We commemorate the 37th Peoples’ Cordillera Day amidst the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. 

We reaffirm our struggles for land, natural resources, life and honor as we pay our highest tribute to Cordillera martyrs and heroes – trailblazers in the assertion of rights in confronting tyranny. We salute the communities who remain steadfast in defending lands and resources from plunder and destruction, the Cordillera farmers who continue to nurture the earth and those who have struggled to assert for the dignity of labor. We are humbled by people who, despite difficulties, wove our communities tightly through service to each other as we faced hunger, loss of livelihood, further social injustice and the violation of rights in the context of a health crisis.

A Militarist Pandemic Response

To date, the COVID-19 cases in the Cordillera region has reached 27,940 (DOH data as of April 22, 2021). After more than one year since Community Quarantine was enforced on March 2020, COVID-19 cases are increasing. Health workers are constantly under pressure from their workload and the risks of contracting the COVID-19 virus, and health facilities are full and overstretched.

Simultaneously, the economic crisis is worsening, affecting workers especially in the informal sector, vegetable farmers, small businesses and other small business-related employment, and formal education of children and youth. The closure of small businesses, minimized operations of business establishments, and pandemic restrictions have rendered hundreds of people unemployed or with significant salary cuts.

Farmers continue to fall prey to the vicious market trap for profit, and liberalization that make communities suffer from huge loss of income.

Education as a right has been further abandoned by the State with the current set-up of online and modular learning that have made the burden heavier for teachers, students and their families, marginalizing further those who have no means to electronic gadgets, connectivity and transportation.

The pandemic situation is reflective of the government’s severely inadequate comprehensive response to the pandemic showing an obvious abandonment of their obligation, especially to provide aid and economic support to the poor.

These are times of unabated economic oppression with unjust taxes on top of unjust wages, mass lay-offs and unemployment, rising prices of basic commodities and cost of living, homelessness, landlessness, treacherous debts and shameless plunder of the nation’s resources and coffers.

The human rights situation at this time of pandemic is at its worst.

While funds were cut from the Department of Health, Department of Education and the Department of Science and Technology from the national budget, police and military budget, including an enormous amount for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) were dramatically increased.

The constant narratives of hunger and poverty are paralleled with news of extrajudicial killings, trumped-up charges, illegal arrests and detention, political repression and persecution, red-tagging and other forms of human rights violations.

The State has gone as far as using the law and crafting policies even beyond its mandate to silence dissent like the controversial Regional Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (RLECC) resolutions that violate constitutionally recognized rights to public assembly and association, and endanger the lives and security of government critics.

Red-tagging and terrorist-labeling

In an attempt to cripple the Cordillera indigenous peoples’ struggle for the defense of ancestral lands and resources from plunder and destruction by corporations as well as against militarization and human rights violations, the State through the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) embarked on a widespread disinformation and vilification campaign through red-tagging and  terrorist-labeling against activists and Cordillera Peoples Alliance members, especially through social media.

Various military, police, and troll social media accounts are used in terrorist-tagging that incite violence against human rights defenders, including our families and children.

Desecration of the Cordillera heroes’ monument

The memory and legacy of Cordillera heroes has been desecrated as the Cordillera heroes monument in Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga was treacherously dismantled early this year. The monument was jointly put up by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, the community of Bugnay, and people from the Butbut Tribe during the Cordillera Day Celebration on April 23, 2017.

The dismantling of the monument is an outright desecration of the grave of the heroes, destruction of a symbol of a successful people’s struggle, an affront to the heroism of Macliing Dulag and other heroes of the Anti-Chico Dam Struggle, and an attempt to distort or revise the history of the Cordillera people’s struggle. Thus, on April 9, 2021, Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor), the monument was reinstalled by the people of Bugnay and Butbut Tribe.

Persona Non Grata campaign against legitimate people’s organizations

A persona non grata campaign has been unjustly and unlawfully launched by the government through the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) against the Cordillera Peoples Allinace and other legitimate people’s organizations. This violates the rights to association, due process and respect towards political beliefs, expression and even humanitarian services and assistance being provided to communities during this health and economic crisis.

Trumped-up Charges

Trumped-up charges have been slapped against leaders and members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. A fabricated murder case was filed by PNP against CPA Chairperson Windel Bolinget, followed by a warrant of arrest, Wanted and Bounty Poster, and shoot to kill order. Despite the court decision in March 2021 for the recall of the warrant of arrest against Bolinget and a reinvestigation of the case, the Wanted with P100,000 Bounty posters bearing a photo and the name of Bolinget are continuously hung along the major highways where he lives.

CPA Secretary General Bestang Dekdeken is currently facing a cyber libel case for speaking up against the dismantling of the heroes’ monument . Kalinga woman leader Betty Belen was unjustly incarcerated for 4 months due to a trumped-up case. NGO volunteer and activist John Lipato was faced with a trumped-up case which was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Forced and Fake Surrender

Activists, civilians and members of the CPA and other people’s organizations are targeted in the AFP and PNP’s “surrender” campaign in line with the government’s Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) that aims “to help rebels restore their allegiance to the Philippine government.” In the implementation of this “surrender” campaign, innocent civilians are being harassed, with their safety and security being put at risk should they refuse to “surrender” or “clear” their names from the AFP and PNP’s target lists. Reports received by the CPA also reveal that some of the persons declared “surrenderers” were fake or did not actually surrender. 

Continuing the Legacy of Cordillera Heroes

The Cordillera Day we commemorate annually is a continuation of the people’s narrative of collective struggle for rights and defiance of tyranny.

On April 24, 1980, Macliing Dulag died a people’s hero and martyr, in defense of the ili and the ancestral lands from the Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project of the World Bank during the Marcos Dictatorship. It was a successful fight against resource plunder and a triumphant assertion of indigenous peoples’ self-determination. Ama Macliing’s martyrdom was commemorated as Macliing Memorials from 1981 to 1984. Starting in 1985, following the birth of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) in June 1984, the Macliing Memorials were held as Cordillera Day and hosted in many villages of every Cordillera province and city, with themes that reflect the  Cordillera situation and the people’s struggles.

In continuing the legacy of our heroes and martyrs, we mark it through the restoration of the Anti-Chico Dam Struggle heroes’ monument in Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga; we mark it through the relief drives and ‘community pantries’ that we put up in the spirit of ‘binnadang’ and ‘ub-ubbo’; we mark it through the revocation of the resolution of persona non grata against CPA by the Itogon Municipal Peace and Order Council; we mark it through the continuing assertion and defense of our rights to our ancestral lands and resources against development aggression.  

Amidst the pandemic, energy companies, together with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), continue to process the Free, Prior and Informed Consent for dam project applications, which are met with stiff opposition of the communities affected by the projects.

In Apayao province, the Isnag communities affected by the proposed 150MW GENED-1 Hydro Power Electric Plant project of Pan Pacific Renewable Power Phils. Corp. reiterated their position against the dam project through petitions and during dialogues.

In Ifugao province, residents of the communities affected by SN Aboitiz’ application for a 390-MW hydroelectric power complex (Alimit Dam) once again registered their opposition to the project during a dialogue called by the NCIP in November 2020.

This time of pandemic and intensified fascist attacks against Cordillera communities, activists and the people calls for solidarity and a united and unwavering struggle for our right to self-determination, human rights, health and economic wellbeing, and genuine democracy. Now more than ever, we must rise amidst the pandemic and defend our lands, life, rights and honor.

What is the most precious thing to man? Life! If life is threatened, what ought a man do? Fight! This he must do, otherwise he is dishonored. That will be worse than death. If we do not fight and the dams push through, we die anyway. If we fight, we die honorably.

Thus I exhort you all then, KAYAW (all-out people’s struggles)!

— Ama Macliing Dulag

The 37th Cordillera Day is celebrated with simultaneous physical and online activities in the Cordillera provinces, Baguio City and abroad (United States, Canada, Belgium, Hongkong), highlighting particular issues faced by local communities such as the legacy and monument of heroes of the Anti-Chico Dam struggle, militarization and State fascism, impacts of the pandemic, economic issues, and migrants’ concerns. These celebrations are guided by the central theme “Rise Amidst the Pandemic. Live Out the Legacy of Cordillera Heroes in Defense of Land, Life and Honor!”