By ABIGAIL ANONGOS
I would like to remember how they responded to change the balance, if not the world. I would say they were among the best sons and daughters of the Cordillera who knew from where they could wage a meaningful fight for social justice not only for their people. They practiced self-determination and understood why militarization must be opposed, much more imperialism that crept into their ancestral lands and their very lives. This is why the Chico River flows freely to date. This is something that ever Igorot youth must be told—who the true heroes of the Cordillera are, loyal and steadfast to the end. This week let me impart what little I have written on Mother Cordillera, Petra Macliing.
Mother Petra Macliing was larger than life. It was my dream come true to interview her, really. If not for Benedict Solang, it would not have happened. It was one October evening in 2006 (she said she was 75 then) at the Macliing-Solang residence that Audrey Beltran sat down with her, with Audrey taking videos of the interview. This week I am sharing excerpts, originally published in CPA’s Hapit (The Courage and Leadership of Petra Macliing):
Tell us of how you got involved in the Cordillera peoples’ struggle, from your home village (ili) of Mainit, Bontoc, Mt. Province.
Mother Petra: It was in 1975 when the BCI forced its way into Mainit for mineral exploration. It was also at this time that the Mainit people’s struggle took shape. At this time, we heard of the organizing efforts of the Tomiangan people in Kalinga (against the Chico dams of the World Bank). But even before these instances, our elders (fathers and mothers) would tell us never to allow outsiders to plunder our land and our resources. There is gold in our mountains but that does not nurture us – the ricefields, swidden lots and hunting rounds do.
Most Mainit people (then and now) oppose the entry of big commercial mining corporations; except few many from the educated and those who derive some personal gain from mining companies. In the 1970’s, women took the lead. They were united as indigenous women opposed to the mines. They also organized the Mainit Irrigators Association with support from then Mountain Province National Irrigation Authority. They embarked on an ambitious irrigation project to improve and expand rice farming and thus strengthen opposition to the mines – rice fields instead of gold mines.
There were some 200 of us women and men from Mainit who confronted the BCI prospectors. The men immediately wanted to physically assault the BCI camp. This would have been violent. And this is one reason why the women took the lead, with the men not far behind. We weren’t armed, yes, but as women and mothers we had other means, we had our means. Arms linked, we told the prospectors to leave us and our land. We were only women, yes, but our anger and rage at that moment gave us strength we did not think we had.
We burned the campsite and threw their equipment downstream. The second time, we took with us the equipment we could carry and brought it to their office at Bontoc Poblacion so that they would leave our mountains forever. Disrobing by older indigenous women to curse, shame, and drive away enemies was also exercised by Mainit women in their opposition to the mines.
Your struggle in Mainit took place at the same time as anti Cellophil Resources Corporation (in Abra province) and anti- Chico dam struggles. How did you relate?
Mother Petra: We forged solidarity with the women of Kalinga. We spoke in mass mobilizations here in Mt. Province where we would relate the Mainit mining issue with the anti-CRC in Mountain Province and in Abra. And in Kalinga we shared experiences in our struggle, especially with the Butbut tribe and the women of Bugnay. Several times, to let the country know of the struggles in the Cordillera, we even trooped to Manila. It was very tiring for us, especially the older women, yes; but it was worth it. It was worth it. (Mother Petra was then in her 40s, towering and strong)
The 1970s was also a time when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. How it was then, at that the time of the Chico struggle?
Mother Petra: Martial law was evident with the heavy military deployment, both in Mt. Province and in Kalinga, especially in Bugnay. I was a marked individual, of course, having been responsible for the organizing work in my ili. I could not even attend to my sari-sari store in Bontoc because we had so many meetings — held in secret, of course. The mining companies and the military and government who favor mining companies have agents. And they called us communists.
The Chico and Mainit struggles were events manifesting the Cordillera indigenous peoples’ defense of land, life and resources. At present, over 60% of Cordillera land is covered by mining applications. What can you say about this?
Mother Petra: 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?
In the face of these challenges, what would you tell today’s youth?
Mother Petra: Of course, I can see that today’s youth are doing what they can to participate in these struggles. I can see that. I have 26 grandchildren now (in 2006) and I told them of the stories of Mainit and Chico. The youth should be challenged. They should be told the wisdom of our forefathers and be open to new ideas – of organizing, militance, and struggle.
Organizing should continue among the communities in the Cordillera. At my age, I still have so many ideas to share that is why I still contribute to this cause. In the region, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance has worked significantly to wield unity among tribes and all peoples.
If not for our efforts to organize ourselves in the 1970s and act on our issues, I tell you, we would be dead by now, dead without our lands and our resources. That is why communities should persevere to organize and stay perpetually organized – always learning and continuously building strength. So that we can protect our lands—our lives – our gift from God.
The month of May, bizarre as it may seem, was a month of harvest. One after the other, pioneers of people’s struggles in the Cordillera passed on to the skyworld. We bid farewell to Petra Macliing, Catalina Bonggaoen (Tanglag, Kalinga), Patricia Canite (Itogon, Benguet). Where you are now is probably a reunion with Padi Eduardo Solang, Villamor Pati and Benedict Solang. There should be a sequel to Cordillera Heroes, published by the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP). Fellow parents, may I recommend this book to you for our children to learn more about the heroes of the Cordillera. I think there is one subject in grade school that such homework is given, like one time when inaanak Olive in Bontoc called about it (kunak a nga ni Macliing Dulag ken ni Rafael Markus Bangit, and cited who they are and what they did).
Finally, we bid farewell to John Anthony Marasigan, artist and musician of the people’s movement—Igan to many and Tonton to his family. Changing the balance takes many forms—Igan sang, acted and played his guitar.# nordis.net