Cordillerans in Hong
Kong Unite to Defend Ancestral Lands
The sound of gongs reverberated in
Chater Road on May 4 as migrant workers from the Cordillera Administrative
Region reaffirmed the defense of their land, life, livelihood and
resources in celebration of Cordillera Day in Hong Kong.
Organized by the Cordillera Alliance,
the event focused on the issue of mining plunder and state terrorism
in each of the six provinces in the region, namely Abra, Apayao,
Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga, and Mountain Province.
The Cordillera Catholic Group headed
by Luz Afdichao sponsored an ecumenical service for the morning
part of the whole day program. For the first time, a Bible enthronement
ritual was participated by representatives of various tribal groups
from the region. Spiritual readings focused on respect for God's
creations including land and the environment.
The main program in the afternoon
featured the specific cultural heritage of each of the six provinces
that was clearly depicted in the opening rites. Josefina Pingkihan,
CORALL chairperson, welcomed the participation of the migrants who
braved the searing heat of the sun and showed solidarity throughout
the whole program.
Abra, the host of this year's Cordillera
Day in the Philippines last April 23 & 24, is under threat of
massive mining exploration particularly in the Baay-Licuan area
as well as dredging of the Abra River, according to Caring Bachiller,
president of the Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society Hong Kong (ATIS).
Fourteen municipalities in the province
would be disastrously affected if the project continues, she stressed.
The negative impacts of mining include deforestation, slope destabilization,
soil erosion, desertification, water resource degradation, defertilization,
crop damages, siltation, alteration of terrain and sea-bottom topography,
increased water turbidity and air pollution.
Aggravating the situation, Bachiller
stated, is the deployment of the 41st Infantry Batallion in the
communities, sowing fear and terror therein intended to silence
the communities in their protest against Olympus and other destructive
mining companies. The military have camped under residents' homes
and have maliciously tagged members of peoples organizations therein,
specifically the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and its member organizations
KASTAN-CPA Abra and BALITOK as members of the revolutionary New
People's Army, making the civilians open targets to the attack of
the military when in fact these legitimate organizations are but
pursuing legitimate activities for their democratic rights and survival
as a people, according to the communities.
Bachiller called on all Cordillerans
to stand firm to oppose the exploitation of their rich natural resources
by foreign corporations as well as the heavy militarization protection
provided by the Arroyo government
Speakers from other provinces echoed
the situation suffered by the people of Abra. Actually, each province
presented a specific concern such as illegal logging, open pit mining,
killings of tribal leaders, and others.
Guest speaker Norman Uy Carnay from
the Mission for Migrant Workers lauded the Cordilleran tribes for
being a source of inspiration to the rest of the Filipinos in their
bravery and unity to defend their ancestral domain.
"Let us remember how our ancestral
lands have been stolen from us. Let us remember the various government-sponsored
and foreign funded projects that destroy our environment and put
our lives and way of life in danger - Chico dam, Cellophil, San
roque dam, open pit mining. And let us remember the courage and
victories of the various Cordilleran peoples," he stressed.
He reminded the migrants that Cordillera
is worth fighting for since it is home to the biggest concentration
of indigenous peoples in the Philippines. It is rich in natural
and mineral resources like gold and copper and it is also an ideal
site for hydroelectric dams that can be used, as the government
says, to meet the power needs of residents in the region and big
industries in Luzon.
But the local inhabitants value
their land because land is a gift from God and thus should be protected,
according to him. This is also the source of their life, their food
and the foundation of their very existence.
Carnay cited the martyrdom of Macliing
Dulag who was gunned down by government troops on April 24, 1980
and later became the symbol of the Cordillera people's struggle
for self-determination. His death became a cause for the celebration
of Cordillera Day in the Philippines and later abroad.
"Life! If life is threatened,
what should we do? RESIST! This we must do, otherwise, we are dishonored
and that is worse than death. If we do not fight, we die anyway.
If we fight, we die honorably... and our children may win and keep
this land. And the land shall become even more precious when nourished
by our sweat and blood." This was Macliing's commitment.
# Vicky Casia-Cabantac/Cordillera Alliance and Abra Tingguian-Ilocano