“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 dishonoured. That will be worse than death. If we do not fight and the dams push through, we die anyway. If we fight, we die honourably. Thus I exhort you all, kayaw (struggle)!”
– Macliing Dulag, Kalinga Chieftain
Thirty-five years ago since the successful opposition of the Bontoc and Kalinga peoples to the World Bank-funded Chico Dams, this challenge penned in the words of Macliing Dulag, one of the many elders who led our people in asserting right to land and life, remains true, current, and inspirational. This September 2017, these words become more relevant as we march collectively, and with fellow indigenous peoples and the Moro people with renewed strength and resoluteness as we demonstrate anew our assertion of our right to self-determination in the “Lakbayan ng Pambasang Minorya para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan”.
Our participation to Lakbayan 2017 is marked with our collective aspiration for self-determination and human rights. This is especially so under the fascist US-Duterte regime which unleashed murderous policies of extrajudicial killings, further emboldening the AFP and PNP to commit crimes against the people, national minorities included.
Oplan Kapayapaan has meant the militarization of our communities resulting in various human rights violations. With the all-out war policy unleashed by Duterte, and peace saboteur Generals Esperon, Año and Lorenzana, the AFP Northern Luzon Command intensified military combat operations in the Cordillera resulting to a week of forced evacuation in Namal, Ifugao, indiscriminate air strikes using phosphorous bombs in Malibcong, Abra that accompanied ground operations by the 24th Infantry Battalion under the 7th Infantry Division and heavy militarization under the 503rd Brigade where cases of violations include the divestment and destruction of properties and the physical assault of civilians including barangay officials. Since February this year, cases of illegal arrest, detention and trumped up charges, harassment, surveillance and political vilification of people’s organisations, activists and community leaders alarmingly increased. From February to March 2017 alone, there were 13 cases of illegal arrest and detention. These include the cases of five residents in Malibcong (including a minor) and Kalinga, and human rights defender Sarah Abellon-Alikes, a Kankanaey, who hails from Mountain Province on February 9. This month, women human rights defenders in the region have been subjected to political persecution through vilification in social media sites as committed by the 24th IBPA in Abra and the filing of trumped up charges by the 7th Infantry Division in Ilocos Sur. Nine political prisoners are currently detained in Abra, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Kalinga and Baguio City including 74-year old Marcos Aggalao who is now confined at the ICU of the Kalinga Provincial Hospital.
The conduct of war of State security forces consistently violates human rights and international humanitarian law in all of Philippine government’s national internal security policies and programs, and its takes its toll on no less than the people.
Not content with these policies for a killing rampage, Duterte’s General Año made an open invitation to kill by dangling a reward of Php100,000 for the capture or killing of members of the NPA. We condemn this pronouncement because it makes indigenous peoples open targets of more extrajudicial killings as our experience in the Cordillera shows. The AFP and PNP does not differentiate civilians and unarmed activists from the armed revolutionary NPA. Año’s pronouncement is gruesome and murderous, as it legitimizes and promotes further the human rights violations of State security forces.
Adding to the impact of Oplan Kapayapaan is Duterte’s war on drugs which is a war against the poor that promoted impunity to an entirely new level. Over 13,000 individuals have been killed, and there is no telling who is the next victim as in the case of young Kian de los Santos. We strongly condemn Oplan Tokhang, demand for its immediate discontinuation.
The militarization of our communities is accompanied by the plunder and exploitation of our ancestral lands by big mining and energy business. The Cordillera is the watershed cradle of northern Luzon but is ravaged by the operations of mining and energy corporations. New applications alone cover 428, 046 hectares on top of the operations of Lepanto, Philex and Benguet Corporation. There are also 81 approved hydroelectric power plants with 16 pending, on top of the operations of Binga and Ambuklao. The entry of these big businesses violated indigenous peoples right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and did not recognize the non-consent of communities concerned; made use of the military to secure its applications and operations, and worse, led to the killings of indigenous human rights defenders.
These urgent issues are of life and death, and thus are the issues at the heart of our participation to Lakbayan 2017. For how can we have self-determination now, when our communities are bombed and militarized? How can we be self-determining when destructive projects are imposed in our indigenous territories in the name of ‘development’? How can there be self-determination of national minorities when there is unpeace?
For until our right to self-determination is recognised, and genuine regional autonomy in place under a truly sovereign Philippines, the only recourse is to press on with the struggle. From the Cordillera mountain ranges—Benguet, Mountain Province, Ifugao, Kalinga, Abra and Apayao— and by the legacy of our heroes and martyrs, we will continue to fight for self-determination. Kaigorotan, lumaban! Cordillera Peoples Alliance, 29 August 2017