• Etymology


“Bontoc” is derived from the two morphemes “bun” (heap) and “tuk” (top), which, taken together, means “mountains.” The term “Bontoc” now refers to the people of the present Mountain Province, its capital, the people’s culture, and their principal language.


  • Pre –Spanish and Spanish period

The Spaniards came to colonize the Philippines and in doing so, they taught Christianity among the people. Much of their activities were concentrated in Manila, Central Luzon and in Visayas. The discovery of settlements in this mountain region was because of the search of gold by these colonizers. Spanish colonists launched their first expedition in 1574 to survey the gold deposits of Northern Luzon. They failed in their expedition but because of their desire for gold, it kept them coming back despite the fierce resistance from the native settlers.

In 1620, Captain Garcia de Aldana Cabrera led a troop to offer the Igorots reconciliation and friendship in exchange for the Igorot’s submission to Spanish rule, acceptance of Christianity, and payment of one-fifth of all the gold they mined be sent to the King of Spain (Scott 1974). However, the Igorots declined Cabrera’s proposal saying they did not need any of what they offered. Intimidated off at discovering what kind of fighters the Igorots were, and after three months of staying in the mountain, he failed in his attempt to appease them with his terms so he hopelessly went back to the lowlands with very little gold in his possession.

An expedition followed in February-July, 1624 composed of 1,748 Spaniards, Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans, and 500 Ilocanos. This was led by Captain Alonzo Martin Quirante. His group was able to return with 5.6 tons of ore which were sent to Mexico for gold concentration testing. Due to the high cost of the project and the casualties, the Royal Audencia proposed to abolish the project and the Spanish forces were thereafter pulled out.

After 17 years, (1641) two Spanish missionaries reached the Igorot region but again failed to establish a settlement. In 1663, another military expedition was sent to explore but it only reached as far as Benguet. In 1667, an expedition led by the Governor-General himself Diego de Salcedo was able to arrive at Kayan in Lepanto where the Spanish troops camped.

They continued exploring 150 other villages including Mainit, where most of the operations were made. Kayan and other villages were deserted by the Spaniards after two years of unproductive explorations and no subsequent expeditions were ever launched in the Cordilleras for the same purpose in the next 200 years.

In 1831, a Spanish explorer Guillermo Galvez wanted to visit the Lepanto-Bontoc area for the first time after 200 years as this was not fully penetrated by the earlier expeditions. He launched an expedition in January 1-8, 1835 to the “Ibusaos” and “Guinanes”. He followed the Abra river trail from Candon reaching as far as Mainit and back to the coast via Piddigan and Narvacan.

Again in 1850, Guillermo Galvez and Antonio Hernandez, a mine engineer was sent back to Mountain Province and this time, they went into the territories of Lepanto, Bontoc and Kiangan. Some of the missionaries who went with the group remained in Bontoc and Lepanto trying to convert the hostile tribes but later left the mission due to overwhelming obstacles. The priest from neighboring Ilocos region made frequent visits to the mission.

In 1852, Bontoc and Kambulo were the first generation to suffer the implementation of new 19th century policy of outright conquest and occupation to establish and re-establish Spanish authority or actually to collect tribute. In their formal expedition, people were intimidated by the display of arms and exploratory expedition as well as smaller actions which have left their only traces in dull bureaucratic account in Manila. In 1857, a series of Commandancia Politico- Military were extended to the heights of the Cordillera and one was established in Bontoc.

In June 24, 1858, the Bontoc District was established as an independent military command by virtue of a Royal Decree. At that time, there were already 10 Politico Military Commandancias in the Cordillera. In 1859, the hostile people of these interior regions; Western Ifugao and Southern Kalinga were finally subdued and a commandancia was established in Bontoc with a Spanish Garrison. With the trade relations between the Igorots and the Lowlanders, many Ilocanos came to Bontoc to settle their families. Among the early immigrants were Vicente Galo, Juan Balagtas, Miguel Balinag and others. Some of them intermarried with the Bontocs.

In February-March, 1868 joint military forces under Commandant Juan Alvarez, Montero, and Gonzales-Montero of Bontoc, Lepanto and Isabela respectively spent 40 days subjugating Kiangan, Hapao, Mayoyao, Bunhian, Ahin Silipan (Alimit) and Banaue. In June 30, 1875, the Civil Guards in Bontoc started to source out their food supply from tribute rice. In April, 1876 the Commandant in Bontoc waged an expedition towards the Kalinga border of Bontoc. In December of the same year, all commandants admitted the need for the missionary work in the taming the pagans so a Royal Decree was issued for the purpose of evaluating the local condition in the colony.


The Bontoc Commandant assaulted Barlig in 1886 due to the killing of a Talubin man and a Samoki woman. However, the commandant’s troops were wiped out and only three were saved. Lieutenant Mendicota followed after with a larger force only to come back with only seven heads from his troops remaining.

A royal decree was issued by Governor General Primo de Rivera in January 14, 1881 requiring all independents tribes to submit to the Spanish Government by April 1 of the same year. This decree was first enforced to the Bontoc area hence, 6,000 Bontocs were already paying an annual vassalage fee of 12 ½ centavo voluntarily and without pressure.

On February 3, 1881, Father Rufino Redondo arrived from Lepanto. He handed out free clothing and held a mass for the first time in Bontoc. He explained the Royal Decree that provided, “The Mountaineers live in the town proper”. It further required that “Whenever the natives visits their official centers, they must appear in breeches and coats”. This decree caused vigorous protest not only from the Bontoc Igorots but also from the neighbouring towns. Not long after, an uprising was led by the people of Sagada and was joined by their neighbouring towns. In anger, the Igorots killed the Spanish soldiers, burned and destroyed their garrison and properties. Because of this, the government sent more Spanish troops who were better armed and burned the town with the help of tribal enemies of Bontoc. When the Bontoc people learned of the enforced submission of the people to Spanish sovereignty, they attacked local allies in May 9, 1881, where they lured the troops on duty and burning a lowlander’s house, then killed four (4) of them outright and wounded many. Five died afterwards, and they seized the Remington rifles, 80 cows and all the bacon and liquor in the store house. They put fire in all the buildings and took to the hills the four heads to celebrate in spite of some 70 people lost on their side. On May, 1886, an expedition was sent by the Spaniards to punish the Bontoc people for assaulting Lepanto. They were however pardoned.

On the April 1, 1887, eight Igorots from Bontoc, Lepanto and Abra left Manila to be exhibited the next month in the Madrid Exposition. They constructed native houses and live there to showcase an Igorot village. The exposition became the subject of Jose Rizal’s fury as it displayed his fellow Filipinos in their derogatory condition.

When a decree attempted to extend vassalage to 15 years old at a peso and a half, Bontoc Commandant Blas Perez Royo promptly replied that people could not possibly meet the payments which would total more than the value of 4 years rice production. This was also the time when Tanulong and Dalican experienced water shortage, thus to impose a new tribute is impossible. When a November 7, 1894 decree ordering an increased payment of 50 centavos as a vassalage cedulas from the age 18 and above was known, the Bontoc and Samoki chieftains started holding secret meetings to raise popular opposition. Representatives from Ankileng, Antadao, Balugan, Fedilisan, Mainit, Maligcong and Sagada set December 31, for the seizing and burning of the capital if the decree shall be enforced, but when the Bontoc Commandancia Politico Militar commander Juan Rodriguez was informed of the plan, he immediately wired Manila, and on January 9, 1894, the Governor General suspended the collection of vassalage cedulas.

A Bontoc mission was now created in 1892. It covered Samoki, Alab, Gonogon, Balili, Dalican, Guina-ang, Tocucan, Talubin, Maligcong, Caneo, Mainit, Bayyo, Betwagan, Barlig and Lias.

When the Philippine revolutionary forces advanced their campaign towards the Cordilleras in June of 1898, the Spanish troops and missionaries from La Trinidad sought refuge in Bontoc on July 11 of the same year. To suppress reported Katipunan movements in Sagada, Commandant Eduardo Xandro headed an expedition and brought 84 heads from his troops back to Bontoc. On September 3 of the same year, the garrison in Bontoc where Spanish missionaries and soldiers took refuge was taken over by Filipino forces. They were also able to occupy the Bontoc headquarters driving the Spaniards away from the Cordilleras. The missionaries were sent to Cervantes.

  • American Regime

While the Spaniards were being driven out of from the Cordilleras, American forces were already advancing. On November, 1899, American Forces chased the Philippine revolutionary forces headed by President Emilio Aguinaldo through the rough trails of Northern Luzon. And in December of the same year, General Gregorio del Pilar died at Tirad Pass. The battle impeded the Americans from advancing further. Meantime, Aguinaldo was already on his way to the Cagayan valley via Bontoc and Ifugao.

The Americans arrived in Bontoc on December 23, 1900. They took over the town under their rule. Since then, they established their municipal government and stationed a Lieutenant-Governor to take charge of the Mountain Provinces, Lepanto, Bontoc included. The Americans took notes of the experiences and Spanish strategies and adding their tactics, they were able to penetrate the Igorot land with American soldiers armed with Springfield riffles, officers, teachers, anthropologists, doctors and missionaries, together with enemy tribes of villages they wanted to subjugate. They built roads, schools, hospitals and government buildings in American style. The Americans created a system of direct American rule by dividing territories into manageable groups to subdue resistance and instill a definite “personal influence”. Missionaries who taught formal education in the highlands were just as effective in appeasing the natives. In several instances, they used the existing traditions of the natives like the canao and infused their American modifications and used the event to become mediators between rival tribes and suggested plans they themselves tailored. They also did not impose taxes on the natives during their first year of rule.

In March 23, 1901, General Emilio Aguinaldo was captured and the Americans had already occupied the whole of Bontoc-Lepanto area. The Americans established a temporary headquarters in Cervantes and Major Rice was the acting Military Governor until civil government was established in 1901. After a year (1902), Mountain Province was re-established and the Lepanto-Bontoc area was recognized as a province. There were three sub-provinces namely; Bontoc, Lepanto and Amburayan.

Dr. Hunt was made the Acting Lieutenant Governor was inaugurated in Lepanto-Bontoc. Each has asset of officers namely; President, Vice President, and the Secretary-Treasurer, Principal Councilors, sub-councilors for each barrio and a local officer.

The Book of Howard T. Fry, (A History of the Mountain Province, page 37) states that “Bontoc was recognized into a township but was given a different form of government from among any other in the Philippines. Its chief peculiarity was that there were 13 presidents instead of one. The Lieutenant Governor acted in the place of president for one district. The form of government was finally approved in Manila and conferred upon the Lieutenant Governor instead of upon the council of presidents- the law making power. The council was advisory and does administrative function.

In 1904, Dr. Hunt, former Lieutenant-Governor of Bontoc brought 214 Igorots and Tinguians to the Louisiana Exposition in celebration of centenary Louisiana purchase of 1804. 68 were Bontok-Igorots, 41 Negritos, 40 Samal Moros, 35 Lanao Moros and 30 Bagobos. These mountain tribes showcased how they lived in their own villages, exhibiting their skills in dancing and handicrafts. They were given salaries and that enabled some to reach home rich.

  • Japanese Occupation

After the Japanese bombed the Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 and Clark Air Base, they occupied Baguio. In the early parts of February in 1942, Japanese soldiers arrived in Bontoc, and burned down some houses and left but came back in June 1942 to establish a garrison in the town. They occupied most of the government buildings including the Anglican Mission Compound up to 1945. Eyeb was made concentration camp for American prisoners.

On September 8, 1942 the Japanese established the KALIBAPI, which was to become the single political party in the country. The completed constitution was signed in September 4, 1943 and on September 20 on the same year; Florencio Bagwan was elected as the Mountain Province representative. On the night of April 6 or 7, 1945, Governor Hilary Clapp and Justice of the Peace Quire had been picked up and killed. They had been blamed for the capture and execution of Major Ralph Praeger. On June 14, 1945, the Field Artillery and Air Force Units secured Tagudin, Cervantes, Bessang Pass and in July 9 of the same year, Bontoc was reclaimed by the Americans. General Yamashita surrendered in Kiangan on September 2, 1945. Upon his surrender, a terrible prolonged period of hunger and disease affected the people of Ifugao. From the Diary of Pawid, he wrote: “while the Japanese were surrendering by the thousands of Kiangan, at 90 km. on the Mountain Trail, at Bontoc, and at Banaue, the people of Nacgacada, Kiangan, Maggock and Hungduan were the most affected by hunger, sickness, and deaths by the hundreds every day. The Americans gave many of the civilians’ rations and every time the soldiers finished eating in their mess, a long line of civilians would take their place to eat whatever remained in the kitchen.


Hundreds struggled to get even a bite of bread or to pick up dropped food and garbage.

Those at the end of the line generally received nothing so naturally everyone struggled to get to the head of the line. There was nothing to eat in the barrios, for the Japanese ate everything from banana stalks to betel nuts and coconut shoots. So the civilians remained at Kiangan by the thousands, sick of malaria, dysentery and influenza. No matter how many tons of medicines were distributed every day, it did not seem to check the epidemic.”

After the liberation from the Japanese occupation in 1945, Americans chose Marshall Mayors to head post war rehabilitation.

  • Other Historical Events and Sites

On February 24, 1945, the United States war planes bombed Bontoc to warn the civilians to leave the Japanese forces and evacuate to the mountains. During this bombing, two persons were killed many Japanese were hit although they ran to their air raid shelters. The second bombing took place on March 13, 1945 when the whole Poblacion and Bontoc Ili were razed to the ground. No less than 60 persons were killed in the Poblacion excluding those in the Ili. The stubbornness of the people to leave the Japanese and evacuate to the mountains resulted to great loss of lives.

They were warned many times but they did not heed the call. It was later found out that the Japanese prevented them to evacuate.

On the late afternoon of July 8, soldiers from the “C” company of the 11th Infantry, USAFIP NL entered Bontoc and patrolled the Poblacion and returned to their outpost safely. Then in July 9, 1945, they returned and cleared the place from Japanese strugglers who were left behind either sick, hungry or were caught unaware as rear guards. On the same day, the arrivals of the 12th Infantry, 66th Infantry, 15th Infantry, 14th Infantry, of the USAFIP NL made Americans to officially occupy Bontoc. When they arrived in the place, many people were starving and are very sick due to scarcity of food. The government of the United States immediately provided relief to the people.

On June 12, 1965, a huge fire that started from one of the big hotels spread into the market and destroyed many buildings and establishment in the business area. This was considered the biggest fire ever to hit Bontoc. Nineteen years later in November 1984, another blazed razed residential houses near the Dangwa Station. This prompted the municipal government to buy the first fire truck.







  • Creation

Republic Act No. 4695

The same year in 1925, Hon. Henry A. Kamora representing the sub province of Benguet filed a Bill proposing for the subdivision of Mountain Province into two (2) separate provinces.  This however did not push through.  A similar House Bill was reintroduced in 1932 and was presented in the 1935 Constitutional Convention but like the Kamora Bill, did not gain enough political support.

Thirty years later. In 1962, Honorable Alfredo G. Lamen and Luis Hora authored House Bill No. 4600 proposing for the subdivision of the province into five separate provinces.  The same bill suffered the same fate with its predecessors.

Congressmen elect Honorable Juan Duyan and Luis Hora representing the first district of Kalinga-Apayao and part of Bontoc, and the third district of the sub province of Ifugao and part of Bontoc respectively, authored House Bill No. 1526 proposing again for the division of the province into five (5) separate provinces.  To ensure passage of the Bill, endorsements and resolutions from the people, political leaders and civil leaders were forwarded to Congress requesting support for the approval of the bill.

 Deliberated by Congress on March 25, 1966, House Bill No. 1526 became a law as Republic Act No. 4695 titled An Act Creating the Provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao on June 18, 1966.

Specifically, Section 3 of the Republic Act states:

“Mountain Province shall comprise the Sub-province of Bontoc and the municipalities of Barlig, Bauko, Besao, Bontoc, Natonin, Sabangan, Sadanga, Sagada, Tadian and Paracelis”.

Section 7 further states

“Except hereinafter provided, all provisions of law now or hereafter applicable to regular provinces shall apply to the provinces of Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao and Kalinga-Apayao”.





Executive Order No. 42

From the Office of the President, this order created the municipalities of Bontoc, Besao, Bauko, Sabangan, Natonin, Sadanga, and Tadian (Official Gazette.  July 8, 1963. P. 4185).

Mountain Province retained its name with Bontoc as its capital town but lost the jurisdiction over the vast territory in the Cordillera. The division resulted in the drastic regression of Bontoc into fifth class town.

            Bontoc Foundation Day

On July 7, 1997, the Sangguniang Bayan of Bontoc enacted Municipal Ordinance No. 35, s. 1997, establishing the Foundation Day of the Municipality of Bontoc, Mountain Province to be celebrated every 16th day of September.

This ordinance was based on official records of the government where Bontoc was proclaimed on September 16, 1908 as the capital town of old Mountain Province.

  • Some Historical Sites in Bontoc
  1. This was where General Emilio Aguinaldo and his men stopped and rested before occupying the Poblacion and drove Spanish forces away.
  2. Latang Bridge. This was where a detachment of Japanese Forces were wiped out during an encounter with the guerilla forces in February 1945.
  3. The Cadre or Bilibid Site. This was the training ground of the Igorot trainees before the war. This was also the concentration camp of the Japanese forces during their last days before the liberation of Bontoc. This was built in 1935. Above the Cadre was a rock known as “Kissing Rock” where the enemies placed a large gun, believed to be cannon to harass the guerilla forces and held Bontoc from its early occupation.
  4. Rizal Monument. The Rizal Monument withstood all the air bombings of Bontoc during the war. All buildings and structures of importance were hit but the Rizal Monument still remains standing at the public plaza.
  • Bontoc as a Mission Station of the Religious

Besides political administrative underpinning, the lasting legacies of the Spanish and American regimes in Bontoc are religion and education. Until now, the municipality hosts the seats of Roman Catholic and Episcopalian (Anglican) bishops. Records from the Bontoc Roman Catholic Church reveal that the first baptism held in Bontoc was administered by a certain Father Jose Iglesia of the Augustinian Order on November 28, 1893. 

The Spanish missionaries however abandoned the Bontoc Mission sometime in 1898.  After a lull for almost a decade, a group of Belgian missionaries led by Fathers Constancio Jurgens and John Sepulchre arrived in Bontoc in time to celebrate a midnight mass on December 24, 1907 (Benito Miranda, 19__).

Under the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA), the Philippines as a Missionary District were created on October 11, 1901 under Bishop Charles Henry Brent.  However, it was only in February 1903 that a survey trip was made to the Cordillera.  In August of the same year, Rev. Clapp was sent to Bontoc to open the mission of the Holy Comforter.

Both churches established their educational system that exists today:  the Saint Vincent’s School of the CICM and the All Saints Mission School of the Diocese of Northern Philippines, Philippine Episcopal Church.

  • Socio-economic Political Development

Political Administrative History

The town name of Bontoc was not known during the Spanish regime until 1887 when it was established as the seat of the district.  Bontoc was made headquarters of the Commandancia Politico-Militar de Bontoc, subordinate to Politico Military District of Lepanto in January 1857. A Royal Order issued on June 24, 1858 created the District of Bontoc as an independent military command. It was one of the ten politico-military commandancias established in the Cordillera between 1847 and 1891 by the Spanish colonial government to gain political control over the independent tribes of the Igorots. Since its establishment in 1857 up to the withdrawal of the last commandant Commandante Xandaro in 1898, the Bontoc-based military command led or participated in at least ten punitive expeditions against the Spanish government.

Despite its superiority in arms, the Spanish garrison of Bontoc was the target of attacks launched by defiant Igorots wanting to maintain their independence. Governor General Primo de Rivera decreed an ultimatum to all independent tribes to submit to Spain before April 1, 1891, which resulted in an uprising staged by villagers of Bontoc on May 9 of the same year. Armed only with bolos, spears, head axes, and shields, the Bontoc warriors beset the garrison, killed nine Spanish soldiers, and wounded many more. After setting fire to the buildings, the warriors fled to the mountains with enemy heads and other spoils to celebrate their victory despite the loss of some 70 lives among their own men. A bigger uprising in December 1884 in protest of new tribute regulations was aborted by the commandancia using paid spies among the Bontocs.



In August 13, 1898, the Americans defeated the Spaniards in Manila.  The Bontoc garrison, which became a refuge for retreating Spanish soldiers and missionaries, was finally taken over by Bontoc warriors on September 3, 1898, aided by the revolutionary forces of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo who himself was seeking refuge in the Cordillera from the American troops. However, that victory was short-lived due to the immediate setup of the U.S. military government under Gen. Arthur MacArthur as governor general and occupied the archipelago including the Cordillera driving Aguinaldo to Ifugao and, finally to Palanan, Isabela where he was captured on March 23, 1901.

Bontoc was part of the Lepanto-Bontoc administrative province in 1903, which was later divided in 1918 into three sub provinces of Bontoc, Lepanto and Amburayan. Each sub province was headed by a governor.   During the U.S. occupation, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 1870 in 1920, which organized the Mountain Province. The new province consisted of seven former commandancias as sub provinces, with Bontoc as its capital.

During World War II, the Japanese occupied Bontoc on June 1942 until the end of the war in September 1945. During the occupation, Dr. Hilary Clapp, one of the first educated Igorots was appointed governor. Bontoc suffered heavily during the retaking of the U.S. troops.

  • Local Chief Executives


There is no account that points to the names and number of local chief executives of Bontoc since it was created as the seat of the district of the same name in 1887. As early as 1918 until the present, there were/are 26 appointed and elected municipal chief executives in various capacities as District President, District Mayor, and Municipal Mayor who governed the municipality of Bontoc.

An informal election for municipal presidents was introduced by Governor Early. At first, the candidates are made to stand and all the voters select their candidates by forming a line at their back or just behind them.

 The candidates having the most followers win. This system was improved later with the use of colored tags. The candidates select their colors and each hang a large colored tag around his neck. The voter will select the color of his candidate from a box and the candidate having the most colored tags get elected. Later on, this system was again improved where the use of colors were still followed.



The candidates pinned their colors on their coats or shirts and the voters, upon being called by the clerks get inside the box the color of their candidate, place it in an envelope and drop at in the ballot box. This continued until the voting closes at the end of the day and the ballots are counted in the late afternoon. The candidate with the highest number of ballot count is the one elected. This system of voting is practiced until the present but instead of colors, the names of candidates are listed down in a paper posted in every chair of the voting precinct. The voter selects the candidate and fills the ballot given by the clerks after which it will be dropped in the ballot box. At the end of the closing time, the ballots are counted and the candidate that has the highest count shall be the declared winner.