By BENEDICT SOLANG
Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC)
October 19, 2008
It is a privilege to pay tribute to a Church leader who has been a source of sound and consistent support for human rights and for people based community development. For the progressive people’s movement in the CPA – CDPC network, we have special reason for paying tribute to Bishop Abellon.
To start our story, let us look back to the decade of the 70’s and 80’s . This was Martial Rule where armed opposition to the regime intensified and an active anti-Marcos dictatorship movement started to form.
In the Cordillera specifically centered in Bontoc and affecting the provinces of Kalinga, Abra, and Mountain Province; there raged the people’s issues of the Chico dams – Mainit mining – Cellophil, militarization and human rights violations. The Episcopal Diocese of Northern Philippines (EDNP), based in Bontoc, with Bishop Richard Abellon as Diocesan Bishop, responded to the situation. Annual conventions of the diocese would be replete with debates and positioning on issues, and always with resolutions on support to people’s actions. On a day-to-day program, the Social Concerns and Development Office of the diocese worked closely with far-flung mission stations and diocesan committees that dealt on these issues. To the credit of informed clergy and laity, their continuing awareness-building accompanied community people’s actions. During these times, it can be said that the Church, specifically the Episcopal Diocese based in Bontoc indeed witnessed for the people.
Such witness and affirmation of being with the people in their issues was brought further even outside strictly church or institutional confines. For the record and credit of Bishop Abellon, we wish to cite his role in the following NGO and PO initiatives:
1. 1977 – Establishment of Covenant (Cordillera Ventures and Network For Action and Transformation), A Sagada based research, organizing, and advocacy NGO.
2. 1978 – Establishment of Sagada Community Development Center, Inc (SCDCI) with Bishop Abellon as one of Incorporators. SCDCI is now the Montañosa Research and Development Center ( MRDC) that continues to banner the CPA-CDPC network’s sustainable development program.
3. 1979 – Cordillera Development Conference co-sponsored by EDNP, NCCP, SCDCI held at Dapdapanan Tourism Resort, Sagada in coordination with then Gov. Alfredo Lam-en that tackled Chico Dams, Mainit Mines, Cellophil, Militarization and HR violations.
4. 1981 – Establishment of Bontoc based CCJP (Cordillera Council for Justice and Peace), fore-runner of NLHRO.
These NGO and PO structures were timely and functioned as programmed, closing when no longer needed or rendered irrelevant by growth in the people’s movement. But one, MRDC, that celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, has turned out to have strategic role in alternative sustainable development, thus it continues to trail blaze for us in alternative development endeavors (MRDC).
Aside from such structures, Bishop Abellon’s firm and sustained support for human rights and people’s actions is also seen in the following:
1. 1980 – EDNP Staff FFM to Bugnay day after murder of Macliing Dulag to show support for his family and the people of Bugnay. The FFM report broke the story to the world and initiated succeeding series of FFMs, projected the Chico dams issue and the struggle against the Marcos Fascist Dictatorship.
2. Early 80’s – Pasiwen murder in Besao that started barrio/municipal anti militarization rallies and that was also projected in the capital town of Bontoc;
3. Early 80’s – Beew Massacre – remember Josefa Cayandag, pregnant woman burned to death, and the evacuations, where many were accommodated in Bangaan and Sagada Poblacion.
4. On harassment of MRDC Staff – The Bishop would write to concerned military officers protesting the harassment of MRDC staff.
To highlight the Bishop’s grasp of human rights work, allow me to give detail to the first Macliing Dulag FFM:
Mid-morning of April 25, 1980, EDNP staff were at the celebration of the wedding of Maude Macliing and Ruben Aowac, at the house of mother Petra Macliing. There we learned of the killing of Macliing Dulag by the AFP (surchacho) as relayed by telephone ( world war II vintage manual telephone by relay from Tinglayan – to Ampawilen- to Bontoc). The feeling was one of despair, “They really did it”; but also of anger and challenge, “Macliing Dulag cannot die in vain and the struggle must continue”, and concern for the Bugnay and all people along the Chico who were now be terrorized.
In the midst of despair and anger, it was broached that the story must be broadcast because only a people or a world that knows of such human rights abuses will be able to act. The story of the murder and pictures must be taken at Bugnay. This must be done immediately. Two of the Development and Social Concerns staff of EDNP were willing to go. The Bishop was informed for his consent and support; because this involved his staff in a possiblycontroversial issue. But this was a human rights case, and the Bishop had no second thoughts that something indeed had to be done. The Bishop only wanted to be sure that the staff were resolved to go as this was a daunting task. Once this was established, the other technical matters were solved and the fact-finding mission (FFM) was immediately implemented.
A prominent church member who owns the bus line that travels through the area allowed one of her buses to be used. It was surmised that the bus was safer rather than any other kind of vehicle that could easily be targeted by the military. The bus owner knew Macliing Dulag and appreciated his work as government Public Highway Camanero – maintaining the road in the Tinglayan area where her buses pass through.
The FFM composed of two EDNP staff, the bus driver, a lady staff of the bus line who issues tickets, and retired Sgt Akiate, an uncle of the bus owner who was brought along being a retired military. The mission got to the Bugnay, talked to the wife of Dulag and Francis Macliing, Pedro Dongoc who survived the assault, and others in the village. Macliing Dulag was already buried. Pictures were taken of the bullet-riddled door and the grave. The story was immediately relayed to the grassroots peoples movement, and to media, and the rest is history.
The progressive indigenous and national democratic people’s movement in the Cordillera identifies much of its history in Bontoc – the first Cordillera Congress in 1971, launching of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance in Bontoc in 1984, and other activities because Bontoc is centrally located in the Cordillera. Moreover, we assert that a responsive church and its leadership is also a factor why this has been so.
On a personal note, I wish to pay tribute to Bishop Abellon, having served as his staff, and for his role in my personal growth. His openness to ideas, work discipline, simplicity, and high sensitivity to one’s situation are models to be emulated. He leads by example.
As we pay tribute to Bishop Abellon, we also commend his whole family – Mrs Esperanza A. Abellon, and children who are fellow travelers in the continuing quest for a truly just, democratic, and prosperous Cordillera and Philippine society. We have the example of Bishop Abellon in his support for human rights and for people-based community development as one of the stars to guide us. #