By MARIANNE LORENZO
I joined the contingent of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA’s) Regional Council to Bagtangan, Gambang, Bakun last October 15 to support the community’s opposition to the exploration of Royalco Mining Company. It was an inspiring day to learn about the people’s struggles against destructive mining.
There were the powerful speeches and cultural presentations, the unending tallak and takik, the sharing of wat-wat and original song compositions among others.
Many students, from Grades 1 to 6 of the host elementary school offered their presentations reflecting their situation. Their songs were written amid the threat of destruction brought about by the exploration and possible and actual operation of Royalco.
In the sharing of insights and experiences by the Itogon contingent, an Ibaloi speaker said she was an elementary pupil when she got involved in the movement against destructive mining. From there on, she gave her wholehearted commitment to support the community struggle in any way possible as she challenged the people in Gambang to draw lessons from their own experiences in Itogon.
She was in Grade 2 when the barricade in Keystone, Ucab started against the open-pit mining operation of Benguet Corporation (BC). One day, she went to the barricade with her cousins, joining her parents who were then consistently fighting the open-pit mining operations. When they came to the site, women were already prepared to block a bulldozer. She and her cousins, despite their fragile young bodies, joined the women in the front line.
When the bulldozer continued to advance, she and her cousins decided to lie in front of the machine’s tracked-wheels thus immobilizing it. They did not leave their position until the police came, grabbed and dragged them towards the police station. Hundreds of them, women and children, were detained at the station until the police realized they could not feed them. They were subsequently released.
Their detention did not stop the people’s opposition. Despite the many sacrifices, they were able to sustain the barricade for nine months. This Grade 2 pupil and many other children in the community comprised the Anti-Open Pit Mining Kids (AOPM Kids) who came up with their own speeches and cultural presentations in many a barangay-hopping they did then. Due to sustained actions of the community and support from various organizations and sectors, BC stopped mining Ucab and eventually closed its open-pit operations in Loacan.
Today, the once Grade 2 pupil is already a 26-year-old mother and full- time community organizer. Her community in Itogon was devastated by more than 100 years of operation by BC and other companies. They lack water, their land plundered and their resources depleted. If they did not oppose these when she was little, what more devastation on their land could have happened?
True, the people’s struggles persist through generations. What she fought for when she was in Grade 2 are the same issues confronting many indigenous peoples’ communities today. She may not be too young now, but she keeps the spirit of resistance alive. She did not only grow in years, but also into the people’s movement.
Who could have imagined that the act of a Grade 2 pupil would help change the future of a community? As the saying goes “age does not matter.” #