Cordillera Day 2017: A Story of Vibrant Struggle for Rights

Posted on 24 May 2017

The Cordillera people, comprised of indigenous peoples groups from six provinces and one city in the northern Philippines, are not strangers to struggling for the collective well-being of their communities. In the late 1970s to the early 1980s, they asserted their rights to their ancestral lands and right to determine their own destiny against the notorious, World Bank-funded, Chico River Dam project.

Were the dams built, more than 100,000 Kalinga and Bontok peoples, whose villages are near the river, would have been displaced. It is in this struggle against the project that many indigenous peoples were martyred. This included one Kalinga leader, Macliing Dulag, who was killed by the Philippine military in 1980.

Macliing Dulag, other Cordillera martyrs, remain alive in collective memory

In commemoration of the killing of Macliing Dulag, the Cordillera peoples began holding the Cordillera Day in 1984. In the same year, they formed the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA). Since then, the grassroots organizations of CPA have led the commemoration of that fateful day.

The 2017 Cordillera Day was held in Kalinga, Philippines from April 23 to 25, and was hosted by grassroots people’s organizations: KALASAG and the Balantoy Farmers Association, with the Kalinga Chapter of CPA. 3000 gathered for the 33rd year of the three-day event.

As part of the 33rd  Cordillera Day, a marker was installed dedicated to the banwar (heroes) of the Chico Dam struggle. Now, the faces of Dulag, together with two other heroes of the Chico Dam struggle -- Pedro Dungoc and Lumbaya Gayudan – are part of the mountains and lands they fought for. More importantly, his spirit of struggle still lives with the Cordillera people who have committed to assert their rights.

Rights on Paper

Indigenous peoples were supposed to have the right to self-determination, as per the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) of 2007 (Article 3). They also have the right to determine their own development strategies and priorities (Article 23), especially regarding the use of their lands (Article 32). Military activity in their ancestral lands is disallowed “unless justified by a relevant public interest” or requested by indigenous groups (Article 30). De-militarization is considered important in order to achieve peace and development for indigenous peoples, according to the UNDRIP Preamble.

Even before this UN declaration, an Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) was already ratified in the Philippines, in 1997. On paper, this law supposedly gives IPs the right to decide priorities for development (Article 17), to self-determination and self-governance (Article 13), to ancestral domains, and recognizes the role of people’s organizations (Article 19) in collectively defending indigenous peoples’ interests.

“Cordillera Day is Struggle”

In a just world, these rights were supposed to be guaranteed to the Cordillera indigenous peoples on account of historical oppression by colonizers and later by foreign monopoly capitalists. In our world not bereft of injustice, the Cordillera peoples have to continue struggling for these rights in the face of corporations and the Philippine military, more than 30 years after the Chico Dam struggle.

In this struggle, many groups in the Cordillera show a

Global Region: