63 74 246 9968 cwearc@cwearc.org

A call to action to the young indigenous women of the Cordillera

If you are like the vast majority, you probably haven’t heard of the ‘ball-squeezing’ and ‘breast-baring’ women who defended our ancestral lands from threats of unmerciful destruction. For that, you are not to blame because believe it or not, we have a state that is trying to revise our history of resistance.

When remnants of our colonial past became a tool for those who have grown to feed off the capitalist world system, our ancestral lands became sources of profit for the few. Giant corporations partnered with the state to legitimize their plans for “development” in our ancestral lands – thus the birth of ‘development aggression’ or the imposition of destructive projects in our territories.

Article III of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Philippines is a signatory of, states that indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination – a right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. However, in the experience of indigenous peoples around the world, development meant displacement from their ancestral lands, cultural bastardization, and human rights violations.

This is not far from our experience here in the Cordillera region.

When the Marcos regime implemented its deceptive economic agenda in the ’70s through the 80s, the Cordillera region became a target for exploitation. Thus, the government opened the region to numerous “development” projects that would have displaced us, indigenous peoples, from our lands.

In Mainit, Bontoc, Mountain Province, the Benguet Corporation Inc., a large-scale mining company was set to displace the indigenous communities in the area and wipe-out their source of water and livelihood – the mountains and the rice terraces. Enraged, the Mainit women led by Mother Petra Macliing organized themselves for a common cause – to stop the mining projects from encroaching in our mountains. Together they linked arms and ‘squeezed the balls’ of the mining engineers as an act of protest. When things started to escalate, the women disrobed and bared their breasts, daring the engineers to harm “the womb from where they came from.” After driving them away, the women raided the miners’ camp. They then returned the mining equipment to the company’s main office at the town center.

In Kalinga, the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Development Project sought to build a series of dams along the Chico River, threatening to submerge our homes and sacred burial grounds. In response, the indigenous women, together with other sectors, made their opposition known. They led various protest actions to stop the project and were met with military suppression, which also resulted in the murder of Kalinga pangat, Macliing Dulag. Despite death threats and political repression, we defended our waters.

Moreover, in Abra, a 200,000-hectare logging and paper-pulp concession were awarded to the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC). The owner, Herminio Disini, was a Marcos crony infamous for his involvement in the corruption-ridden Bataan Nuclear Power Plant deal. The logging operations of CRC evicted indigenous farmers in lowland Abra from their rice fields and homes. It would have resulted in the total denudation of the forests in the province and the drying up of headwaters of major river systems in the Cordillera and Ilocos.

Aware of the destruction the project will bring, people from all walks of life all over Abra unite to demand that CRC respect their rights to their ancestral lands and resources. Not long after, CRC was forced to shut down because of sustained opposition from the Tinguians.

Today, the same threats are looming over our mountains when we see a repeat of these experiences. President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic policy, ‘Build, Build, Build,’ opened the Chico River once again to a multi-billion irrigation project funded by Chinese investors. Moreover, Nickel Asia, a multinational corporation, and its local subsidiary, Cordillera Exploration Company Inc. (CEXCI), have a mining application covering 15 municipalities in the region. Various large and mini-hydro projects are also forced upon our communities.

All these ‘development’ projects were made possible through manipulated, or fraudulent free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) processes, clearly disregarding our right to self-determination. And despite disinformation about development aggression, our people are not letting their guards down.

Progressive and grass-roots based organizations in the region are already up and standing against development aggression. However, the opposition is not sitting well with the state that has unleashed intensified attacks against our women’s land defenders.

Many of our mothers and sisters now face harassment, political persecution, and other forms of human rights violations. What is more alarming is the vulnerability of women in rural communities to state-perpetrated violence where state forces are deployed and encamped.

There are endless issues faced by our women in the region, many of which we do not personally experience. But do we have to become the victims to realize how grave the situation is? We should not let the state subject us to their economic policies designed to disconnect us from our land. Our assimilation into a colonial culture that would bastardize our identity in the name of ‘development’ should not be allowed.

It is noticeable that we have a growing engagement of the youth in today’s climate crisis. However, issues of climate change in the country seemed to be understood in a superficial context. We must widen our perspective concerning environmental issues and connect them with land issues faced by our people.

As young indigenous women, we should be the reflection of Mother Petra Macliing, of the Bontoc women; and of the Kalinga women today. We must resist collectively to prevent the destruction of our only home and heritage.

In an authoritarian regime where systemic violation of our land rights and women’s rights are worsening, there is a grave need for us to learn from our history of resistance. When it comes to issues affecting our ancestral lands, it must be us, the indigenous youth, who should hold an unyielding desire to defend it. Let us become the real activists and agents of genuine change our peoples and country need.