April 24 remains a historic and significant date for the Cordillera peoples. It was in the evening of this day in 1980 when soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division, under Lt. Leodegario Adalem, fired at two houses in the villageThe attack meant to kill two prominent leaders of the Kalinga and Bontok peoples, Ama Macliing Dulag and Pedro Dungoc, opposed to the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, during martial law. Macliing Dulag, a respected pangat (tribal chieftain) of the Butbut tribe, died from multiple gunshots while Pedro Dungoc survived. Pedro Dungoc later joined the New Peoples Army (NPA) and died a red fighter.
This cowardly act of military terrorism did not cow the Bontoc and Kalinga peoples into submission into the construction of the dams. Instead, the Macliing assassination strengthened the determination of the Kalinga and Bontok tribes to further unite for the defense of their collective rights over their land and resources and against a common enemy - the Marcos dictatorship and the World Bank funded Chico dams.
State fascism since the 1970s was a major factor in firming up the commitment of the Chico communities in the anti-Chico dam struggle. This later broadened into a mass movement of the Cordillera peoples and advocates into the struggle for the defense of ancestral land and for genuine regional autonomy. The Kalinga and Bontok tribes people managed to stop the construction of the four huge hydro-electric dams which were a priority energy project of the Marcos government throughout the long years of martial rule. They were able to stop construction against fearsome odds by asserting their tribal people’s power. In their steadfast and uncompromising defense of their ancestral lands and their indigenous way of life, they earned the respect and support not only of other indigenous peoples in the region, but also those in the Philippines and abroad. The Marcos dictatorship, with its World Bank funding for the project, was caught flat-footed. They did not reckon with the strong communal ethos still existing then between the Bontok and Kalinga, which allowed them to forge agreements among the binodngan – peacepact – practicing communities along the Chico river in opposition to the project. Nor did they expect the people to muster widespread national and international support.
From 1981 to 1984, the commemoration of the death of Macliing Dulag was called Macliing Memorial. But with the broadening of the Cordillera mass movement encompassing all the provinces of the Cordillera, the commemoration started as Cordillera Day in 1985 to symbolize the widening unity and solidarity among the different indigenous peoples of the Cordillera, and with advocate and support groups at the regional, national and international levels. The first celebration of Cordillera Day was held in Sadanga, Mountain Province. It was also in June 1984 that the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) was founded and took the lead in the celebration of Cordillera Day.
Since then, Cordillera Day was held all over the Cordillera region with particular focus per celebration, in consideration to burning regional issues, and major national and international developments as well as the urgent issues of host community. Past celebrations gathered as many as 3,000 to 4,500 individuals. It has become the biggest annual political solidarity gathering of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera with friends and advocates. The general programme for the two- day celebration includes workshops on major issues affecting indigenous peoples, presentations on the regional and national situation and challenges; on experiences and lessons from struggles in defense of indigenous peoples rights and human rights and various cultural presentations presenting the issues of communities and sectors; including the tribute to Cordillera martyrs. The two-day celebration includes a lot of community dancing, playing of gongs and community chanting. The festive atmosphere of each celebration remains political but colorful and inspiring.
As a political solidarity event, several host communities were intimidated and harassed by the military and some government officials. But these circumstances did not discourage the communities to prepare and host Cordillera Day. The celebration of Cordillera Day has also expanded overseas which is a clear manifestation of the growing international solidarity for the Cordillera indigenous people's movement. For several years already, Cordillera Day has been celebrated in Hongkong, Belgium, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and Canada. These are being organized by Cordillera migrants and workers together with international solidarity partners and advocates of Cordillera struggles and indigenous peoples rights.
More than just a gathering, Cordillera Day is a political statement on present realities by the militant Cordillera peoples' movement. It carries with it the historical advances of the mass movement for self determination and national democracy. It is the affirmation of principles and struggles for defense of the ancestral domain and for self determination and pursues what the Cordillera martyrs and heroes have fought for. The solidarity and camaraderie forged during celebrations serve to enhance the particularity of the Cordillera peoples struggle and to inspire others. At the same time, it strengthens the unity of the Cordillera peoples with other indigenous peoples and sectors across the region, and at the national and international levels. The struggle for the peoples' aspirations for social justice, genuine development and peace, freedom and democracy are still far from over. Macliing Dulag and all our other martyrs did not die in vain. Cordillera Day and our continuing campaigns and struggles shall be raised to a higher ground until our aspirations become a reality. #