Spanish Colonial Times
The Spaniards were able to reach the Cordillera via Ilocos. In the late 1590s, they established the encomienda (district) of El Abra de Vigan (Opening of Vigan) under the comandancia politico-militar (province) of Ilocos. They established missions in Bangued and started spreading Catholicism in the area.
In 1620, drawn by the fabled golds of the Igorots, the Spaniards explored Benguet reaching as far as La Trinidad. In 1663, the Spaniards marched to Kayan in Mountain Province.
But the colonizers did not stay long in the region.
The Spaniards' attempt to conquer the Igorots intensified again in the 19th century. They established the comandancia of Kiangan in Ifugao in 1841 and of Abra in 1846 separating it from Ilocos Sur (which became a separate province from Ilocos Norte in 1818). New districts were also created in 1846, Amburayan (covering parts of Ilocos Sur and Apayao), Lepanto (encompassing parts of Mountain Province) and Benguet (which was placed under La Union comandancia and contains La Trinidad Valley and adjacent areas).
In 1847, the Tiagan comandancia was created which include the boundaries of present day Abra, Ilocos Sur, and Mountain Province.
The district of Lepanto which covered the area from Mainit to Banaue became a province in 1852. Benguet, made up of a stretch from Buguias to Itogon, followed suit in 1854 .
In 1859, the comandancias of Magaogao in Kalinga and Bontoc in Mountain Province were created. The Saltan commandancy (1859) covered the area from Pinukpuk to Tinglayan.
In 1889, the Spaniards changed Saltan to Itawes comandancia which ruled Conner, Tabuk and Paracelis. They also re-established the comandancia of Kiangan which took Banaue from the Bontoc comandancia and covers the whole Ifugao area. Bontoc, in return, got Lubuagan, Tanudan and Tinglayan.
In 1891, before the century ends and so is their domination in the Philippines, the Spaniards created the provinces of Kayapa from the boundaries of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya and by elevating Amburayan from being a district.
Just like their earlier expeditions in the Cordillera, the later efforts of the Spaniards to dominate the highlanders were short-lived and made a very little impact. For all those years the colonizers subjugated most of the country, the Igorots lived free.
American Colonial Times
Within a short span of time, the Americans were able to penetrate the whole of Cordillera. And in more than four decades of ruling the country, they open the area for mining explorations and the Igorot culture to world scrutiny.
The Americans started some political re-organization as soon as they took over. In June 1901, they created Amburayan Province which occupies vast part of the Mountain Province today. Then in 1902, they established the Lepanto-Bontoc Province.
In 1905, Abra was annexed to the bigger Ilocos Sur.
On August 18, 1908, through Act No. 1876, the sub-province of Apayao (which was then part of Cagayan), and the provinces of Benguet, Amburayan, Lepanto-Bontoc, Kiangan (Ifugao) and Itawes (Kalinga) were solidified under the newly created Mountain Province.
One act during the American colonization that made the biggest impact in the Cordillera was the declaration of Baguio as a chartered city on September 1, 1909. The city was envisioned to be a health resort to American soldiers and civilian employees and resting place from the sweltering heat of the lowland. But the creation of good roads leading to the city also made way for the mining boom in the region.
In March 1917, Act No. 2683 was promulgated re-creating the province of Abra and separating it from Ilocos Sur.
The last re-organization conducted by the Americans took place in 1920. The western border of the Mountain Province was pushed eastward. In effect, the entire subprovince of Amburayan and Lepanto were dissolved. The Amburayan towns and villages were transferred to the provinces of Ilocos Sur and La Union while Lepanto areas were integrated to the sub-provinces of Benguet and Bontoc and to Ilocos Sur. The boundary re-creation also lead to the cessation of some Benguet towns to Ilocos Sur and La Union.
Philippine Independence up to Present
The political division in Cordillera as left by the Americans remained the same for 45 years. Change took place only when TheRA No. 4695 was passed in June 18, 1966 dividing the old Mountain Province into four - Mountain Province, Benguet, Ifugao, and the merged Kalinga-Apayao.
In 1972, under President Marcos' Integrated Reorganization Plan, Kalinga-Apayao and Ifugao is placed in Cagayan Valley Region (Region 2) with Nueva Vizcaya, Cagayan, Isabela, Quirino and Batanes while Mountain Province, Benguet and Abra were fused with Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan and La Union to form the Ilocos Region (Region 1). Several times, many Cordillerans requested the merging of the old Mountain Province into one region but were denied.
The clamor to have a separate region for the Cordillera was granted in 1987 when Pres. Cory Aquino signed EO No. 220. The order joined the provinces of Abra, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga-Apayao, Mountain Province and the chartered city of Baguio into the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). EO No. 220 was supposed to facilitate the creation of an autonomous region in the Cordillera, however, subsequent bills passed by Philippine Congress were rejected in plebiscites. In effect, Cordillera remains an administrative region as to this day. (Click here to read more about the creation of CAR.)
On February 14, 1995, through RA No. 7878, Apayao and Kalinga were made separate provinces increasing the number of CAR composite provinces to six.
CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region)
Cordillera Political Map
About Baguio City
Philipppine Provincial Profile: Abra
Philipppine Provincial Profile: Apayao
Philipppine Provincial Profile: Benguet
Philipppine Provincial Profile: Ifugao
Philipppine Provincial Profile: Kalinga
Philipppine Provincial Profile: Mountain Province