Petra, as a given name, is the feminine form of Peter, which is derived from the Greek word, petros meaning, “stone or rock”. A fitting name for Mother Petra Macliing, who really is like the stone terraces adorning our mountains standing tall with her courage and determination to defend the land that nourishes life – our life.
She is also like a rock providing a solid foundation and stable source of inspiration not only for her 8 children but for all the children of the Cordillera. And for that, she is embraced by all of us. She has become the mother of us all – nurturing and life-sustaining.
Mother Petra hails from the humble community of Mainit, Bontoc, Mountain Province. Her husband died after the birth of her last child. And so, Mother Petra raised her family on her own – supporting them by farming, raising pigs, and keeping a sari-sari store. Being a single parent and the hard life in the ili did not hinder her activism for indigenous peoples rights to self-determination and ancestral land. This only made her more resolute in pursuing a better future for all of us and strengthened her role as a mother.
In the 70s and through the 80s, Benguet Corporation Incorporated (BCI) forced its way into Mainit for mineral exploration. This was opposed by the Mainit people because of the destruction that it would cause the environment and to the livelihood of the people. Mother Petra was quoted saying, “There is gold in our mountains but that does not nurture us – the rice fields, swidden lots and hunting grounds do. Our forefathers have said it before and I will also say now: of what use and good would gold be to us when it means destroying our rice fields? What good will it be to us to have glittering gold to adorn our bodies if there is no food and our stomachs will be eternally famished?”
She and other women from their community took the lead in confronting mining engineers who wanted to survey their ili. In 1975, they went on hunger strike to show their opposition to the entry of corporate mining in their territory. Also, as President of the Mainit Irrigation Association (MIA), Mother Petra led an irrigation project that would improve and expand rice farming and in turn strengthen the ili’s opposition against BCI’s mineral exploration echoing the organization’s call, “Rice not gold. You do not eat gold.”
Then in 1980, even with the country at the grips of Martial Law, Mother Petra again united the Mainit women to take the lead in confronting BCI which was hell bent in exploiting the gold under the community’s rice terraces. At that time, there was heavy military deployment in Mountain Province. Mother Petra was marked as a supporter of the New Peoples Army and was branded a communist by the military and the government because among the opposition against the Mainit mines, her voice was the loudest. However, she was not cowed and her courage and determination became a shining light during those dark times.
Along with other Mainit women, she initiated dialogues with BCI engineers. However, these proved ineffective since BCI was still able to continue its exploration in Mainit and was able to set-up a camp in the community. To avert any violence that would have resulted from Mainit men wanting to physically assault the BCI camp, Mother Petra led the women in looking for other ways to drive away BCI for good.
With the men not far behind, she and the women, arms linked together went to the BCI camp and demanded the engineers to leave their land. Drawing strength from their collective anger and rage against the repeated violation of their rights as indigenous peoples, they burnt the campsite and threw BCI’s equipment into the river. Some even took the equipment that they could carry and brought it to BCI’s office at Poblacion, Bontoc so that the company will have no reason to go back into their mountains.
Some of the older women stripped their clothes and exposed their breasts to curse, shame and drive away the engineers. This form of protest is derived from the culture of Bontocs where it is taboo for men to see their mothers and grandmothers – those where they came from, unclothed lest, they will suffer an endless occurrence of bad luck. Also, the women, in their determination to drive away BCI forever, squeezed the testicles of the resisting engineers and chased them away. And so, BCI left Mainit never to return.
At the time that Mother Petra and her community were confronting BCI, the struggle against the construction of the Chico Dams and against the logging activities of Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC) was raging in the region. Villages along the Chico River, from Bontoc to Kalinga opposed the construction of the Chico Dams for these will submerge their rice terraces and their homes – their source of livelihood and identity as indigenous peoples. Moreover, the umili of Abra resisted the logging activities of CRC since its continuation would mean the complete denuding of their forests.
Mother Petra and her community actively participated in these struggles. Through her, Mainit women forged solidarity with the women of Kalinga and Abra. They conducted sharing of experiences, especially among the women of the Butbut Tribe and the women of Bugnay. In mass mobilizations in Mountain Province, they would speak and relate their struggle against BCI to the anti-CRC struggle in Abra. There were also several times when Mother Petra would troop to Manila, along with other leaders and elders of the region to speak about what is happening in the Cordillera. Mother Petra’s voice, along with other Bontoc, Kalinga and Abra leaders rang loud and true until finally, the construction of the Chico Dams were put on hold and the logging activities of CRC was stopped.
Mother Petra has been one of the exemplary women that became the inspiration in advancing the women’s movement in the Cordillera. She was one of those who took part in the regional women’s conference which was held in March 8, 1987 which gave the mandate in the establishment of CWERC (Cordillera Women’s Education and Resource Center, now CWEARC) that was to assist the various efforts of women in developing the center of the women’s movement in the region. The hard work took fruit when Innabuyog was formed in March 1990, where Mother Petra was one of its pillars. She was also actively involved in the setting up of the local chapter in Mountain Province, Binnadang in 1999.
Mother Petra’s role and contribution to the Cordillera peoples fight for land, life and honor is recognized, not only by the communities in the region but by the international community as well. In 2009, she was one of the awardees of the Women’s World Summit Foundation’s (WSSF) Laureate Prize for Rural Women in honor of her creativity and courage in contributing in the improvement of the quality of life in rural communities, for protecting the environment, transmitting knowledge and standing up for human rights and peace. She is also one of the six Filipino women who was awarded by the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition during the 5th International Day of Rural Women in 2012 for advancing indigenous peoples rights, promoting civil rights, combating violence against women, and for seeking better treatment of the rural poor, political prisoners, farmers and children.
Indeed, Mother Petra’s story echoes that of honor, creativity and women power. # nordis.net