Looking Back at the 1984 Student Mass Action

By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
Northern Dispatch

BAGUIO CITY — In 1993, then Sangguniang Kabatan Federation president Florence Ibarra declared March 1-5 as the Kaigorotan Youth Week (KYW) in recognition of the valiant Igorot youth in the early 80s who bravely faced police brutallity while expressing their strong opposition against development aggression and cultural prostitution.

Geraldine Cacho, one of the Igorot students in the 80s, recounted the reason for the March 5 march rally that resulted to a violent police dispersal. According to her, the1980s saw the peak of protests against the Chico river dams project along the Chico river in Bontoc and Kalinga, the massive logging by the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC) in Abra, and the spread of prostitution during the Grand Cañao and Highland Festivals.

“The period also the height of a regional education campaign among Igorot students on these issues. It was the time when the consciousness of national minority youths in the city was raised. Activism was widespread,” she said.

Cacho said that martial law was still in place in the 1980s, and state forces conducted harassment operations all over the region including the Cordilleras. The experience in the region, she said, was aggravated by national oppression.

National oppression she said was inherent t in the program of national development projects imposed in the region at the expense of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs).

“The construction of the Chico dam caused the displacement of Bontoks and Kalingas residents along the riverside. The massive logging operations of the CRC in Abra has depleted the water sources of the Tinggians. In the meantime, the culture of the Cordillera people was exploited for profit during the Grand Cañao which was later changed into Highland Festivals. They showcased rituals and the butchery of livestock in the city for tourism purposes,” she said.

She described that certain festivals as prostituting the Cordilleran culture.

“We all asked ourselves, ‘…Anya ti ikan-Cañawan tayo?’ (…what are we celebrating for?)”

At the time, she said, there were Igorots being forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands, and local struggles were erupting all over.

“It was definitely not a time to celebrate and hold a Cañao.”

Rituals being showcased in the Highland Festivals she said are supposed to be done for the right reason, at the right time, and in the right place, otherwise the sanctity of the practice is breached.

Schools unite on March 5

In the meantime, Cacho recounted that students from the University of the Philippines College in Baguio (UPCB) flooded the streets in protest on March 5, 1984.

They were joined by students from the University of the Cordilleras, the former Baguio Colleges Foundation (BCF),and together they went down Session Road, up Assumption Road to rendevous with University of Baguio (UB) students.

Together, they marched through General Luna to the Saint Louis University (SLU) main gate, and on towards the city public market where they were met by truncheon-bearing policemen who proceeded to attack the rallyists.

“It was our first time to hold rallies, and we were given a baptism of fire by the police forces who unleashed their brutality against us,” she said. She recalled that police cars also swarmed the city. Drivers of public utility jeepneys to Aurora Hill even helped the police chase the students.

She narrated that the pasiking (woven rattan backpack) was identified with student activists. “Because of this, policemen and Aurora Hill drivers ran after everyone with a pasiking (backpack),” she said.

She remembered seeing one of her companions being carried by one of the policemen and dropped into a basket of tomatoes. “When she stood up, tomato juice was all over her.”

She also saw one of their male companions collared by the police. “He managed to punch and then escape, running away as fast as he could,” she said.

On the other hand, market vendors helped the student protestors escape the cops by hiding them in their stalls. They hid the students or told the police that the students were customers.

“They even yelled at the cops that the students were not committing any crime or doing anything wrong,” she said.

“I saw rage in Baguio that day,” she said.

Challenge to Igorot youths

This year, as Igorots celebrate KYW this March, Cacho challenged Igorot youth to become aware of national oppression issues. The issues of the region back in the 1980s, she said, are the same issues threatening the region now.

She said this with reference to several development projects being negotiated today, like large scale mining, geothermal power source, corporate farms and others. “In fact, the situation is even worse now,” she insisted.

This year’s KYW is organized by several youth organizations and will start on March 1. Simultaneous activities in each school will be initiated by various IP organizations to build up to a citywide joint culminating activity on the 13th day of March. — Reposted by ()

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