Mother Petra did not allow herself to be limited by the traditional stereotypes circumscribed by society on women. Widowed early, she successfully raised her seven daughters as a single parent. She was a farmer of organic rice and vegetables. To augment her income, she set up a sari-sari store. And although she had not gone to school, she was able to earn enough so that she was able to send all of her seven daughters through school all the way to university. Even when she had already reached an advanced age, she was still interested to enrol in an adult literacy and numeracy class to improve her basic skills.
Even as a single parent of seven daughters, she did not limit her concern only to the family. She was also very concerned about the welfare of her tribal community of Mainit, in Bontoc, Mountain Province. As a farmer, she and the Mainit Irrigators Association sought projects to expand and improve their irrigation facilities. And when large corporate mining interests attempted to enter the tribal community (ili), Mother Petra led the women of Mainit in preventing the entry of the mining exploration. Mother Petra used to love to tell this story of the women’s confrontation with the representatives of the mining corporation, where they bared their breasts and grabbed the men by the balls, and sent them running.
Mother Petra also had wider concerns than her tribal community of Mainit. She actively joined the opposition against the proposed construction of four mega-dams along the Chico river and the Cellophil Resources Corporation, a paper-pulp and logging corporation covering 200,000 hectares of ancestral land. These two priority projects of the Marcos dictatorship spawned the indigenous people’s resistance which Mother Petra was actively part of.
Mother Petra actively attended the bodong conferences that were called to build the wider inter-tribal unity against these development aggression projects. In a photo of the Cordillera Bodong Association in 1985, Mother Petra is the lone woman standing tall among the male peacepact holders and tribal elders, as if to say that building peace and unity among the tribes should not be limited to the males. If men can do it so can women, so can I.
When the Cordillera People’s Alliance was established in 1984, Mother Petra was among those who composed the Regional Council. She served as one of the regional mass leaders of CPA for a long time, and later was included among the Advisory Council. She was a regular fixture at the annual Cordillera day commemorations and other activities of CPA. Her house was open to those who were in transit or passing through Bontoc. She was able to travel abroad upon invitation of Cordillera compatriots in Hongkong and Canada. CPA nominated her and she received two international awards.
Mother Petra did not allow herself to be restricted by the traditional views of society about women. She came out of the box. She dared to go against the tide.
She was not weak, but strong. She was not shy, but assertive. She was not scared, but brave. She was not selfish, but generous and ready to share what she had. She was not narrow-minded, but had a broad view of the world and of wider social realities. She was not conservative nor a traditionalist, but was an open-minded changemaker.
She was open to learn and constantly improve herself. She was determined, hard-working, and daring. She was an exemplary woman leader, not only of women, but of her community and the wider society.
She was an indigenous woman activist who was trying hard to change the world.
She will live in our hearts forever as the following generations of Cordillera activists will strive to follow in her footsteps.
Joanna K. Cariño
May 26, 2018
(taken from my tribute at the Pammadayaw for Mother Petra, September 30, 2017 in Bontoc, Mountain Province)