(Introducing the column and the author, Abigail Bengwayan – Anongos, a graduate of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, College of Human Technology where she majored in Social Technology, an Ibaloy indigenous people’s rights advocate, human rights defender, the mother of Chadlos who commits, “I will endeavor to write on a broad spectrum of issues, events, people, places and draw something out of these to leave something to think about for the readers of the Northern Dispatch Weekly,” which she once edited. Ed.)
Lakay Amoy, 70
I found myself midweek in the USA. Finally, natunton ko ang Ud-udiao, Sallapan, Abra (USA). It was to pay our last respects to Villamor Pati or Lakay Amoy as he is more popularly known: elder-activist and chair of Kakailian Salakniban Tay Amin a Nagtaudan (KASTAN), the CPA chapter in Abra. Isuna metlang ket mannalon ken panglakayen. In the activist tradition of pulong parangal, I learned more about him from the different testimonies of kin, colleagues, friends and family. Also, it was yet another reckoning of the realities of choosing a life of service to the people.
He was detained for 6 months during martial law, at the height of the Cellophile struggle in Abra. The Cellophil logging concession dispossessed indigenous peasants of their lands in Abra and then Kalinga-Apayao and wrought massive environmental destruction. The Cellophil was successfully put to a stop through an organised people’s resistance over a period of years. It was not only a struggle against Cellophil—it was, by and far, a clear example of self-determination of indigenous peoples resisting national oppression, fascism and imperialism. Lakay Amoy was part of this. It was the start of his activist awakening. (For interested readers, the entirety of the Cellophil chronicle can be browsed in the site of Northern Dispatch Weekly and CPA. Much thanks, Jun–Pio Verzola Jr., for putting this chapter of Cordillera history into writing. It is indeed a shining record of indigenous peoples’ resistance.)
Even before he was KASTAN chair (which he accepted in 2008 up to the time of his demise), he was already an active member. He helped found KASTAN affiliate Salakniban Pita Takay (SAPIT) in September 1998, the organisation of indigenous peasants in upland Sallapadan. He was also among the pioneers of the Abra Human Rights Alliance (AHRA) in 1994. In the context of Abra province, it is not easy to be KASTAN chair. Nor is it any easier to be a human rights defender. Lakay Amoy also experienced vilification.
I learned that Lakay Amoy did not have brothers or sisters, nag-iisang anak kumbaga. But I also learned that he and Mother Cion were blessed with 8 children, and blessed more with 28 grandchildren. Sabi ko nga, bawing-bawi. To them he is ummang (father) that they salute and admire, ta intakder na ti pamilya. At the same time, they understood that his work was wider than family concerns, for the people. Matet Bassia recounted that Lakay Amoy was active in initiating the participation of SAPIT in the community programs of the Center for Development Programs (CDPC) in Ud-udiao. He helped implement and monitor. He provided direction and gave recommendations for the programs so that these were attuned to the needs of his community. Daisy Bagni, part of the cultural caravan in 2000 to prepare Cordillera Day that year in Sallapadan, recounted that Lakay Amoy was tireless and diligent in inviting communities to Cordillera Day and why the people should support Cordillera Day.
Then, adda met ti pada na nga lakay nga a nagsao idi parangal. Gerald Chupchupen met Lakay Amoy in Lepanto during the workers’ strike in 2003 and 2005. Gerald was among the miners on strike, while Lakay Amoy was among the communities downstream of the Abra River in solidarity with the workers because they were also affected by the pollution of Lepanto.
The last time I saw Lakay Amoy in his best—alive and kicking some may say—was in 2016 during the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Hustisya. He was part of the Abra delegation. Maybe that was also his final uggayam, which he rendered at the Sandugo Founding Assembly in UP Diliman. Mother Tallay gave one of her best kullilipan.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I did not have the chance to work very closely with Villamor Pati. Still, salute to Lakay Amoy. Salute to his family as well, for allowing Lakay Amoy to serve his community and beyond.
Mother Tallay laments in her testimony nga awanen ti ka-buddy na. Comrade in struggle. Perhaps this is a time for reckoning. For Lakay Amoy’s 8 children and community, and maybe later his 28 grandchildren. Who knows.
What can be drawn from his life of service is his diligence and perseverance inspite of the many challenges and realities in Abra, if you are an activist or human rights defender. As Ferdie Balao-as discussed in his tribute to Lakay Amoy, narigat ti agtignay, ti agserbi ti umili. But knowing that it is for the greater good, I believe there is always reason for hope that some if not many will step up and step into the post that Lakay Amoy has left behind. So rest in power Lakay Amoy, safe travels to our ancestors in the skies.
Last week I was loaned the column space of Kathleen Okubo for the piece Stand with Human Rights Defenders. Thank you very much, auntie. Back to the human rights defenders in the DOJ terror list— much thanks and gratitude to the Provincial Council of Mountain Province, the Episcopal Church of the Philippines and the people of Ifugao for standing with human rights defenders in the Cordillera. # nordis.net