Cordillera Day 2017 Central Statemen
April 24, 2017
Defend our land, life, honor and resources! This historical legacy was handed down to us by our ancestors who valiantly fought for 300 years against colonial aggressors in the Cordillera mountains from the 16th to the 19th centuries. We credit our forefathers for making the Cordillera peoples who we are today – a strong and militant people asserting our rights to land, indigenous identity and and self-determination. The tradition of staunch bravery in defense of our land and rights lives on in our contemporary heroes and elders. It is our duty and responsibility as the present generation of indigenous peoples to carry on the fight of our ancestors, heroes and martyrs for the sake of future generations who will inherit the Cordillera homeland.
Igniting the Cordillera Peoples Movement
In 1974, the Marcos government planned to build four mega dams along the Chico River to generate 1,000 MW of electricity for industries. If built, the dams would drown villages, ricefields, and culturally valuable sites such as sacred grounds and burial sites. About 100,000 Kalinga and Bontoc people would have been displaced, along with their culture and traditions. It was while leading the people’s resistance against the Chico Dams that Macliing Dulag was shot and killed by troops of the Philippine Army on April 24, 1980 in an attempt by the government to silence the strong opposition. But the people, with their supporters from far and wide, fought and prevailed, successfully putting a stop to this World Bank-funded project.
Around the same time, on the other side of the Cordillera mountains, Marcos cronies in the Cellophil Resources Corporation started operating a huge logging concession and paper pulp mill. The project would have destroyed vast pine forests and other natural resources in Abra and in the adjacent provinces of Mountain Province, Kalinga and Apayao. But the Tingguian people and other affected indigenous communities bravely repelled the plunder of their land and resources, and the pine forests stand to this day.
Meanwhile, through the years since the early 1900s, the indigenous peoples of Baguio, Benguet and Ifugao had suffered displacement from their lands in the name of so-called “development” by mines, dams, export processing zones, parks, and forest and military reservations. The setting up of the Marcos Park and bust in Taloy Sur, Tuba, Benguet in the 1980s was but the latest showpiece in the long string of injustices foisted upon the Ibaloy people. This, along with other issues such as political repression, militarization and commercialization of culture under the fascist Marcos dictatorship, triggered widespread protests all over the region.
The confluence of events in the 1970s and 1980s sparked grassroots people’s organizations in the Cordillera to join hands and forge wider unity to defend their land and resources, assert their right to self-determination, and chart their own destiny. Thus in 1984, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) was born, forming what we now see as the Cordillera-wide people’s movement for the defense of ancestral land and self-determination. Since then, April 24 is celebrated each year as Cordillera Day from the earlier Macliing Memorials, a tribute to Macliing Dulag and many other heroes and martyrs who gave up their lives in the struggle, and an expression of the people’s movement for national freedom, democracy and self-determination. April 24 is the Cordillera Day owned and embraced by the people, in contrast with those organised by the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army and government which is essentially historical revisionism.
Dashed Hopes for Genuine Change, Issues and Challenges
2017. It is now more than forty years since the anti-Chico Dam and Cellophil struggles and the people’s resistance against the US-Marcos dictatorship and Martial Law. Yet, we face similar threats and challenges from the succeeding past regimes, until the current administration of President Rodrigo Duterte. Still, destructive energy and mining projects, accompanied by militarization, threaten to destroy our rivers and forests, submerge our productive agricultural land and displace our indigenous communities.
The coming into power of the Duterte Administration in June 2016 promised to bring much-needed change to the country through strong anti-crime, anti-corruption, anti-contractualisation (ENDO) and anti-drugs programs. The appointment of progressive personalities to Cabinet positions opened up opportunities for instituting reforms in government policies and delivery of basic services. The resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), release of some political prisoners, and the declaration of unilateral ceasefires by both parties likewise raised hopes that previous agreements would be implemented and new agreements would be forged towards just and lasting peace in response to the protracted revolutionary war in the country.
Yet, one by one, these high hopes are being dashed as the government increasingly reneges on its campaign promises. The terroristic might of the State is felt yet again as its armed forces and police scale up their operations in the cities and countryside. Nothing has changed, thus the people’s demands remain the same.
In the Cordillera, 7 geothermal plants proposed by giant corporations like Chevron, Pan Pacific, PRC Magma, Basic Energy and Clean Energy threaten the municipalities of Bontoc and Sadanga in Mountain Province, Tinglayan and Pasil in Kalinga, Buguias and Bokod in Benguet, Sallapadan-Boliney-Bucloc-Tubo in Abra, and Tinoc in Ifugao. In addition, 108 hydropower projects were approved (as of 2014) for construction along our rivers in different parts of the region, including the Saltan River Dam in Gawaan, Balbalan, Kalinga, the Alimit Hydropower Complex by SN Aboitiz in Lamut, Ifugao, and the Santa Clara Hydropower in Tinoc, Ifugao.
Large-scale mining companies operating in the region, Lepanto Consolidated Mining Co. (LCMC), Philex Mines and Benguet Corporation (BC), continue to wreak widespread destruction on the environment and our communities, prompting the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to recommend the suspension of operations of LCMC and BC (excluding Philex, despite being equally destructive). These companies have already earned billions of dollars from their decades-long to century-long mining operations, yet have made negligible contributions to the economy. They have further plans for expansion to exhaust the last remaining bit of ore deposits and squeeze out even more profits from exploiting our mineral resources. In addition, more than 30% of the region’s total area or 672, 140 hectares is covered by numerous applications by foreign mining companies for exploration permits, mineral production sharing and financial or technical assistance agreements. A history of continuing corporate mining plunder.
These projects are being pushed despite people’s protests and without the genuine free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected communities. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has served to facilitate anomalous FPIC processes and has bastardized indigenous socio-political governance instutions in the Cordillera in their bid to obtain FPIC at all costs.
Also continuing is militarization as a means of the State to quell the popular resistance against development aggression and imperialist plunder. In the guise of counter-insurgency operations bearing such names as Oplan Bantay Laya, Oplan Bayanihan, and now Oplan Kapayapaan, military operations target civilians, bringing fear, harassment, intimidation, illegal arrest, extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations against the people. There have been recent cases of military offensives, illegal arrest and aerial bombing by the military in Malibcong, Abra. The bombs razed the forests of Barangay Lat-ey in Bangilo and affected the swidden farms, grazing lands and rice fields of the Mabaka, Banao and Gubang tribes. These incidents remind us of the dark days of Martial Law when innocent people were terrorized, tortured and killed for resisting tyranny and oppression.
All these acts of development aggression and State terrorism run contrary to our indigenous tradition of protecting our land and resources so that our children may continue to benefit from the wealth of nature. They contradict our beliefs of taking only what we need and sharing the rest for others to benefit. They violate our values of caring for the environment for the collective good of the community so that it may continue to supply our needs for our survival as a people. They disrupt the peace and harmony in our communities and endanger our lives and wellbeing.
Government must seriously address corruption, implement land reform, stop destructive mining and deliver welfare services to the people. The systemic flaws in the government bureaucracy must be corrected and neoliberal economic policies reverted. The problems of government neglect, food insecurity, unemployment, landlessness and homelessness remain urgent issues for redress, much more the stop to extra-judicial killings and human rights violations against the civilian population and bring the perpetrators to justice. There must be system change to stop land grabbing and privatization of ancestral lands and resources for the purpose of profit-making by rich capitalist multinational and domestic private corporations. There should be an end to national oppression of indigenous peoples and national minorities, and the feudal and semi-feudal exploitation, imperialist bondage and State oppression imposed upon the people.
Intensify the Struggle for Self-determination and Just Peace
The Cordillera peoples’ journey for self-determination and just peace has been long and rough. Since the 1970s until the present, numerous campaigns all over the region have been launched to protest the national oppression and exploitation of the Cordillera peoples through anti-people projects, policies and programs. But it is clear that the struggle of the Cordillera peoples is far from over and it is integral to the Filipino people’s struggle for genuine national freedom and democracy. Significant gains were made, heavy losses dealt, and many lessons learned in the process. It is necessary to consolidate our gains, recoup from our losses and draw the lessons from our practice and arduous journey. It is imperative that we intensify and push the people’s struggle to a victorious end.
The people want change now that is genuine and for the better. We all look forward to the day that we can live in peace and prosperity, as self-determining peoples in our ancestral homeland, the Cordillera. We can only achieve our aspiration on self determination and recognition of our collective rights to our ancestral lands if the entire country is free from imperialist domination and control of the few ruling elite. Hence, we have to unite with the entire Filipino masses in smashing the oppressive and exploitative pyramid social structure of Philippine society. As indigenous peoples, we also belong to the exploited democratic classes and sectors such as peasants, workers, urban poor, women, youth, and professionals.
We call on the Duterte government to respect the rights of the Cordillera peoples to ancestral land, genuine regional autonomy and self-determined sustainable development. We call on the GRP and the NDFP to heed the call of the people to continue the peace negotiations and arrive at a Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) and political resolution to the armed conflict towards achieving just and lasting peace in our country. We call on the Cordillera people to rally behind the call for national freedom, genuine democracy and self-determination for just peace to be possible. Let us recall the words of Rafael “Markus” Bangit, another Cordillera hero who said, “Until our right to self-determination is recognized, the struggle will not end. Even if it means the sacrifice of our lives to achieve freedom, so be it!” ***