On Cordillera Day, Defend the Land, Defend the Land Defenders

Corderilla Day exhibit in Baguio, Philippines. Photo: Malaya Caligtan-Tran.

April 24 is Cordillera Day, when many remember and honor Macliing Dulag, a key Pangat tribal elder in Kalinga whom Philippine government soldiers murdered on that day in 1980. Macliing Dulag unified the Cordillera people’s opposition to the World Bank-funded Chico Dam project. Since 1985, Cordillera Day has evolved into an indigenous peoples’ movement for freedom from control of lands by foreign corporations and from attacks against the people who defend their lands and rights.

In the Philippines, the Cordillera is known as the “watershed cradle” of Northern Luzon. Its major river systems supply fresh water to various provinces, making it a major resource for agricultural products and livelihood. The Cordilleras also hosts some of the few virgin forests left in the country, endowed with rich flora and fauna and home to many endangered species. From her watershed comes the water that runs down to the Cagayan Valley region in the east and the narrow plains of the Ilocos region in the west, down to the West Philippine Sea. The Cordillera mountains are also known for their rich mineral deposits, such as gold, silver, and copper.

Unsurprisingly corporations have been eager to profit from the exploitation of the Cordilleras. To ramp up the “renewable” energy’s share to Philippine’s power sources to 50% by 2040, the Philippine government awarded 277 renewable energy service contracts to corporations, with P2.04 billion ($31.22 million) expected from hydropower project investments. Not only has Philippine President Marcos Jr. prioritized hydropower projects, he has also appointed businessmen with interests in the energy business to his government. Thus he named the CEO of the Aboitiz Group, which has the country’s largest renewable energy portfolio, as the lead for the Private Sector Advisory Council. He also appointed the former VP of AboitizPower to the state-led Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corporation board. Hedcor, a subsidiary of AboitizPower, now owns and operates 11 hydropower plants in the Cordilleras. Meanwhile, SN Aboitiz Power, a partnership with Norway-based Scatec, controls the Ambuklao and Binga dams and also has an interest in the 390-megawatt Alimit Hydropower Complex in Ifugao.

These are just examples of the “development projects” that are being pushed without proper consent from the indigenous peoples of Cordillera and in violation of their rights to Free, Prior and Informed Consent under existing laws. The struggles of the Cordillerans against large-scale and foreign-owned projects that started during the Marcos Sr. regime is being pushed but this time on even a wider scale by Marcos, Jr. While these projects are touted to be “green energy,” these are profit-driven, and in gross violation of the Cordillerans’ collective rights to self-determination as these projects nonchalantly push for destructive megadams when there are alternatives.

You ask if we own the land and mock us saying, ‘Where is your title?’ When we ask the meaning of your words you answer with taunting arrogance, ‘Where are the documents to prove that you own the land?’ Titles? Documents? Proof of ownership. Such arrogance to speak of owning the land when we instead are owned by it. How can you own that which will outlive you?  – Macliing Dulag

Whether here in Hawai‘i, where a diaspora of many Cordillerans currently reside, in Gaza, or in the Cordillera, land defenders and martyrs such as Macliing Dulag remind us that we cannot own that which outlives us and sustains our very being.  The long-term sustainability of peoples and the planet depend on the defense of the land and the defense of human rights.

On this 40th anniversary of Cordillera Day, the Hawai‘i Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (HICHRP) expresses our enduring support for the defense of the Cordillera region in the Philippines—the people, their land, their heritage, and their right to self-determination.

We condemn all attacks against the land and lives of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera. We demand accountability from the state, its agents, and the private corporations responsible for such offenses.

Defend and uphold human rights!

Long live international solidarity!

Grace Caligtan is a second-generation Ilokana and Applai Kankanaey, hailing from Piddig, Ilocos Norte and Tadian, Mt. Province, and calls the community of Kalihi and Kapālama on Oʻahu, home.

Malaya Caligtan-Tran is Vietnamese, Ilokano, and Kankanaey, who also calls Kalihi and Kapālama home.

Seiji Yamada is a native of Hiroshima.

All three are members of the Hawai‘i Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines.