By LYN V. RAMO
BAGUIO CITY – It is an environment award this time for Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), the second award it garnered this year.
Last month the CPA received international acclaim when the Women’s World Summit Foundation (WSSF) recognized its founding member and elder Petra Macliing of Mainit, Bontoc, Mountain Province and awarded her the Laureate Prize for Rural Women.
The CPA received the Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan: Parangal sa Magiting na Pakikibaka para sa Kalikasan at Karapatan from the Center for Environment Concerns (CEC) during the awarding ceremonies held December 10 at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.
The CPA was recognized as a “model and source of inspiration” locally and within the international indigenous peoples’ movement for its “consistent and persistent advancement of indigenous peoples’ rights linked with the defense, nurture and management of the ancestral domain and resources for the welfare of present and future generations.”
25 years of Caring for the Environment and Fighting for National Patrimony
Recently, the CPA and the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC), its partner NGO, embarked on a joint advocacy program on the Cordillera Environment and Climate Change. However, this is not the only campaign that the CPA conducted for the defense of indigenous people’s rights and the environment.
Since its founding in1984, the CPA has been waging its Defense of Land, Life, and Resources campaign. This campaign is reflective of CPA’s stand for national patrimony, the rights of indigenous peoples and environmental nurture. It highlights the indigenous peoples’ inherent relationship with the environment.
Its campaigns gained national and international prominence such as the Chico River Dam and San Roque Dam struggles. The successful campaigns to oppose the construction of the Chico River Dam in Mountain Province and Kalinga and the operations of Cellophil Resources Corporation in Abra during the early 1980s were integral to the early beginnings of the CPA. To date, the Chico River flows freely, and the people in the villages around it remain vigilant over new attempts to dam the mighty river.
The anti-San Roque Dam campaign generated awareness here and abroad on the social and environmental destruction caused by mega-dams. It attained some gains for the affected communities, and to date, the issue of the San Roque Dam is not yet closed. The video documentary Agno, produced by CPA and Southern Tagalog Exposure narrates this experience and the gains and lessons of this campaign.
In the 1990’s, the CPA led the campaign against open pit mining in Itogon, Benguet Benguet Corporation’s open pit mines eventually closed in 1996, way before its life expectancy due to strong opposition in many Itogon communities. Another focused campaign against large-scale mining was the Save the Abra River Movement (STARM), which was carried out with the broad support of the academe, scientists, church, local government officials and students. The campaign exposed the destruction caused by the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) to the Abra River ecosystem, and on the health and livelihood of villagers living alongside it.
To help improve marginalized peoples’ welfare and living conditions, CPA and its NGO partners run programs and projects, such as the Marketing Center from 1985 to 1992, appropriate technology projects such as the water-powered rice pounder, which was later destroyed by the terrorist Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA). There was also the mini-hydro project, a breakthrough project that showed that electricity in far-flung villages could be generated even without mega-dams.
Other projects include the West Kalinga Integrated Area Development Project in the 1990s, which envisioned a comprehensive development of agro-forestry, handicrafts, small-scale mining, basic infrastructure, education, health and other basic social services.
Joint efforts with the CDPC are continuing in programs for sustainable agriculture, for food security through raising the productivity of farmers and diversification of food production, the application of appropriate technology in support of agriculture and food processing, and disaster response and readiness.
In presenting the award to the CPA, the CEC said, “through its concrete gains and widespread campaigns from the local to international levels, the CPA contributed to the integrated struggle for the environment and genuine development, peoples’ rights, especially indigenous people’s rights, and national patrimony for people’s welfare.”
“Its organizing and campaigns empowered communities and sectors to act on their own issues and achieve results, even at much sacrifice, including the martyrdom of some of its leaders.”
“The gains give hope that situations of discrimination against indigenous peoples, and overwhelming development aggression of destructive large-scale mining and mega dams could change and be dealt with for the people’s benefit; if they are aroused and organized to act on their issues,” the CEC said.
The CEC works closely with communities and organizations nationwide, supporting their initiatives to nurture their ecosystems, defend their common access to natural resources, and eventually improve their living and working conditions in the context of a balanced and healthy environment.
It advocates for people-oriented, patriotic, sustainable, and scientific policies and programs for the protection of the Philippine environment and engages in information sharing, networking, cross-cultural exchanges, and solidarity initiatives on common environmental issues and concerns at the international level.