Tanglag stories of courage: Seeds of hope (1/2)

By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
www.nordis.net

FIRST OF TWO PARTS

Abused, tortured, discriminated, divided but never broken. Their collective strength was tempered by the never ending turmoil since Martial Law. Their political resolve grows sharper through time.

Hidden in the lush forest that connects Lubuagan and Tanudan, and lulled by the rhythmic sound of the mighty Chico River, here dwells a story that can move mountains. It is a story of collective courage which draws its building blocks from its women, men, youth and elders with steely resolve in asserting human rights and self-determination.

Unflinching position against military occupation

On September 2016, soldiers from the 50th Infantry Battalion (IB) encamped in Tanglag despite the protests of the tribe. All sectors especially women openly displayed their disgust against the troopers. Some of the male members of the tribe even went out of the community to avoid getting physical against the troopers.

On the other hand, the soldiers would always display their ire towards the villagers who are treating them like some kind of a disease. The soldiers’ lack of understanding on the tribe’s deep resentment against the Philippine Army (PA) drives them to dismiss it simply as a leftist’ influence. The 50th IB on September 2016 insisted on camping inside the village saying that they have to neutralize the area from being a New Peoples Army (NPA) stronghold. They kept persecuting their community organization and their leaders as members and supporters of NPA. The determination however of the community to push them out of their territory bore fruit on October 1, 2016 when the soldiers finally left the village.

I-Tanglag confronted them through a community meeting and dialogue. When the 50th IB brushed off their demand, they formulated a petition for military pull-out and submitted it to the military headquarters and to the local government unit. Women leaders brought the issue to the local media. Women, men, youth, and elders including the barangay officials boycotted a military-organized community activity on September 30, 2016.

But why is the hatred against the soldiers? It is not just a hatred “sown by the leftists” as the military accuse. It is a hatred that is not pointed against specific army officials but to the whole military system.

Maricris Banawag, one of the women leaders in Tanglag said that their parents’ experience of brutality from the Philippine army can be traced back during the Martial Law. She narrated that their parents were living peacefully before Martial Law was declared. They may have experience inggi (famine) several times but with their self-help mechanisms and their strong community solidarity, they were able to surpass the hardships.

What it meant by peaceful coexistence

With their bare hands, they cultivated rice field expansions for more rice produce. They endured parting time from their families to be able to earn in town centers to augment their rice and vegetable produce. They were self-sufficient.

Tanglag elders recalled how they hosted the Catholic priests and nuns from the town center of Lubuagan during the World War II. When the center of Lubuagan was bombed in 1943, people fled towards Tanglag for refuge. I-Tanglag welcomed and fed them with what they had. Despite the famine, they brought out the food they stored so everybody can eat until the bombing cease.

When Martial Law was declared, the community arms and ammunition that were supposed to be used for the protection of the tribe were surrendered. Soldiers from the Philippine Constabulary ransacked their homes, stole their belongings including their livestock.

It was also in 1972 that the Lahmeyer International came to Tanglag to conduct a feasibility study for a huge dam project to be funded by the International Monetary Fund-World Bank (IMF-WB).

The legendary Chico River

While the other Kalinga and Bontoc tribes were raising concern on the issue of the hydroelectric dams to be constructed along the Chico River, Tanglag tribe was never silent. In their own terms, they questioned the project. They registered their opposition through delegations, and forging solidarity among neighboring tribes. The prospectors came again in 1973 and offered the men temporary jobs. Some tried the job as guides to the surveyors but they backed out later because they felt that they were betraying their own kin.

In 1974, as the opposition gained significant popularity, the National Power Corporation (NPC) came to Tanglag bringing with them the company size soldiers from the 114th PCBN. They served as security force for the NPC. The Tanglag tribe still remember that the soldiers were under the command of Colonel Petras.

The tribe did not falter in their opposition. They have a Church organization called the Holy Family Organization (HFO) which was formed in the 1950s but it became inactive in the process. The villagers decided to reactivate the organization as one of their channels in strengthening their struggle against the gigantic energy project.

In 1975, Tanglag hosted the formation of the Kalinga Bodong Federation (KBF). It was one of the breakthroughs in the usual bilateral peace pacts among the Kalinga and Bontoc tribes. In order to take their struggle to another level, the tribes including Tanglag saw the importance of inter-tribal unity. They believed that inter-tribal unity will lead to a wider scale of actions which will shake the duty bearers and heed their calls.

The stronger opposition called the attention of the public but the response from the government was fascism and deception. The use of the Philippine Constabulary as security guards of the NPC was a nightmare among the I-Tanglag. Military occupation began. The elders, youth, women and children were tortured as the community was in hamlet.

However, the tribe who had been living in difficult situation due to historical government neglect was not easily subdued. #

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