of about 200 000. It is a very vibrant city with many universities and therefore has a large student population. Benguet serves as the gateway to the highland provinces of the Cordillera Region.

At 5,000 feet above sea level, the province lies on top of the Cordillera Mountains. Rugged and sloping terrain and deep valleys characterize the province. Amidst these mountain peaks is a wide plateau wherein the capital town, La Trinidad, is located. A total of 13 municipalities and 140 barangays make up the province.

As of 2010, Benguet has a total land area of 2,833.0 square kilometers with most of it falling within the Cordillera Forest Reserve. Forest land totals 214,523 hectares with forest land comprising 0f 105,626 hectares as of May 2007.

In the sparsely populated Cordillera Region, as of May 2010 Benguet stands out as having the biggest population among the provinces and city with 403,494. However, it is next to Baguio City for its population density of 142.4 persons per square kilometer. Migrants have joined the local tribes such as the Kankana-ey, Ibaloy and Kalanguya to settle in this rich highland province. Although the three tribes speak different dialects, they share similar cultures and have common beliefs and rituals.

Benguet is the homeland of three tribes, collectively referred to as Igorots. The Ibaloi live in the southeast, the Kankanai in the northwest and the Kalanguaya in the east. All three tribes share common beliefs, such as the existence of unseen beings who can harm or help mortals. They observe common rituals, especially the caƱao which involves animal sacrifice, feasting and dancing. They live in single-room houses raised on posts and topped by a pyramidal thatched roof. They are skilled wood-carvers, basketmakers and weavers. The Igorots are divided by dialect. Ibalois speak Nabaloy, which is similar to Pangasinense. Kankanais speak Kalkali, which is realted to the Bontoc dialect.

The region was settled by the ancestral Ibalois and Kankanaeys before the Spaniards came to the Philippines. Trade and commerce between these peoples and lowland groups such as the Ilocanos and the Pangasinenses had been conducted on a regular basis. There were early attempts by Spanish explorers to conquer the highlands, drawn by the fabled rich gold mines of the Igorots. In 1620, the first major Spanish incursion into the La Trinidad Valley took brief hold of some gold mines, but this endeavor was abandoned six years later. The Benguet peoples were left unconquered for much of the Spanish period.

In the 19th century, Spaniards began sending expeditions into Benguet to subjugate the Igorots. The first expedition, under Colonel Guillermo Galvey, succeeded in establishing Spanish presence in the La Trinidad Valley. In 1846, the area of Benguet became a district of the newly organized province of La Union. In 1854, the district became a separate comandancia politico-militar. Parts of the present province were also established as component territory of other comandancias like Lepanto, and Amburayan.

The American established civil government by 1900. On August 13, 1908, Benguet became a sub-province of the Mountain Province together with Amburayan, Apayao, Bontoc, Ifugao, Kalinga and Lepanto. During the 1930s, mining companies began massive operations to work the gold mines in the area. This attracted many lowlanders to work and settle in the area, especially in towns surrounding the mines.

During World War II, Benguet was the site of fierce battles fought by Igorot guerrillas and American forces to open up the western flank of the Japanese defenders during the final days of liberation in 1945.

On June 18, 1966, the Mountain Province was divided into four provinces by virtue of Republic Act. No. 4695. Benguet, along with the Mountain Province, KalingaApayao and Ifugao, became a distinct province.

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