By NORIN GONZALES
BAGUIO CITY — It is not so often that a person lives a full life. An extraordinary case will be Benedict Pecdasen Solang whose 70 years of living is filled with experiences and achievements, not for himself, but for the advancement of a cause he truly believed in.
BS, as he is fondly called in the movement, served as a father, grandfather, brother, uncle, not only to his family, but to tens of thousands more in the movement for national democracy and self-determination.
The afternoon of January 30 was saved for a tribute program for BS, who up until his last breath, was busy defending the Cordillera people’s movement. He succumbed to a heart attack while in a book launching in Manila.
Songs and speeches filled the room as friends, family and comrades celebrate d BS’s life which his wife Beth touted as a “victory.”
The program was opened by Windel Bolinget, chairperson of the Cordillera People’s Alliance who gave a bayao recounting the many good things BS had done through his lifetime. He called him “a great father.”
“You judge a man not by how he died, but by how he lived,” he followed through.
BS’s siblings, Sylvia and Romualdo shared on his life as a young boy up until his political awakening.
Annie Tauli told the audience about BS’s experiences during the First Quarter Storm when BS was already a professional who had been reached by the raging political atmosphere of the era. BS studied Anthropology in the University of the Philippines Diliman, having previously studied in the Los Baños and Baguio campuses of UP. Annie says that is “where it all started” for them.
Annie would remember the countless demonstrations, worker-peasant integrations and study sessions she and BS had shared, in and out of school, even in churches where they expanded their work of organizing and mobilizing.
Together with other like-minded activists, they had founded the Kilusang Kabataan ng Kabundukan which aimed to unite Igorot youth for national liberation and democracy. They often met at the house of historian William Henry Scott.
The Manila-based Igorot youth would later meet the Highland Activists in Baguio, and they will form the Kilusang Kabataan ng Kordilyera, aiming to awaken the identity of Igorots as national minorities and connect national oppression with the three basic problems of Philippine society – imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism.
They would soon after hold the Cordillera Congress for National Liberation in a high school in Mountain Province, in which BS played a big role in the preparations.
In September 1972, Martial Law was declared. BS finished his studies and work, and went back to the Cordillera. He served as an environmental planner in the City Hall of Baguio City. He would then relocate to Bontoc to assist in the rising protests against the Chico Dam project.
BS was also busy with helping in the Macliing Dulag memorial and the bodong conferences against the Chico Dam project and Cellophil Resources Corp.
In 1973, he was arrested in Bontoc but was released a month after with no charges. BS said: “I have no shame of being arrested, as I did not commit any crime.”
Efforts in people’s struggles against imperialist, destructive projects led to the establishment of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), to which BS, up until his passing, served as an Advisory Council member.
BS helped set up people-oriented non-government organizations (NGOs) like Cordillera Disaster Response and Development Service (CorDis RDS), Montañosa Research and Development Center (MRDC), Regional Development Center – Katinnulong Dagiti Umili ti Amianan (RDC-KADUAMI) and Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC). He masterfully maximized these avenues without forgetting the core of it all – the people’s mass movement. He once said, “an NGO does not only give services, but is at the forefront of changing society.” He was remembered as “persistent and hardworking.”
He also helped set up the resumption of the Northern Dispatch (NorDis) as a weekly newspaper. He was a member of, and was recently chosen to chair, the board of the Northern Media and Information Network, which publishes NorDis.
BS also became a people’s scholar, examining issues surrounding national minorities, the environment and other matters concerning society. He sharply correlated these with bigger problems surrounding the society, never once divorcing the general and the particular.
He wrote “The Marginalized Economy in the Cordillera Interior,” from which activists all over the region draw up lessons in daily organizing work. He also wrote on indigenous values like discipline, service, common good and collective action which he linked to activist values. He is both an indigenous and Marxist historian.
Several of his papers he compiled in “Dap-ay Discourse Uno,” a book which colleagues say “he is proud of.” From writing, to the pictures, to editing up until publishing and distribution, not a detail escaped his keen eye.
What is most important, probably, for BS though is for us to unite and fight the true enemies. That is why every action he took in his fruitful life, he made to build unities. After all, it was his skill to “find points of convergence” and “getting to the essential point” according to Jun Verzola.
The Progressive Igorots for Social Action (PIGSA), an organization inspired by KKK which BS helped form, vowed to continue the fight and advance the people’s struggle as “the grandest tribute.”
Ben Longid, a friend and longtime comrade in the struggle, said in a message that BS was “not born of the kadangyan” so he truly knew how to be one with the ordinary people. He always advocated “living simply and essentially,” a trait we can trace to both his backgrounds as national minority and a national democratic activist.
Long live the memory of Benedict Solang, a true hero of the people! May we live simple and truly relevant lives like him. # nordis.net