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May 2, 2008

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Cordillera Day 2008 Draws In Support to Local Struggle vs. Large Mines, Militarization

The early rains in April did not spoil the Cordillera Day 2008 celebration, however muddied and ready for plowing the rice fields were in the host community of Brgy. Poblacion, Baay Licuan, Abra. Themed Resist Mining Plunder and State Terrorism Cordillera Day 2008's 3,000-strong delegation from the international, national and regional levels gave concrete support to the local struggles of the host community and the whole of Abra province against large-scale mining and militarization. A resolution was signed backing the earlier petitions of Baay Licuan against Olympus Pacific Mining Inc., Abra Mining and Industrial Corp. (AMIC) and Jabel and the militarization of communities opposed to it. A petition calling for the immediate stop to the massive militarization in Tubo municipality in southern Abra was likewise signed by all delegates. These resolutions will be submitted to concerned government agencies and offices, and the mining company involved.

April 22: Ritual in Capcapo
Cordillera Day 2008 opened with a program and ritual headed by elders of the host community in Capcapo mountain, where Olympus has started drilling in a 4, 300 hectare mine site since February 2007 without the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the indigenous communities therein. Prior to this, the said communities had no idea as well of any approved mining claim which was approved by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) in 1999. Sustained community opposition pushed the present NCIP to intervene, thus temporarily halting Olympus' operations.

Olympus is still trying to comply with the FPIC requirements as prescribed by Philippine Law (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act), but community leaders, such as those from host organization BALITOK (Baay Licuan Takderan Omnu a Karbengan), are asserting that from the start, their position remains clear and has not changed: that they do not want large-scale mining in Baay Licuan. In a press conference on April 24, BALITOK Chairperson Ernesto Quinto said that what the communities want is to use and manage their own mineral resources through non-destructive means such as traditional small-scale mining.

In Capcapo, the elders butchered a pig during the ritual, declared vigilance against Olympus and other attempts of destructive projects in their ancestral domain. Blood from the butchered pig was spread in all seven drilled holes in the mountain to symbolically seal the said statement.

April 23: Recalling the CRC struggle and the current fight against Olympus
In the opening on April 23, leaders of BALITOK, Baay Licuan Indaka Salakniban (BLIS) and representatives of the barangay welcomed the delegates after a militant ecumenical prayer led by different church leaders and elders from the Cordillera Elders Alliance (CEA). The history and current situation of Baay Licuan was extensively discussed as well by Anton Valera of BLIS. These messages and inputs were culminated when Fr. Cirilo Ortega shared the victorious struggle of the Tingguians against the Cellophil Resources Corporation in the 1970s, owned by Marcos' cronies and backed by the Marcos government.

Workshop discussions with concrete resolutions on current regional and national issues took place in the afternoon on the following topics: Basic Mining Education and the Cordillera Mining Situation, Exchange of Experiences on Mining and Militarization Struggles, Small Scale Mining as an Alternative, On State Terrorism, Optimizing Legal Remedies, International Remedies (UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and Basic Documentation, Importance of Lobbying and Internationalizing our Campaign, Building International Solidarity in Support to the Cordillera Peoples' Struggle, and the Children's Workshop.

The workshop groups yielded resolutions against large scale mining, for small-scale mining as an alternative, for to support internationalizing and lobbying Cordillera indigenous peoples' campaigns, among others. The workshop on building international solidarity resulted to the formation of CPA Friends Abroad, with an initial membership from the workshop group. As an output, the children's workshop presented a skit depicting the Tingguians' anti-Cellophil struggle.

Caucuses (women, peasants, elders, youth, migrants, drivers) were conducted in the evening. The caucuses with Binongan elders, specifically facilitated by CEA yielded to yet another historical result with the constitution and adoption of a Unity Pact against large and destructive mines (Katulagan ti Panglakayen, Mananakem, Papangat ti Tribo ti Binodngan Kontra iti Higante ken Makadadael a Minas). Clad in their traditional and indigenous attire, the Binodngan elders, including women and representatives of the youth presented the sealed pact in the afternoon of April 24. It is initially signed by 200 elders and is currently being circulated among other Binongan elders.

Video documentaries were shown later in the evening, featuring Cordillera-produced Toxic Gold (Sabidong ti Balitok), That the Mountains May Chant the Truth, Agno, Cordillera Day: A People's Struggle, and other documentaries produced by other regions. Throughout the day, solidarity messages from friends, partners and advocates from the international to local communities were read. Bp. Leopoldo Jaucian of the Diocese of Abra also imparted his message of solidarity to the Cordillera Day 2008 delegates. Gongs were played by the host community and other provincial delegates throughout the program, followed by community dancing.

April 24: Resist Mining Plunder and State Terrorism!
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN or New Patriotic Alliance) Chairperson Dr. Carol P. Araullo delivered her keynote speech in the morning of April 24, highlighting the successful anti-Chico dam struggle also at the time of the Marcos dictatorship, and relating it to the continuing struggle of Cordillera indigenous peoples for right to ancestral domain and right to self determination. The Cordillera Day background and rationale, and the nature of this year's celebration was shared by CPA Secretary General Windel Bolinget.

The Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK) had the delegates' undivided attention with the staging of The Untold Story of Gatan. More solidarity messages were read and imparted, followed by a press conference with leaders of CPA-Abra (KASTAN), BALITOK, CPA, Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamayanng Pilipinas (KAMP) and BAYAN.

After resolutions and petitions were shared in the afternoon, the Abra delegation impressed the delegates with its cultural presentations ranging from the kullilipan and uggayam, takik, and tadek. Community dances ensued as gongs were played by the host community. Though heavily militarized and bombed, a delegation from Tubo municipality asserted to attend the 24th Cordillera celebration and imparted through kullilipan the history of militarization and interest of large mines in their hometown, and the massive human rights violations in Dilong Valley.

The solidarity night ensued, where cultural presentations from Cordillera provinces, other regions and abroad were staged until the early morning of April 25. The delegation left in a caravan towards the capital town of Bangued.

The struggle of the Binongan indigenous peoples in Baay Licuan, and other issues confronting the Abra indigenous peoples has gained concrete support in Cordillera Day 2008. The CPA remains in solidarity and with them as greater conflicts are expected after Cordillera Day was successfully held and projected the particular issues affecting the communities therein.

Cordillera Day 2008 was successful and meaningful through the continuing support and solidarity of advocates, partners and friends, including new commitments in the advocacy of Cordillera indigenous peoples' struggle for self determination. # AT Bengwayan/Cordillera Peoples Alliance

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