By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — For over three decades now, the people’s Cordillera Day has always been a venue to honor the martyrs and celebrate the triumphs of Cordillera people’s struggle for the defense of their ancestral land and for self-determination. It has also become a venue to renew and strengthen the people’s resolve to continue the struggle of their forefathers.
And the preparation for its staging is in itself a mass movement. Host communities and adjacent communities work together to prepare for the accommodation and venue for thousands of participants.
Cordillera Day 2017 celebration will be held in sitio Bulo, Barangay Balantoy, in Balbalan town of Kalinga province. And all the other 13 barangays of the town will help prepare for the celebration.
Santos Mero, deputy secretary of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) said that the people’s Cordillera Day that his organization has been spearheading for more than three decades now has always been a celebration of the Cordillera people’s heroism in defending their ancestral land from destructive and oppressive projects. He said it is celebrated on April 24 in honor of Ama Macliing Dulag, one of the Kalinga elders who led the staunch opposition against the Chico River dam project of the Marcos regime, who was killed by government soldiers on the said date in 1980.
Mero said that the host community this 2017 is in fact facing threats from the entry of large mining applications, hydropower projects and militarization. “Amid these threats to their ancestral land, the people of Balbalan chose to host this year’s Cordillera Day,” he said.
Florence Tabanganay, secretary of the Balantoy Farmers Association for Development, the barangay host organization, said that her village is faced with problems on mining and hydro power applications, militarization and a road widening project.
Tabanganay said the mining and hydro power project application will be directly affecting Balbalan communities including Balantoy.
According to the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), the Cordillera Exploration Corporation Inc. (CexCI) has a mining application spanning 15 hectares of Balbalan town and the Philippine National Oil Renewables Corporation (PNOC Renewables) applied for a 24-megawatt hydropower project in barangays Talalang, Gawaan and Balantoy.
Tabanganay said military presence in her community disrupts their daily lives. She said that the people are uneasy moving around, going to their rice fields because of military presence.
It can be recalled that Peter Dangiwan, Bayan Muna-Kalinga coordinator was killed in 2001 under the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counter insurgency program Operation Plan Bantay Laya. In 2006, a deaf farmer, Roberto “Ambalong” Sabado was killed by soldiers under the 21st IB of the Philippine Army operating in Balbalan at that time.
At present, soldiers from the 50th IB are encamped in Balantoy.
David Agulin, chairperson of the Kalinga Agkaykaysa Salakniban Aglawlaw ken Gammeng (Kalasag), a province wide alliance of people’s organizations said the road widening project of the government has damaged a house and rice fields in sitio Bulo.
Agulin explained that sitio Bulo is directly below the road widening project and soil from the excavation is being dumped below the road.
Tabanganay said that for Bolo folks, the preparation has started as early as March. She said they started with planning the details for the preparations where leaders from other barangay organizations attended.
Tabanganay said they have already cleared and cleaned the program area and even the footpaths leading to sitio Bolo. She added that they have also fixed the water connections to ensure that the water supply for the households will not be affected by the needs of the celebrations.
“The bamboos for the construction of the stage and program area were already gathered and the firewood already chopped,” Tabanganay said.
She said that all 47 houses of Bolo folks will be open to accommodate guests. She added that there are also areas prepared for guests who will be bringing their own tents, which are mostly in the yards of the Bolo folk.
Tabanganay said that on April 10, over 100 volunteers from the 13 other barangays arrived in sitio Bolo for the construction of the stage and program area.
The Balbalan folks are preparing for a maximum of 5,000 guests from all over the country and overseas. Balantoy is mountainous with steep rugged slopes with an estimated 78 hectares of forested area. It has a total population of 1,508. It is a territory of the Salegseg tribe under the strong leadership of their tribal elders.
The people rely largely on agriculture and small scale mining as their livelihood sources.
Tabanganay and Agulin came to Baguio City to invite the public to the Cordillera Day last April 10. # nordis.net