“We are very grateful to these three because we’re able to defend our land despite Martial Law due to their example and sacrifice.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
Tinglayan, KALINGA — At a curve in the mountain road in the village of Bugnay, hundreds braved the summer heat and hours-long bumpy ride to come together on April 23. They came from different provinces in the Cordillera, from other regions of the Philippines and even from other countries to take part in a ceremony of unveiling a special marker in honor of the heroism of Macliing Dulag and all who resisted the Chico Dam projects.
National minority elders and leaders of progressive organizations recognized that this struggle has come to mean more than just opposing the building of mega dams. To the people of the Cordillera, it has come to mean a struggle to defend their ancestral land, culture and right to self-determination. It has also come to mean a struggle against military dictatorship.
When the Marcos dictatorship conceptualized the building of four dams along the Chico River in the Mountain Province and Kalinga in the 70s, it aimed to generate energy for the export-oriented industries and mining. But the people of Kalinga and Bontoc opposed it because it will divert the flow of river, submerge many villages and destroy terraced rice fields feeding on its banks and in the end, seize the ancestral lands of the national minorities who mostly comprised the residents in the way of the planned dam.
Macliing Dulag was one of the elders and leaders of the Butbut tribe when he was killed by the Philippine Army in April 24, 1980. His killing was meant to scare away opponents of the dam project, but, instead, it fueled greater resistance and more organizations rose to oppose not only the dam project but similar projects that disregarded the lives and culture of the indigenous peoples. In 1984, these organizations formed the Cordillera People’s Alliance.
Since then they celebrated April 24 as Cordillera Day.
This year, the celebration started with the April 23 unveiling of the marker honoring Macliing Dulag and the heroes of the Cordillera people’s defense against what they call “development aggression.”
Thanking Macliing Dulag and the Cordillera heroes
Gracing the edge now of a picturesque curve at the high mountain road in Bugnay are tall portraits of three heroes outlined in black steel. It ingeniously encompassed as backdrop the Cordillera and Chico River for which these heroes gave their lives. Visible through the steel outlines of the portraits are the emerald green mountains across the Chico River. Near the portraits, the part of Chico River flowing below is also visible behind its steelwork, and so is the Bugnay Village at the riverbank across the road where Macliing Dulag lived.
Flanking Dulag’s portrait were that of Pedro Dungoc Sr. and Lumbaya Gayudan. They all led in opposing the World Bank-funded Chico Dam projects since the 70s. They all hailed from Tinglayan, where the memorial was erected.
The memorial was built out of the people’s cooperation and contribution, a representative of the local government said. It was designed by solar artist Jordan Mang-osan and architect Vladimir Longid. It has been planned since 2002, but was stalled by a tribal war that has since been resolved. Now another threat is hanging over the Chico River; there is a renewed plan to dam it at various points, which reportedly had been approved by the Philippine government.
This year it has been more than 40 years since the anti-Chico Dam struggle.
“We are very grateful to these three because we’re able to defend our land despite Martial Law due to their example and sacrifice,” said Banag Sinumlag, one of the leaders of the resistance to the building of Chico Dam.
Speaking at the unveiling of the new marker, he apologized as he momentarily turned his back on the audience to face the three portraits, for a “heart to heart talk,” he said, to get the three’s guidance, blessings, and to pray that the people will continue to defend the ancestral lands.
He praised the life and heroism of the heroes of the Chico Dam struggle, how Macliing Dulag did not accept bribes such as money and power and resolutely went on with the call to stop the Chico Dam project and uphold their right to self-determination. A big aspect of that right is letting them pursue their agricultural practices, letting them continue with their lives in the Cordillera along the banks of Chico River.
He called on the rest of the Cordillera to avoid the deceptive claims of the CPLA (Cordillera People’s Liberation Army). The latter, along with the Philippine government, has been organizing their own version of Cordillera Day. It is “shameful historical revisionism” according to Windel Bolinget, national chairperson of the CPA.
Who do they think they are deceiving? How can they supposedly honor Macliing Dulag when it was their Philippine army troops who killed him? Bolinget asked during the unveiling of the Cordillera heroes marker.
The marker was built by the tribe members who worked on agreed shifts at the site to finish it in time for the “Cordillera people’s true Cordillera Day.”
“We are lucky to have the only memorial of this kind here,” said John Dulawen, municipal councilor from Pasil, Kalinga.
The memorial is a symbol of its important place in history, a symbol of the continuing struggle of the people of Cordillera, all the national minorities, said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate. It was his first time to attend the Cordillera Day, and he remembered some of the words Macliing Dulag uttered that inspired many: “How can you own the land that outlives you?”
With the memorial for Macliing Dulag and the heroes of Cordillera, and all national minorities for that matter, Zarate said, it is very fitting today to honor and remember them. “The people’s struggle continues. The struggle against dams, mining, imperialist control, and excesses of the bureaucrat capitalists are still ongoing. The Bayan Muna representative welcomed the memorial as the symbol of the people’s continuing struggle.