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Volume IV,  Number 12              April 25 - May 1, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines


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20 Years of Cordillera Day 
A Historic Testament to the Resolute Cordillera Peoples’ Struggle

The history of Cordillera Day is the history of a vibrant peoples’ struggle for a just society. It is an annual observance of achievements, where weaknesses are recognized and lessons are learned.  It is also an annual event for renewing the commitment and ideals pursued by Cordillera’s heroes and martyrs. 

Contributed to Bulatlat.com

Part I:  A Mirror of Cordillera History and Politics

This year’s Cordillera Day observance completes a two-decade celebration and marks the 24th death anniversary of Macliing Dulag, a tribal chieftain and protest leader felled by Marcos soldiers. For 20 years, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) spearheaded the annual celebration, despite the difficult years the Cordillera peoples’ movement has gone through.

Government forces have, time and again, harassed and tried to derail the people’s Cordillera Day. There were also attempts to lure the people away from Cordillera Day and the militant mass movement. But nothing could prevent the Cordillera peoples and their mass movement from celebrating this event and marking it as Their Day.   

The birth of a tradition

April 24 is a very significant date for the peoples of the Cordillera. 

On the evening of April 24,1980, soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army’s 4th Infantry Division under Lt. Leodegario Adalem fired at two houses in the village of Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga.  The attack meant to kill two prominent leaders of the Kalinga and Bontok peoples opposed to the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. These were Ama Macliing Dulag and Pedro Dungoc.  Macliing Dulag, a respected pangat (tribal chieftain) of the Butbut tribe, died from multiple gunshots while Pedro Dungoc survived.  

Macliing Dulag

Pedro Dungoc later joined the New Peoples Army (NPA) and died as a Red fighter.

This military terrorism and cowardly act - the Macliing assassination - served to strengthen the determination of the Kalinga and Bontok tribal people. It further strengthened their unity against a common enemy – the Marcos dictatorship and the WB-funded Chico dams.  The anti-Chico dam struggle later broadened into a mass movement of the Cordillera peoples and advocates.  The struggle evolved to the defense of ancestral land and for genuine regional autonomy.

The just struggle for indigenous peoples rights and against national oppression carried by the militant mass movement would resound beyond the Chico valleys and into the national and international arena of the broad movement for indigenous peoples’ rights and for self-determination. This is the legacy carried by the CPA up to the present.

The Macliing memorials

In 1981, a year after the martyrdom of Macliing Dulag, elders from Kalinga and Bontok gathered in Bugnay, Kalinga to commemorate his death and sacrifice and renew their commitment to the struggle.  Since then, villages along the Chico River would take turns hosting the annual Macliing Memorial organized by the KBPPHA (Kalinga-Bontok Peace Pact Holders Association). 

The KBPPHA was organized after several inter-tribal bodong conferences forged a multi-lateral pagta (peace pact).  From the traditional bilateral peace pact, the pagta was crafted into a multilateral peace pact arrangement to unite many villages opposed to the dam project and the fascist suppression of the Marcos dictatorship. Unity was established on the uncompromising defense of the Chico valley from destruction and displacement by dam and mining projects, and assertion of human rights and indigenous peoples rights in view of fascism and militarization. 

The indigenous socio-political structure and processes of the peace pact were appropriately and creatively used to build broad inter-tribal unity. This was a political advancement and widening of worldview from the traditional bilateral peace pact. One pagta provision was “exclusion from the bodong those who join the Philippine military and those who work for the construction of dams.” Thus the indigenous binodngan practice of pagta was popularized.  It served to build unity of Cordillera peoples in their common struggles to defend land, livelihood and life.

The Macliing memorials increasingly grew from the gatherings of elders and mostly Chico villagers and their supporters in the anti-dam struggle to include other people who represented other struggles being waged in other parts of the Cordillera.  It became an annual celebration to remember martyrs who gave up their lives for the Cordillera struggle and an occasion for solidarity with Cordillera advocates. The memorials served to build and strengthen inter-tribal unity.  Since the venue of these commemorations were in far-flung and militarized areas, participants endured long hikes and braved military checkpoints.  Students, professionals and guests came to know the realities in the countryside. 

The successful anti-Chico dam struggle by the Kalingas and Bontoks was followed by the victory of the Tinggians against Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC).  This corporation, owned by Marcos crony Herminio Disini, was awarded a logging and paper-pulp concession covering 200,000 hectares of land with the biggest bulk in Abra in 1973.

The two struggles dramatically demonstrated the people’s decisive stance to fight for their rights and their ability to muster widespread national and international support.  In the face of the open fascist rule during Martial Law, this even meant resorting to armed resistance especially as tribal communities are traditional warrior societies.

Again, one message was put across strongly:  No force, not even the military might of a fascist state supported by the United States could crush a determined people from waging and winning their just struggle.

In defense of ancestral domain and right to self-determination 

Such inspired struggle in the Cordillera countryside and the militant struggle of students, workers, professionals in the urban centers converged into the progressive and militant mass movement in the Cordillera that asserts the interests of the various ethno-linguistic groups and tribes as well as of the democratic classes and sectors.  This has evolved into the Cordillera mass movement for the defense of the ancestral domain and for self-determination. 

Its organizational expression was realized in June 1984 in a Cordillera Peoples’ Congress that was attended by more than 300 representatives of 23 organizations all over the Cordillera region.  In that assembly, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance was born. CPA was the first, and continues to be the only Cordillera-wide formation that brings together in a common program and within one umbrella organization, the elders, youth and students, women, church people, professionals, workers, peasants, urban poor, and overseas Filipino workers.

In February 1985, the KBPPHA resolved that the Macliing Memorial be celebrated as Cordillera Day under the banner of the CPA. April 24 became an annual celebration of Cordillera peoples’ struggles encompassing all issues, in commemoration of all Cordillera martyrs. It was also declared a solidarity day with national and international advocates and solidarity partners. 

In that assembly, the KBPPHA was also transformed into the Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA) that would co-sponsor the celebration of Cordillera Day every year. In 1992, the CBA evolved into the present BPO–Binodngan People’s Organization. Bulatlat.com

Part II:  Historical Highlights

Cordillera Day Celebrations Through the Years

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