• Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines

36th Cordillera Day Central Statement
Strengthen our unity and courageously defend ancestral land and life! Fight COVID-19!

April 24, 2020

The country is currently beset with a health and socio-economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. To help ensure the health and safety of at least two thousand expected delegates to this year’s Cordillera Day celebration, we cancelled the annual gathering that was scheduled to take place in Tanglag, Lubuagan, Kalinga.

This year, we celebrate the 36th Cordillera Day in our homes and workplaces through online activities, and generation and distribution of food relief and personal protective equipment for the poor and frontline workers. Let us make the Cordillera Day celebration meaningful by reflecting on the current issues faced by the people, contributing in the fight against COVID-19 and helping the most affected sectors. We need to confront the fascist response of the Duterte regime to COVID-19 that victimizes the poor, while intensifying our struggle to defend our ancestral land and self-determination against national oppression and imperialism.

On the 36th Cordillera Day celebration, we remember events that breathed life into the Cordillera people’s movement for the defense of ancestral land and self-determination, and for national democracy, social justice and genuine peace. We remember our heroes and martyrs who courageously raised the banner of a society without oppression and exploitation in the face of State fascism.

Cordillera Day and the Cordillera People’s Movement through the Years

The successful struggles against the Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project of the World Bank and the timber logging project of the Cellophil Resources Corporation during the Marcos Dictatorship paved the way for the formation of a pan-Cordillera mass movement for the defense of ancestral land and self-determination, as it marked the shift from spontaneous reaction to conscious and concerted unified action. An estimated population of 100,000 in Kalinga and Mountain would have been displaced if the Chico dam project had pushed through while the Cellophil Resources Corporation would have destroyed about 200,000 hectares of mostly pine forests in Abra, Kalinga, Mountain Province, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur covering some of the most extensive watersheds of Northern Luzon and affecting an estimated 145,000 inhabitants in the area (mostly indigenous peoples). Thus, it was a successful fight against imperialist plunder and a triumphant assertion of indigenous people’s self-determination.

Chico and Cellophil brought to the fore the fact that the present-day problems of tribal peoples and indigenous communities are much bigger and more complicated than any faced in earlier historical periods. It showed the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera that their problems cannot be taken in isolation from the wider Philippine realities and the incursions of imperialist globalization.

The heroic Chico and Cellophil struggles also inspired and motivated many indigenous advocates in the region, country and abroad, which made it possible to generate broad national and international support to sustain the growing mass movement.

On April 24, 1980, military troops of the Marcos dictatorship gunned down Macliing Dulag of the Butbut tribe, in Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga. Macliing was a pangat or traditional leader and one of the outspoken leaders of the opposition to the Chico dams. He was killed in the dead of night in an effort to intimidate the growing resistance. Ama Macliing’s martyrdom was commemorated through Macliing Memorials held from 1981 to 1984. Starting 1985, the Macliing Memorials were held as annual Cordillera Day celebrations and spearheaded by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. These celebrations were hosted by many villages of every Cordillera province and Baguio City, with a focused theme each year reflecting the current issues of the Cordillera situation and people’s movement.

The indigenist romanticized view of tribal society as a static autonomous entity which should be preserved in its pure form shattered, as Igorots united with as broad an alliance as possible for the defense of indigenous rights. Although the resistance at the start was the spontaneous tribal response to outside threat, it soon positioned itself firmly within the mainstream of the national democratic struggle.

The Bontok, Kalinga and Tinggian communities, considered by many as among the most neglected and powerless sectors of Philippine society, showed the world sterling indigenous people’s power in their steadfast and uncompromising defense of their human rights. The popular resistance to Chico and Cellophil inspired the formation of a militant mass movement for the defense of ancestral domain and for self-determination in the Cordillera, within the framework of the wider national democratic mass movement.

And thus, the Cordillera People’s Alliance was born on June 1-4, 1984 in Bontoc, Mountain Province as the organized expression of the Cordillera people’s movement. It was founded by 27 people’s organizations during a Cordillera People’s Congress, which was attended by 150 delegates from the different provinces. After 36 years, the CPA is now composed of 307 indigenous people’s organizations and sectoral alliances or tens of thousands of individuals and allies from the Cordillera provinces and Baguio City.

In 1986, the CPA mobilized a region-wide lobby to the Constitutional Commission for the inclusion of the provisions on ancestral land (Article VII, Section 5) and regional autonomy (Article X, Section 15) in the new Constitution which was ratified in 1987.

For 36 years, CPA fought against dictatorship, fascism and human rights violations. Malicious attacks against CPA and vilification as a supposed communist front and terrorist organization by the government has been happening since the birth of CPA. There were many cases where red-tagging has resulted in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, threats, harassment, intimidation and other forms of human rights violations. It has also been a target of attack by the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA), which has long been discredited. The people will never forget the crimes of the CPLA and its notorious track record of human rights violations and terrorism in the region. The people will never forget the CPLA’s murder of Cordillera Peoples Alliance officers Ama Daniel Ngayaan and Romy Gardo in 1987; Robert Estimada and Ferdinand Bragas in 1988; Ayangwa Claver, son of Atty. William “Billy” Claver who was the founding Chairperson of the CPA, in 1990; and many other victims in the interior villages of the region.

For 36 years, no amount of red-tagging, political vilification, extrajudicial killings and human rights violations have deterred the Cordillera people’s will and determination to fight for indigenous people’s rights and human rights. In fact, CPA has grown and strengthened its organization despite sustained attacks by the State using public resources. It remains committed to advancing the Cordillera people’s interests and fighting for indigenous people’s rights.

Onward with the Struggle for Land and Life

Through the years, CPA and its network engaged in mass movement organizing, advocacy, campaigns, alliance, international solidarity, and socio-economic projects. Mass actions were creatively utilized, ranging from indigenous system conflict resolution and bodong renewals, petitions, dialogue, lobby, congressional hearings and even visits of United Nations Special Rapporteurs; to militant rallies, barricades, Rambakan, Serve the People Brigade mass movement response to disasters and emergencies such as the current COVID-19 crisis, and the annual celebration of the people’s Cordillera Day.

CPA led various struggles of Cordillera communities against corporate projects that plunder and destroy the land, natural resources and communities, such as large-scale mining, mega-dams and other corporate energy projects that violate our right to self-determination and right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). These were fights against plunder and destruction of the ili, environment, ancestral land and resources that are crucial in sustaining the lives, livelihood, and culture of present and future generations. As the Cordillera remains threatened by more than 100 applications for large-scale mining and more than 100 approved energy projects including large dams, the struggle continues.

The Duterte regime has placed the country under a state of de facto martial law. It is killing freedom and democracy in the country. “Anti-communism” and “anti-terrorism” are being used to justify the regime’s relentless attacks against civilians, his political opponents, critics, media, humanitarian organizations, and other democratic forces. Through Duterte’s Executive Order 70 (EO 70) or the whole of nation approach to end insurgency, the military and police are given enormous powers to control and harm civilians with impunity. Local government units are being forced to implement EO 70. We denounce EO 70 since its true intention is to silence political dissent and to attack activists, human rights defenders, environmental advocates, and civilians.

CPA is currently under attack by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police, and Duterte minions and supporters through widespread political vilification, red-tagging, terrorist-tagging, direct threats and harassment. Worse, this is happening in the midst of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Militarist approach to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is not the correct solution as it only worsens the plight of the poor. In the first place, the Duterte regime should not have downplayed the COVID-19 pandemic and should have early on imposed a travel ban on countries infected by the virus such as China. Aside from implementing community quarantine, it should have prepared and developed a comprehensive plan to address the looming health and socio-economic crisis.

We condemn the Duterte regime for using the COVID-19 crisis to impose fascist dictatorship. It is using the Left as scapegoat for the failures of his regime in addressing the COVID-19 crisis. Recently, it threatened to openly declare martial law using alleged attacks by the New People’s Army as justification. It also threatened to attack even legal and legitimate organizations. Duterte is blaming the NPA and the Left to cover-up his failures on the lack of mass testing, insufficient economic support, high COVID-19 infection rate, and rising cases of human rights abuses. The Duterte regime should stop threatening legal organizations, inciting more attacks and rights abuses against legitimate organizations and the people, and for feeding the red-tagging spree of the AFP and PNP.

The current health and socio-economic crises brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for the government and the people. Boosting the country’s health system and basic social services should be the government’s priority to help the people cope in times of crisis.

Instead of resorting to fascism, red-tagging, violence, martial rule, attacks against the people, and sowing disunity, the government, the AFP and PNP should focus their efforts on helping the people who are in dire need of food, economic aid and health support at this time of COVID-19 pandemic. The government should immediately address the urgent issues of the people, especially with the extension of the Enhanced Community Quarantine.

Together, let us strengthen our unity, courageously defend ancestral land and life, and do our share in confronting the crisis brought on by the COVID-19 virus.#