I was a young student activist when Martial Law was declared by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Under martial law, all organizations were blacklisted, even the student councils and publications. There were mass arrests and detention, such that Camp Allen and Camp Dangwa in Baguio and Benguet were filled to the overflowing, and detainees were brought further to Camp Aquino in Tarlac, Camp Olivas in Pampanga, or to the Youth Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio. Some activists were incorrigible, the military term for them was recidivists. Upon release from detention, there they were again, writing manifestos and distributing them at the Baguio Cathedral, only to be picked up and detained again, and again!
There were some who were able to escape the initial dragnet and went underground, myself among them. I continued organizing the youth activist contacts in the provinces, although now in underground mode. In June 1974, I was illegally arrested thru the ASSO – arrest, search and seizure order – and tortured (together with my younger sister Joji) in Pangasinan before being brought to Camp Olivas, Pampanga, where we were illegally detained for two years. The main form of physical torture was electric shock, along with psychological torture. We were not allowed to sleep for several nights.
I was only one among the 70,000 people imprisoned, 34,000 tortured, and 3,240 killed during martial law (AI). With all avenues for peaceful protest and democratic dissent closed with the declaration of martial law, many of the student activists the historic First Quarter Storm joined the revolutionary underground movement or the armed struggle of the CPP-NPA in the countrysides. The fascist dictatorship was the most effective recruiter for the New People’s Army. My older sister Jingjing joined the NPA in Ifugao and is a martyr to the revolutionary cause. She was known, and loved, in the Ifugao tri-boundary as Ka Maria.
One day, the detention area in Camp Olivas was suddenly overcrowded with what seemed to be about a hundred new detainees, some of them clad only in g-strings. The news was that they were resisting the Chico dam project. The Marcos dictatorship was hellbent on building four huge dams along the Chico river which would have displaced many indigenous communities in Bontoc and Kalinga from their ancestral lands. Furthermore, the Marcos dictatorship had awarded 200,000 hectares of ancestral forest lands in Abra to his cronies as a logging ang paper pulp concession. Chico and Cellophil were so-called priority “development projects” of the Marcos dictatorship throughout the dark years of martial rule.
Upon release from detention, I returned to Baguio City, re-enrolled at UPB and continued being a defender of human rights. I was inspired by the growing people’s resistance to Chico and Cellophil. I attended bodong conferences where the tribal elders would exhort their people to unite and defend their ancestral lands and their indigenous way of life. In these gatherings, cultural activities always played a big role. Traditional forms of song and dance such as the sallidummay, uggayam, ullalim were performed but infused with new revolutionary content. The traditional bodong which is a bilateral peace pact between two tribes transformed into a multi-lateral bodong in the effort to unite all the communities that would be affected.
Martial law breeds resistance and revolution. The period from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties was a decade of ferment and upheaval throughout the Cordillera region. The indigenous peoples relied on their tribal practice of concerted and unified mass action as they increasingly asserted their collective rights even under conditions of martial rule and intense militarization in the countrysides. When they finally resorted to armed resistance after peaceful methods to seek redress of grievances had proved futile in the face of unbridled militarization, this was but a logical step for these warrior societies in the defense of their indigenous life, ancestral land, and self-determination.
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. The people refused to be cowed. Instead, Macliing’s death was commemorated with a Macliing memorial yearly thereafter to remember the martyrs who had given up their lives in the struggle, and in 1985, was commemorated as Cordillera Day for the first time.
Chico and Cellophil ignited dormant Igorot nationalism. Numerous activists and mass leaders espousing their rights as indigenous peoples emerged. The different Cordillera tribes were challenged into the recognition of the pressing need for a greater unity among themselves if they hoped to succeed in the defense of their collective human rights. Igorot students and intellectuals put their energies into the more serious study and advocacy of indigenous peoples rights.
This increased introspection and self awareness among the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera paved the way towards a pan-Cordillera mass movement, as it marked the shift from spontaneous reaction to conscious and concerted unified action. As the different Igorot tribes and sectors were increasingly exposed to each other in mass meetings, inter-tribal activities and bodong conferences, there was the opportunity for dialogue and mutual sharing and learning.
The heroic Chico and Cellophil struggles also served to inspire and motivate many non-indigenous advocates, in the region, the nation, and abroad, which made it possible to generate broad national and international support to sustain the growing mass movement.
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. More concretely, Chico and Cellophil 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 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, and was among the front-line in the anti-dictatorship struggle.
These 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 was the Cordillera People’s Alliance born.
Fast forward to the present under the authoritarian Duterte administration. I have a feeling of déjà vu – I have seen and experienced all of these grave human rights violations before, during the Marcos dictatorship, and yet here they are happening again in our midst. I was a victim of torture and illegal detention then when I was a young student activist, I am a victim of trumped-up charges and red-tagging now, in my senior years. And so, in this present-day struggle for democracy and against dictatorship, it is important to draw the important lessons from the anti-fascist struggle against the Marcos Dictatorship.
As the late senator Ka Pepe Diokno said, human rights make us human. With every violation of human rights, our common humanity is diminished. The human spirit can take only so much oppression, however, before resistance develops. Repression breeds resistance. To stand up for human rights, to resist tyranny, and to rebel against an oppressive system is justified. But we have to prepare ourselves for sacrifice and even death in the struggle against tyrants, for people’s democracy and a better world.
All democracy and freedom-loving Filipinos should therefore unite to build the broadest united front against dictatorship. Let us always remember the horrors of martial law, we should never forget. And we should always hold on to the timeless slogans of that period:
Makibaka, huwag matakot!
Justice for Aguino, justice for Macliing, justice for all!
Justice for all victims of human rights violations!
Never again to martial law!
CORDILLERA PEOPLES ALLIANCE