CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 April 2019

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A day honouring defenders of the land

HONG KONG (SE): Cordillera Day was marked in Hong Kong with a one-day programme on Chater Road on April 23. The day highlighted the determination of the people from the Cordilleras in The Philippines to be united against the injustices being committed against the indigenous communities of the region.

The day began with a colourful parade along the streets of Central with people from Apayao, Benguet, Ifugao, Kalinga and the Mountain Province in traditional dress carrying banners condemning the mining that destroys the beauty and value of nature.

A lush farming area, some people carried photographs depicting the rich heritage and the bountiful harvests that nature has bestowed upon the people from the Cordilleras.

The full day programme was organised by the Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society, Cordillera Alliance and UNIFIL Migrante-Hong Kong.

Cordillera Day is unofficially observed on April 24 every year by indigenous communities along the Chico River to commemorate the murder of Macliing Dulag, a leader of the Butbut people in Kalinga, Cordillera Administrative Region, who was assassinated on that day in 1980 for his opposition to the Chico River Dam Project.

Dulag was an influential tribal leader in a movement opposing the construction of the Chico Dam, a plan to build a hydroelectric project along the Chico River proposed by the administration of Ferdinand Marcos and funded by the World Bank.

The people objected, as upon completion the dam would drown thousands of kilometres of highland villages and ancestral domains in Kalinga, Apayao and Mountain Province. The indigenous people in the region had been protesting against the project since the 1960s.

On 24 April 1980, a military force opened fire outside the hut of Dulag in the village of Bugnay, Tinglayan, killing him and seriously wounding his companion.

His death aroused growing opposition against the proposed dam, to the extent that both the World Bank and the Marcos regime had to abort the project a few years later.

Joanna Cariño, an advisory council member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance, spoke of the abandonment of the Chico Dam Project as a victory against the dictatorship of Marcos.

She said one reason for the victory was that the indigenous communities along the Chico River did not protest as single groups, but were united together to oppose the then-dictatorship of Marcos and its dam project that did not respect the right to livelihood of the people.

“It is a sign showing that people have to unite even though the enemy is big,” she said, adding that any modern day struggle for justice needs the support of wider society and even from the whole world.

She lamented that at present tribal leaders and people in opposition campaigns are still being killed and every year the alliance has to add names to its list of martyrs who died protecting their homeland at their memorial ceremony on Cordillera Day.

However, Cariño said their struggles are still rewarded, as some mines in the Cordilleras have been forced to abandon their operations because indigenous communities united to stop them and set up barricades blocking the entry of mining equipment.

Luz Afidchao, the chairperson of the Cordillera Alliance Hong Kong, said peace and order ran away when any mining project came to her hometown in Bontoc, Mountain Province, as such projects destroy the livelihood of people, prompting protests from the people and human rights violations from the military forces.

Farmers are accused of being rebels for tending their land in early hours of the day.

She said she had seen enough of how mining can destroy a place so she joined the Cordillera Alliance to keep fighting against it even while she is in Hong Kong.

A Mass was then celebrated on Chater Road by Father Dwight Dela Torre from St. John’s Cathedral. He said that the people gathered on this day to intensify their struggle for land, life and honour. He stressed that the struggle is not theirs alone, but that of many others whose lands are occupied by miners.

He cited statistics indicating that the mining problem is showing no sign of improvement in The Philippines. For example, in 2012, there were only 13 mines operating in Kalinga, while today there are 48.

He said he does not agree that mining improves the livelihood of people or creates jobs, as it is not a labour-intensive industry, but it is destructive as its operation does involve the clearing and excavation of farmland and does do harm to the environment.

He stressed that above all, land is the Lord’s gift to humankind, which cannot be owned by mining companies. Father Dela Torre stressed that the land should not be sold to strangers who do not care about its value.

“Man is the steward of God’s creation. We are told to be good stewards of the earth, not to destroy the original blessings of God for people,” he said.

In the afternoon, a tribute was paid to the people who have died in the struggle against mining, as well as migrant rights leaders who have passed away, including two well-known ones around town, Flora Belinan and Sol Pillas.

After a moment’s silence, their photographs were presented one by one to the background of a song honouring their contribution.

Groups from various provinces also made their own presentations focussing on the particular issue of concern in their own locality, with the impact of mining, militarisation, the quest for a just peace, access to social services, employment and just wages being the main ones.

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