By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
“Money, gold and silver will be consumed very fast, so will our life, but not the forest, the mountains and our water sources that sustain our ricefields. As long as they remain nurtured and protected they shall continue to sustain the generations that shall come after us – our children, grandchildren and great grand children and so forth, forever,” an excerpt translated from the Ilocano speech of one who had drawn life sustenance, nurtured the faith and trust of his congregation for fifty years in Baay-Licuan.
The elders and officialdom of Baay-Licuan in the province Abra are worried that the entry of a big commercial mining company into their mountains would destroy their community, their homes, their livelihood…and, the continuity of their story as a distinct people.
“We have known all our life that there is gold here and we did not arrogantly extract it as diligently as we take care of our farms and pastures. It is a well-known resource among our people,” said one of the barangay officers.
“The particular land area where the mining company went to extract rock samples is owned by somebody from here but has left for a long time now and no longer lives here. We heard he was recently caught in a financial bind and had to mortgage the land to somebody who has brought in the mining company.” This I gathered from a villager.
While, Fr. Felipe Flores, the town’s old priest and elder warns his people that life has no worth if this natural resource that has sustained the people for centuries is destroyed by one generation just to make them materially richer. The trees and plants will be destroyed and the mountains dug away, the water sources will disappear. The rice fields and farms will be abandoned and what will people eat?
He said, he has stood up against the rampant logging of the mountains in the 60’s and then against the Cellophil Resource Corporation’s indiscriminate logging in the 70’s, where hundreds of logs got lost in one strong typhoon, and were wasted to the river and never recovered. Fighting the forces of oppression is not easy especially when one is alone. It is very important to unite with others to be able to assert our rights, he expounded.
Like what large scale mining did to the Ibaloys of Baguio, the communities of Baay-Licuan can be victims of development instead of recipients. Ibaloys of Baguio soon as the white colonizers entered their territories suddenly lost hundreds and hundreds of hectarage of their pasturelands, mines and rice farms. Today, they may be found in the fringes of their former domains – still uncompensated and discriminated by the law as perpetuated by the present government representation. Not only did they lose these resources by the sweet talk of the new economic forces, the laws that the government passed against them (and also against other indigenous communities), and misrepresentations government officials have made.
Baguio has lost its water sources as it has lost its green cover. The native peoples had to look for employment as a sole source of livelihood, where they used to be their own employers in their pastures, farms and small-scale mines. The city was not built for them but it was built to be sold piece by piece for profit and accommodate, the tourists, the mining company workers, commercial conglomerates for a growing market from neighboring towns. They were not consulted nor given a chance to be part of the development their leaders or baknangs were co-opted.
Baay-Licuan people must be one, their friends will be one with them to defend their forest, their mountains, their rivers. Like the Abra people did against CRC and like the Filipinos, the Cordillerans and their friends all over the world did against the Chico River Dam project… but first, Baay-Licuan folk must decide and be united. Surely the generations that shall follow will glitter much, much more than gold. #