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Learnings from Mother Letty


Iconic and charismatic are just some of the words to describe Leticia Bula-at, 70, of Dupag, Tabuk, Kalinga. Mother Letty to many Cordillera activists and Tining to her kin and kailian in the community, she was part of a recent learning exchange on large dams organized by Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) to share lessons learned on dam struggles in the Cordillera with indigenous peoples from the Sierra Madre area (Rizal and Quezon, specifically), who are confronted with various issues related to the construction of large dams.

Mother Letty is among the courageous women of Kalinga who defended their ancestral land from the construction of the Chico Dams in the 1970s. She is a veteran of the Chico struggle. She is not retired from serving her community. She remains an active leader of Innabuyog-Kalinga. More than a participant, Mother Letty was a resource person of her people’s experience during the successful opposition to the World Bank-funded Chico Dams in the 1970s. She is a historian. I think that her presence and active participation during the exchange was very crucial in encouraging the representatives from Apayao, Ifugao and Sierra Madre to improve their current efforts to oppose large dams therein.

She listened to the stories of community leaders affected by the dam applications in Apayao (Ginned, Nabuangan, Pudtol, Calanasan, Cupis), Ifugao (Alimit Dam by SN Aboitiz), Sierra Madre (New Centennial Water Dam Project), Kalinga (14 dam applications in the Chico, Pasil and Saltan Rivers).

She whispered to me later, Aguray ta istoryaek ti inaramid mi idi. Awan a, nu mabuteng da ket matuloy ti dam.

She counseled to each one of them, articulating how the Chico struggle was a concrete expression of defense of ancestral land. She explained what the women did to oppose the Chico Dam—from dismantling the tents of surveyors and throwing these out of the community to disrobing. She was even among those arrested en masse but she got away. Idi nagsardeng ti truck a nangiluganan da kadakami, kunak idiay soldado umisbo ak lang ngem timmarayakon.

She emphasized a defining moment in the opposition when her people took up arms to defend the land and the mighty Chico River. It was a logical step for the warrior societies, after exhausting peaceful means of opposing the Chico Dams against the backdrop of unbridled militarization.

She also underscored the role of indigenous socio political structures in galvanizing the unity and solidarity of her people. A multilateral bodong was forged during the Chico struggle among the Bontok and Kalinga peoples, giving breathe to the Kalinga-Bontok Peace Pact Holders Association (KBPPHA). The KBPPHA is among the pioneering organisations of the CPA.

Many songs were composed during the Chico Struggle, tuned to the salidummay, ugayyam or kullilipan. Some of these songs were sung anew during the learning exchange, thanks to Mother Letty and Joan Ngayaan to teamed up for it inspite of the forgotten stanzas.

She spoke clearly and simply. Her messages always sharp and concise. In a press conference during the exchange, she told the Baguio media present: inaramid mi amin a pamuspusan tapno ipasardeng ti Chico Dam, manipud legal inggana meta-legal.

To me, the core messages she gave were on three points: do not lose hope even when the situation looks impossible, be courageous; and lastly, for the people of the Cordillera to keep striving to unite against odds that destroy our ancestral land and threaten our self-determination.

That’s Mother Letty.

To our katribu from the Sierra Madre who visited and participated in the learning exchange, here’s hoping that you travel back to your ili with renewed strength and courage to keep on. # nordis.net

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