Through community cooperation
Ama Agustin Silot, nearly in his 70s, is the chairperson of the Aam-a ya Iin-a ay Manakem ad Abra, Mountain Province and upland Ilocos Sur (Am-in, or literally, recognized elderly men and women in Abra, Mountain Province and Ilocos Sur). In their community in Barangay Lamag, Quirino, Ilocos Sur, their indigenous practices are still intact. Leadership is still collectively led by the amam-a or elders through the dap-ay, an indigenous socio-political institution (ISPS).
Lamag can be reached through a seven-hour bus travel through the Halsema-Mankayan-Cervantes road. Lamag is also reached crossing the Abra River and trekking its mountain ranges that link with Tubo, in Abra and Besao, in Mountain Province.
Ub-ubbo or community cooperative is also being practiced during agricultural activities, during social occasions like death, marriage and sickness. In these social activities, the umili (villagers) contribute cash or goods or collectively render labor in any of the chores. But this is the common concept of ub-ubbo.
“Ub-ubbo has another concept. You unite with the other communities in opposing “development projects” to stop the threats on the destruction of our ancestral land,” claimed Ama Silot in Ilocano in one of my visits to Lamag.
He narrated that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Cellophil Resources Company of former Marcos crony Herminio Dissini had logging concessions that covered hectares of land in upland Abra and Mountain Province, including some part of their ancestral forests in Lamag.
The people knew of the CRC project among affected villages particularly those in Besao where most of their ancestors came. The elders through their agreement in their dap-ay had meetings with their counterparts in Besao and Tubo They talked on how to defend their lands. And their dap-ay had been effective in uniting their communities to defend their land at whatever cost like what their ancestors did in the past against encroachments in their ancestral territory. This agreement is part of their ub-ubbo or inter-cooperative unity to defend their land.
Ama Silot claimed that the elders agreed to defend their forests as these are the sources of their needs and food supplements. They hunt wild animals during non-agricultural periods; they get materials for their community needs like lumbers; and most of all, their forests serve as their watershed particularly in lower areas like Lamag, considered to be a rice granary in that area.
“Even our rivers have various species for our food needs,” he added as he explained that their rivers have its waters sources in Besao are still very fresh where fish species like eels are very abundant. The Abra River which passes to their area down the China Sea is considered polluted due to alleged mine wastes by giant Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company upstream in Mankayan, Benguet.
I found out that the water of the Balas-iyan River comes from villages in Besao like Agawa, Ambagiw, Dandanac, and Banguitan; and Buasao lake between Besao and Sagada. These villages had indigenous system maintaining their forests called batangan or saguday. If the forests are denuded due to logging, they believe that it will affect the water source both in the upper and lower areas, Ama Silot added.
Defending land, resources
Ama Silot told stories where villagers were gathered to discuss their issues. I found out that their ancestors had defended their lands even with their indigenous arms: balbeg (spear) and bolos and other tricks using the terrain.
People of Lamag have always stood against the CRC, as Silot remembered that in community meetings where the villagers readied themselves to do what their ancestors did in defense of the ancestral domain. He reiterated that this is a concept of ub-ubbo for the communities to collectively defend their land and resources.
Presently, their boundaries with Mountain Province and Abra are targeted by both local and foreign corporations for mining. It is among the 70 percent of the Cordilleras land area where mine applications are either approved or pending. He believes mining is their newest problem that they need to face after the CRC.
“But to our advantage, we can revived our ub-ubbo to defend our land and resources,” he ended, as Am-in members had been active in its anti-mining campaign. # Arthur L. Allad-iw for NORDIS