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Cordillera women wage battle vs. profit driven energy projects

BAGUIO CITY – In celebration of the International Women’s Day, women from all over the region gathered in this city for a summit to amplify their position against profit-driven energy projects that has destroyed and are threatening their land, food and rights.

The testimonies of women from provinces affected by the said projects on March 8, 2014 speak of an old story that says:

Maibus iti kuwarta, ngem saan iti daga; Ti bunga iti daga awan ti patinggana ay ay; Kakailian kitaen yo, saan tayo a paloko; Umanay a pagsarmingan, nakalkaldaang kapadasan ay ay… Iti biag mi ket simple, pagan-anu mi ti kuryente nu awan ti masilawan, a makan ti lamisaan, ay ay” (Money runs out but not the land; The fruit of the land is endless; Let’s not be fooled; Ill experiences are enough to reflect on… Our life is simple. Electricity is useless if there is no food to be illuminated on the table).

This is a stanza taken from a Salidummay song entitled, Pagsarmingan (Reflection) which was composed by the Salidummay cultural group during the height of the San Roque Dam struggle to share the experience of the Benguet people when Ambuklao Dam was set up. It is a song to tell the people affected by the San Roque Dam to learn from the ill experiences of their sisters and brothers who were displaced and lost livelihoods because of the Ambuklao Dam.

Ambuklao’s bitter past
Ay wen met piman, ta ti kuryente nga us-usaren tayo tatta ket maggapu Ambuklao. Ngem ay ay pay ti kuryente no awan met ti panganan,” (Yes, the
electricity we are using today comes from Ambuklao dam but electricity is useless if we live in hunger) Mary-ann Bugtong of Bokod said in tears during her testimony in the summit. She recalled the stories of their parents when the Ambuklao dam started to be built. The area that is now dammed she said was the rice granary of the people not only of Bokod but also to Itogon, and Atok. Their parents were about to harvest the golden grains of the rice when the company along with their military guards came and drowned their rice paddies.

Bugtong cannot control her emotion when she continued recounting that their brothers and sisters in Bokod were displaced. Some went to other places but came back to Bokod due to the absence of a sustainable livelihood. If only she wished Ambuklao dam was never built, then they are still tilling their rice paddies. But she can only reminisce what their ancestral land looked like before in available photos.

Wen, peace loving kayman ti taga Bokod isunga intulok da ti Ambuklao dam ngem nu ipilit da manen dayta geothermal ken dayta minas, agpatingga dayta nga ugali. Nu kasapulan nga aglabus, apay kuma a saan tapno laeng malapdan,” (Yes, the people of Bokod are peace loving that’s why Ambuklao dam was built. But if they will insist to put up the geothermal power project and even large scale mining, that attitude will end. We will do all forms of protest even getting ourselves naked just to stop their entry) Bugtong stressed.

The lesson from the Chico River
Who could ever forget the life and death struggle of the Kalinga and Bontoc peoples against the setting up of mega dams along the Chico River in the 1970s? This project was successfully stopped when the people forged strong unity and waged war against the government and its instruments. To them, Land is life therefore it must be defended. In both battles, accounts of the communities and even in news stories reflect that women fought side by side with men.

Today, it is the same song that Cordillera women were chanting during the summit. They said, a great battle must be waged by women along with their communities against the many corporate energy projects in the region to defend the land that is giving them life; a land that they have nurtured with their sweat and blood and a land where their main source of livelihood comes from.

Their major rivers and its tributaries the women said are outlined for hydro electric projects from mini-hydro to mega dams despite the existence of eight large dams. US company, Chevron is exploring the region for geothermal energy specifically in Kalinga, Mt. Province, Benguet, Abra and Ifugao. And one wind power facility is being pushed in Sagada, Mt. Province. Allowing these projects theysaid will weaken the women in their task to provide food on the table. Providing food they stressed needs to be attached with their land, their water and their forest. Allowing these corporations to take over will lead to hunger for the communities and profit for the corporations.

These kinds of projects are pushed for the reason that the country is lacking energy. In the report by Ani Bongaoen of APIT TAKO, half of the country’s energy consumption comes from imported fossil fuels. On the other hand, Philippines has a great potential in both fossil and renewable energy. What the country however is doing according to Bongaoen is selling these potentials to foreign corporations instead of developing it with the communities and for the communities. These corporate-initiated projects resulted to various human rights violations ranging from fraudulent free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process to militarization. This was evident with the testimonies of the women from Kalinga and Ifugao where Chevron’s geothermal power project; Quad River and Sta. Clara’s hydro power are located. The corporations according to the delegates have employed divide and rule tactics, bribery, and many others just to manipulate the result of the FPIC. In Kalinga, Chevron conducted several consultations and agreement signing in hotels in Tabuk City with selected “leaders”. Elders and leaders that they have chosen for such gatherings received per diems.

During consultations in the communities or in the hotels, companies according to the delegates are not disclosing enough information in order for the people to make a sound decision. All the information provided are one sided. Delegates affected by geothermal projects share the same story that the companies have promised them the moon and the stars. Words they added that were coming out from the mouths of corporations’ spokes persons were as sweet as sugar.

The women’s answer to these deceiving tactics echoed another phrase from the same Salidummay song that goes: “Ikari da’t init ken bulan, amin a kapintasan; Ngem nu dumanun to ti tiempo, agpatingga ti sao, ay ay!” (They can promise the sun and the moon, all that are beautiful; but time comes that none will be fulfilled). They are firm that they will never be fooled.

Women from different communities fought these projects in their own ways. In Ifugao, they have submitted petitions to concerned agencies. In Kalinga, women barricaded the entry of Chevron in one of the temperature test activities; women of Tulgao, Tinglayan strongly made their point through cultural protest during the consultation. In Benguet, government legislative bodies are bombarded with resolutions and petitions against hydro power projects and geothermal project. In Mt. Province, the wind power project stopped its exploration due to strong protests.

The Summit forged strong solidarity among women and advocates to be able to face the challenges of trying to stop these projects from community level up to the higher avenues of battle. The women formulated a position paper which they will be using in their activities at the regional down to community level. The women then went out of UP Baguio and marched the street to Session Road down to peoples’ park where they bravely displayed and aired their resistance to aforementioned projects. They even called for the ouster of PNoy because they said, he is not only playing deaf on their issues but he is even selling their energy resources to foreign companies. The Summit was made possible through the efforts of Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) in partnership with Innabuyog Gabriela – the regional alliance of indigenous women’s organizations in the region, Alyansa dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (APIT TAKO), University of the Philippines-Kasarian and All UP Academic and Employees Union.