On the occasion of the 38th Peoples’ Cordillera Day, we remain steadfast in our struggles for land and life. We stand triumphant amid all the attacks inflicted by the fascist Duterte regime upon our land, life, and honor. We stand united in our commitment to advance the peoples’ rights and welfare.
In this time of remembering our Cordillera heroes and martyrs, we also pay our highest tribute to James Tayaban of Ifugao and Moses Bangit of the Malbong tribe in Kalinga, both community leaders and activists who passed away this year. Their commitment and contributions to the Cordillera mass movement will be dearly remembered and honored along with the many heroes who came before them. What they have started will surely be continued by this generation and the next to come. Again, we reaffirm: we will fight on!
Today, our celebration falls at an extremely critical time. The coming May 2022 National Elections is a crucial turning point in determining our way forward as a nation beset in many crises. For the Cordillera peoples, the parallels of the Marcos and Duterte regime are undeniable as seen in the brazen development aggression in our lands, escalated attacks to our human rights, and the intensified moves to misinform and revise our history. Clearly, what the current administration will leave behind is a mimicry of the Marcosian legacy, and the candidacy of the Bongbong Marcos-Sara Duterte tandem in the 2022 national elections will only continue this.
The return of the Marcoses to power is also an affront to the Cordillera heroes and martyrs of the Anti-Chico Dam and Anti-Cellophil Resources Corporation struggle. As a celebration borne out of the Macli-ing Memorials that commemorated the state-instigated killing of Ama Macli-ing Dulag in April 24, 1980, the Peoples’ Cordillera Day is a testament to the injustices committed by the Marcos dictatorship against the Cordillera peoples. It is also a long-standing testament of our unity in struggle. Over the pandemic, this historical fact has been subjected to systematic revisionism through twisted historical accounts and through the demolition of the Anti-Chico Dam Heroes Monument in 2021 reportedly ordered by former Cordillera police chief R’win Pagkalinawan. Now more than ever, this Peoples’ Cordillera Day is an important time to hold the Marcoses and the Duterte regime accountable for their crimes against the people. It is a time to live out the legacy of our ancestors and the lessons of the Cordillera peoples’ struggle during the Marcos dictatorship. It is a time that calls for peoples’ unity to stop the comeback of dictators, and the extension of their corrupt and rotten politics!
Now that Duterte’s presidency is coming to a close, we are certain that his legacy will be nothing but a fascist and corrupt administration, more so that he and his cohorts are trying to railroad their projects and policies as the united opposition in the 2022 national elections threaten the extension of their regime.
At a glance, the Cordillera peoples bear the brunt of neoliberal policies upheld by the Duterte administration. Companies are coddled by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) who then assist in enforcing their destructive mining and energy applications. For instance, in Apayao, Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippine Corp.’s (Pan Pacific) series of 6 megadams along the Apayao-Abulug river are aggressively being forwarded. NCIP and Pan Pacific are manipulating the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) process for Gened Dam 1 (150 MW), Gened Dam 2 (250 MW), Aoan Dam (191 MW), Calanasan Dam (170 MW) and are now beginning the consultations for two more dams, namely Madduang Dam (55 MW) and Sicapo Dam (40 MW). In Ifugao, the proposed 390 MW Alimit Hydropower Complex of SN Aboitiz Power (SNAP) and the destructive mini-hydropower project application of the Ayala-backed Sta. Clara Power Corporation- Quad River Power Corporation are pending today given strong community oppositions. When it comes to large-scale mining applications, Cordillera Exploration Co., Inc. (CEXCI) has moved forward with its Application for Financial and Technical Assistance 008 (AFTA 008) and Exploration Permit Application 116 (EXPA 116). In fact, CEXCI and NCIP conducted the FPIC process in 2021 for their EXPA 116 which covers Mankayan and Bakun in Benguet.
In Baguio City, the Local Government Unit (LGU) continues to forward plans and partnerships with businesses to “modernize” transportation and the public market, which in reality are meant to benefit investors and business owners. For transportation, China-bought mini-buses are favored over jeepneys that serve as a livelihood and main mode of public transport. For development of the public market, the “mallification” development plan of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. is awarded its original proponent status. Negotiations between SM and the LGU are still pushing through amid people’s protests. Under the guise of “modernization,” the city is being set for privatization and corporate-takeover.
Further in line with privatization and overall state fascism and tyranny, the takeover of Duterte-backed personalities on electric cooperatives (ECs) is notably experienced in the Cordillera. The Benguet Electric Cooperative (BENECO) has been subjected to this hostile takeover of Duterte-backed personalities, also backed by the National Electrification Administration (NEA). Even the Philippine National Police was involved in the October 2021 takeover by forcing open the locked doors of the BENECO Southdrive Office in the wee hours of the morning.
Our vegetable farmers in the region, on the other hand, are at a huge loss due to trade liberalization. With the smuggled and imported vegetables from China and other countries entering the Philippines unregulated, Benguet farmers are losing PHP 2.5M daily. The prices of these smuggled and imported agricultural products are lower than the local produce. Our local farmers are at a loss in the competition and are thus forced to throw away their harvests. More infuriating is the alleged big politicians and high-ranking government officials behind the smuggling as revealed in a senate hearing for the said issue.
Meanwhile, the Cordillera experience with Executive Order 70 that institutionalized the whole-of-nation approach (WONA) and created the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) is riddled with trumped-up charges against indigenous leaders and activists, red-tagging, terrorist-labelling, surveillance, weaponization of law to criminalize dissent, and forced and fake surrender of civilians as members of the New Peoples Army. Government agencies are forced to participate in these acts instead of focusing on the delivery of basic social services to the people. With the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) at the helm, the task force is also bent on declaring Cordillera Peoples Alliance as persona-non-grata across the provinces of the region. The Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Council (RLECC), in which the PNP is also a part of, has also released resolutions in direct attack against civilians. Moreover, historical revisionism and fake news go along with these fascist agenda in an attempt to twist, blur and bury the valiant history of the Cordillera mass movement. More alarming is the participation of government agencies and officials in spreading such lies and disinformation.
However, the Cordillera people’s unity is not and will not be defeated. The historic people’s unity during the Anti-Chico Dam and Anti-Cellophil Resources struggle is again alive in the current Kaigorotan struggle. The Isnag of Kabugao, Apayao is standing against the Gened Dams and actively exposing the FPIC violations committed by Pan Pacific and NCIP. The people of Mankayan voted “NO” to CEXCI’s EXPA 116. Communities affected by the Alimit Dam continue to stand in defense of their land. The farmers in Benguet conducted protest actions against the importation and smuggling of vegetables. BENECO employees and Members-Owners-Consumers (MCOs) led several mobilizations to protest the takeover of the cooperative. The different sectors in the region are active in their fight for aid, livelihood, safe resumption of classes, and other peoples’ demands. We have achieved a feat on human rights with the granting of the Writ of Amparo to youth leaders who are victims of red-tagging in Baguio City. Most importantly, in the midst of state terrorism, we remain. We stand tall with our undeterred commitment to struggle for self-determination and national democracy.
This Cordillera Day 2022, let us celebrate these victories, and call for new politics. Our new politics is a rejection of the corrupt and rotten political system that dominates Philippine society. It is politics that promotes the interest of the majority rather than those of the few elites. It champions our right to national sovereignty and patrimony. It asserts our right to self-determination and ancestral domain. It seeks to end the neoliberal framework of our economy towards a progressive and self-reliant one. It recognizes our basic human rights and aims to achieve a just and lasting peace. Our new politics, in essence, is power to the people even beyond the elections.
Now that the future of our country is at stake with the return of dictators, let us muster our strength and gather our efforts for a peoples’ unity that embodies what the anti-Marcos dictatorship taught us: that power belongs to the people. We have had enough. We deserve better. Let us bust the myth of “Solid North” for the Marcoses, and forward a United North for land, life, and new politics!