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Volume IV,  Number 13               May 2 - 8, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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Cordillera Day Marked Amid Dam Threats, Tribal Wars

The struggle of the Cordillera peoples for self-determination and against development aggression continues amid great adversity and tribal wars. Cordillera leaders say that their peoples’ struggles have won for them massive support even from the local government.

By Alexander Martin Remollino

This year’s celebration of Cordillera Day—the 20th so far—was supposed to he held in the remote mountain village of Betwagan in Sadanga, Mt. Province. Unfortunately, that village is presently locked in a bitter tribal war with nearby Bugnay village in Tinglayan, Kalinga.

“It’s an issue of security,” said Joseph Torafing, Jr., vice chair of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), in a press conference last April 24. “There are many warring tribes right now, and this might cause problems regarding safety.”

The 20th Cordillera Day celebration was instead held in Tocucan village, Bontoc, Mt. Province.

Sowing disunity

Tribal wars, according to Torafing, are presently among the big problems confronting the peoples of the Cordillera. The CPA vice chair said these threaten to destroy the unity that proved to be of extreme importance in the Cordillera peoples’ struggle against development aggression and for self-determination.

“Development aggression is an outright violation of the indigenous peoples’ collective rights over their land, resources, and territorial integrity,” said CPA chair Joan Carling last April 23 in one of 11 workshops which were part of a build-up toward the big day. “It also violates self-determination.”

“It is sad that the tribes which once fought together for their rights and livelihood are now fighting each other,” said Torafing.

The CPA vice chair further shared that the government, in cahoots with multinational corporations pursuing “development” projects in the region, is exploiting tribal conflicts in order to sabotage the Cordillera peoples’ struggle.

He revealed that paramilitary groups in the region are taking part in the tribal wars, thus exacerbating the conflicts. “The CPLA (Cordillera People’s Liberation Army) in Bugnay and the CAFGU (Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit) in Betwagan are the problems (in settling the ongoing tribal war between the two villages),” he said.

Torafing also said: “One of the challenges before us today is that of settling tribal conflicts. The strengthening of the elders’ mass movement is crucial in this regard… We had seen that Bugnay and Betwagan could resolve boundary conflicts when the elders were united, but now they could no longer resolve it.”

According to Torafing, the government tries to exert influence on the tribes through the elders, “and they kill the elders they could not coopt.”

Carling, on the other hand, said that there were 14 tribal wars settled between October 2002 and October 2003, while as of October 2003 there are 15 ongoing ones—involving tribes from Kalinga and Mt. Province.

Unity in struggle

The promotion of tribal unity is presently part of the CPA’s campaign, said Torafing.

But it was also fitting to celebrate the 20th Cordillera Day in Tocucan, said other Cordillera leaders present in the activity. They said that Tocucan, three-hour bus ride from Banawe, Ifugao played an important part in the struggle against the Chico Dam project during the 1970s and 1980s.

The celebration of Cordillera Day is inspired by the anti-dam campaign one of whose leaders was a Kalinga tribal leader, Macliing Dulag.

Indigenous peoples, militant grassroots organizations, church activists as well as environmental groups throughout the world actively oppose large infrastructure projects such as the Chico Dam. What they call the destructive effects of large dams on the people and environment— uprooting huge indigenous communities and their culture, flooding, damage to soil and fauna, creation of greenhouse gases, and the spread of diseases—are acknowledged even by the World Commission on Dams.

The Chico Dam, wrote Miriam Azurin in an article for IBON Features two years ago, “would have inundated vast tracts of land in the provinces of Kalinga and Apayao.” Macliing, a Bugnay leader, figured prominently in the anti-Chico Dam campaign, forging bodongs (peace pacts) between warring tribes in order to unify them against the “development” project. Several times, Marcos men tried to bribe him in exchange for giving up the struggle.

Macliing would lose his life for this. On April 24, 1980, Army soldiers opened fire on his hut; he died on the spot from 10 bullet wounds in the chest and pelvis. In killing him the military hoped to silence opposition to the Chico Dam project.

But Macliing’s death only served to “ignite a prairie fire.” The news of Macliing’s murder increased projection of the issue, thereby broadening opposition to the Chico Dam which even reached international levels. The wide opposition to the project forced the Marcos government to abandon it.

The victory against the Chico Dam project would soon be followed by another triumph, this time against Cellophil Resources Corporation, which the Marcos government had awarded a logging and paper-pulp concession spanning 200,000 has. in Abra in 1973.

The unity displayed by the Cordillera peoples in these struggles would be consolidated in a Cordillera Peoples Congress in June 1984. That congress gave birth to the CPA whose founding chair, lawyer William Claver, hails from Tocucan.

San Roque Dam

One of the main issues presently confronting the Cordillera peoples, said Carling in an interview with Bulatlat.com, is the San Roque Multi-Purpose Dam Project (SRMDP).

Funded with a $400-million loan from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, the SRMDP is a 345-megawatt hydro-electric dam that is said to be the biggest in Southeast Asia. It was built and is operated by Marubeni Corporation, Kansai Electric Power Company, Inc., and the New York-based Marubeni subsidiary Sithe Energies, all Japanese multinational corporations.

Though located in eastern Pangasinan, the San Roque Dam is expected to affect Cordillera communities. Wrote Azurin in her 2002 article: “It will inundate 1,600 hectares of land, displace 741 upland and lowland farmers and will tie down the incomes and lands of 8,000 peasant households in the region.”

The new dam project is not just a Cordillera issue though, said Carling, but a national issue. The Power Purchase Agreement entered into by the National Power Corporation and the San Roque Power Corporation, which cause-oriented groups have denounced for inflating electric bills beyond actual consumption, guarantees the payment of the $400-million loan as well as the purchase of all electricity produced from 2004 to 2029.

There are other operational dams which the CPA says are adversely affecting Cordillera communities, such as the Binga Dam and the Ambuclao Dam.

Other issues

Cordillera peoples have also been very active in campaigns against large-scale mining, which has been proven to uproot villages and cause environmental degradation.

There are three large corporations doing large-scale mining in the Cordillera region: Benguet Corporation, Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation, and Philex Mining Company. According to the CPA, the operations of these companies have caused big environmental tragedies such as pollution of the Abra and Agno rivers and landslides in Mankayan, Benguet.

In a ruling on Jan. 29 this year, the Supreme Court (SC) declared the Mining Act of 1995, which liberalized the entry of foreign corporations into the country’s mining industry, as unconstitutional. The verdict is considered a victory for Philippine indigenous communities and environmental groups. In the wake of this SC ruling, the CPA is calling for the cancellation of the application of the U.S.-based Newmont Mining, which has a total land area of 77, 549 has. affecting Mt. Province, Ifugao, Benguet—and even Ilocos Sur which lies outside the Cordillera region. The CPA also calls for the scrapping of nine approved mining applications in Abra and Benguet, covering more than 13,000 has.

Cordillera farmers have also been severely affected by agricultural trade liberalization under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), the CPA says. According to Carling, in the last quarter of 2001 alone the production of unmilled rice dropped by 25 percent, dried legumes by 50 percent, and vegetables by 90 percent due to the importation of agricultural products.

The Philippine Senate ratified the GATT in 1994, paving the way for the Philippines’ entry into the WTO the following year. Among the GATT’s proponents was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, then a senator.

Carling says the Cordillera peoples are also suffering from lack of basic services and livelihood; high rates of criminality, prostitution and drug abuse; and militarization.

Continuing struggle

But the struggle of the Cordillera peoples for self-determination and against development aggression continues amid great adversity. Cordillera leaders reveal that their peoples’ struggles have won for them massive support even from the local government.

Highlighting the gains of the Cordillera peoples’ struggles, the 20th Cordillera Day celebration had the theme “Carry the Torch of the Cordillera Martyrs! Strengthen the Peoples’ Struggle against National Oppression and Imperialist Globalization!” One of the main events of the celebration was the showing of a short film paying tribute to Macliing Dulag and other martyrs. Bulatlat.com

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