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May 15, 2008

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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 Society (ATIS)


Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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