By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
BAGUIO CITY — March 1-5 was declared in 1993 as the Kaigorotan Youth Week (KYW) by then Sangguniang Kabatan Federation president Florence Ibarra in recognition of the valiant Igorot youth in the early 80′s who bravely faced police brutallity while expressing their strong opossition to development aggressions and cultural prostitution.
Geraldine Cacho, one of the Igorot students in the 80′s recounted the reason for the March 5 march rally that resulted to a violent police dispersal. She said, 1980′s was the peak of the oppossition to the Chico river dams project along the Chico river in Bontoc and Kalinga, the massive logging by the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC) in Abra and the prostitution of culture in the city through Grand Cañao and Highland Festivals.
Cacho added that it was also the height of a regional education campaign among Igorot students on the above issues. “It was the time when the consciousness of national minority youths in the city was raised,” she iterated.
“It was also the height of activism at that time,” she said. She explained that early 1980′s was still Martial Law therefore state harassment was experienced everywhere and Cordillera was no exemption. The experience in the region, she said, was aggravated by national oppression.
National oppression she said was evident in the program of national development projects imposed in the region at the expense of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs).
“It was evident in the Chico dam and CRC projects,” she added. Constructing the Chico dam according to Cacho will cause the displacement of Bontoks and Kalingas villages along the riverside. These people she said will be taken away from the land that sustained them from time immemorial. The land that gave them life.
The massive logging operations of the CRC in Abra has depleted the water sources of the Tinggians.
In the city, she pointed out that exploitation of the Cordilleran culture for government profit was evident in the Grand Cañao which was later changed into Highland Festivals.
“They are showcasing rituals and butchering a number of livestock in the city for tourism purposes,” she exclaimed. She described that certain festivals as prostituting the Cordilleran culture.
She said, the question raised was, “…anya ti ikan-Cañawan tayo?” (…what are we celebrating for?). During this time, she said, there were Igorots being forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands, struggles of defense among fellow IPs were breaking out all over. This prevailing situation, she said was no reason to celebrate and hold a Cañao.
Rituals being showcased in the Highland Festivals she added are supposed to be done for the right reason, at the right time, and in the right place, otherwise the sanctity of the practice is breached.
Schools unite on March 5
Cacho recounted that students from the University of the Philippines College in Baguio (UPCB) started to march the streets on March 5, 1984. They passed by the University of the Cordilleras, the former Baguio Colleges Foundation (BCF), for the waiting students, then went down Session Road, up Assumption Road for the University of Baguio (UB) students.
They continued through General Luna to the Saint Louis University (SLU) main gate for the last group of students. The student movement then marched for the Plaza when at Magsaysay Avenue, they were met at the city public market by truncheon bearing policemen violently dispersing the march.
“It was our first time and a baptism by fire to grave police brutallity in the city,” she said.
She recalled that police cars were all over surrounding them. Drivers of public utility jeepneys to Aurora Hill even helped the police chase the students.
She narrated that the pasiking (woven rattan backpack) was identified with student activists that time thus she said, during the dispersal the policemen and Aurora Hill drivers were chasing everyone with a pasiking (backpack).
She remembered seeing one of her companions being carried by one of the policemen and dropped into a basket of tomatoes. “When she stood up, tomato juice was all over her.”
She also saw one of their male companions collared by the police, punched the cop and blindly ran away as fast as he could. Even the photographers she said were being chased.
On the other hand, the market vendors were helping them escape the cops by hiding them at their stalls, pretending that they (the students) were their customers and even yelling at the cops that the students were not committing any crime or doing anything wrong.
“I saw rage in Baguio that day,” she said. The rage of Igorot and non-Igorot students and the rage of the Baguio community because of the brutallity displayed by the cops.
Challenge to Igorot youths of today
In the forthcoming KYW this March, Cacho challenges the Igorot youth to revitalize the consciousness of the youth on national oppresion issues. The issues of the region then, she said, are the same issues threatening the region now.
She said this with reference to several development projects being negotiated today, like large scale mining, geothermal power source, corporate farms and others. “In fact it is even worse today,” she added.
This year’s KYW is organized by several youth organizations and will start on 1st day of March. Simultaneous activities in each school will be initiated by various IP organizations to build up to a citywide joint culminating activity on the 13th day of March. # nordis.net