Cordillera Day and the Iskolar ng Bayan

| Written by Luchie Maranan

Photo contributed by Luchi Maranan.

 

This April 24, we celebrate Cordillera Day. The commemoration of this day began in 1980, when the military killed tribal chieftain Macli-ing Dulag of the Butbut tribe and injured Pedro Dungoc, another leader of the Kalinga and Bontok peoples, over their opposition to the Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project (CRBHDP). Until 1984, April 24 was commemorated as Macliing Memorial day; in 1985, as various provinces in the Cordillera region strengthened their unity and solidarity, it became known as Cordillera Day.

I was a college student at UP Baguio (UPB) in the mid-70s, when the political landscape was defined by repression and cronyism under Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. This atmosphere molded the consciousness of many youth and students, and we learned to become critical and aware of current events and sociopolitical conditions. The campus air was rife with discontent. Even casual conversations tended to include topics such as the readmission of student leaders after being released from detention. With the Marcos administration clamping down on free expression and the press, even student publications were not spared. Thus, there was clamor for our UPB school paper, Outcrop, and the Student Council to be restored.

During this time, there was also a buildup of restiveness and turmoil in the Cordillera provinces. Those mountain villages were so remote from our city, yet the news about their plight reached our campus, stirring discussions and radicalizing student activists to go beyond their classrooms and live out the essence of being iskolar ng bayan. We challenged the CRBHDP, which was being pushed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, when we learned that it would submerge whole villages and wipe out communities in Bontoc and Kalinga where over a hundred thousand residents had settled for generations. We criticized and condemned the displacement of local communities from their ancestral lands, as the Marcos administration ordered without consultation the destruction of their lives and livelihood for the sake of lowland big industries.

 

Photo contributed by Luchi Maranan.

 

Some community leaders from the affected villages would come and speak to us in UPB about their plight and ask us to advocate for them and help pressure the government through lobbying and protest actions. Moreover, the Tingguians in Abra were contending with a similar gigantic enemy that was the Marcos crony-owned Cellophil Resources Corporation, a logging company ravaging their forests. These combined challenges were met with bolder and bolder collective protest actions by the communities despite heightened military intimidation and atrocities.

As soon as I obtained my diploma, I heeded the call to the youth and students, and I went to immerse myself in the Cordillera countryside to learn from the indigenous peasants. I worked to organize in far-flung communities, understanding the justness of their resistance to displacement and their fierce dedication to defending their land. The struggle of the Kalingas and the Bontoks against the Chico Dam project and the Tingguians’ brave pushback against the military’s human rights violations continued to strengthen, and nowhere was this spirit of resistance more alive and inspiring than in the Cordillera heartland. Women and children, elders and youth, joined in acts of defiance and civil disobedience to assert their determination to protect their lives and heritage. Never was I more certain where I wanted to be counted in the anti-dictatorship movement than with the indigenous peoples’ movement.

The pagta (written laws) in the bodong (peace pact) profoundly and tightly bound the tribes and their papangat (village chiefs) to a steadfast commitment to defend their land and resources.

I recall how, on April 24, 1980, news reached us that Macli-ing Dulag—the most outspoken leader of the Butbut tribe in Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga—had been brutally killed by elements of the 44th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in his own home. Following Macli-ing’s death, tribal leaders and peace pact holders from Kalinga and Mountain Province continued to convene and firm up their opposition to the dam project. These gatherings led to the formation in 1982 of the Kalinga-Bontoc Peace Pact Holder Association, which was renamed Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA).

 

Photo contributed by Luchi Maranan.

 

In 1984, after trailblazing the Kaigorotan-wide defense of land, life, and resources, the CBA and 26 organizations founded the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA). In 1985, the CPA declared every 24th of April as “Cordillera Day” to honor the martyrdom of Macli-ing Dulag and other equally courageous martyrs who sacrificed their lives to protect the ancestral domain from plunder and destruction.

In the ensuing years, the commemoration would be hosted annually by communities in different provinces, at times, centralized, but always drawing in more than a thousand local, national, and foreign participants and delegates. This is despite the red-tagging and vilification of CPA by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in recent years.

Today, over four decades since Macli-ing’s martyrdom, we continue to honor him and other martyrs like him. The iskolar ng bayan ought to know this long history of collective leadership and commitment to the struggle for self-determination, despite the insidiousness of historical revisionism.

Today, with all the lessons of the long and rich history of the indigenous peoples’ movement, I shall be on my way to one of the villages that was at the center of vibrant discussion and actions to tighten solidarity of the umili against destructive “development” plans so many years ago. I shall re-live my youthful idealism and regain insights and gather new inspiration from an ever-growing new generation of activists, human rights, environmental and indigenous rights defenders.


Luchie Maranan is a UP Baguio alumna who graduated with a degree in AB Humanities (Comparative Literature) in 1981. She is the current Vice-Chairperson of the Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK), an alliance of cultural organizations and individuals, and a former president and active member of the Baguio Writers Group.