I always get sick when I’m back in Manila. After almost 15 hours of travel in terrible heat and mob of dust, my nose is swelling. My doctor confirmed it is sinusitis. I feel like a Neozep ad with my inflated nose. I cannot go out but I’m happy nonetheless to stay with Twinky, my friendly PC paper, and reminisce instead how I got 20 more degrees of high morale from the Igorot people of Cordillera heights.
Easter Sunday night was a night of backpacking for Ama Macliing Dulag as I joined the busloads of students, churchworkers, teachers, writers and advocates of indigenous people to attend the 27th Cordillera Day held this time in Brgy. Buneg, Lacub, Abra. In this same night of April 24, a year before I was born, Ama Macliing was assassinated by soldiers of Philippine Army 4th Infantry Division under Lt. Leodegario Adalem during Ferdinand Marcos reign. A respected pangat (chieftain) of the Butbut Tribe in Kalinga, he was a staunch defender of indigenous people’s ancestral domain and self-determination by opposing the World Bank’s Chico Dam project. His fellow Bontoc chieftain Pedro Dungoc survived the bullet attack and later joined the New People’s Army (NPA) and served the people’s red army until his death.
Since then, Cordillera people gather every April in commemoration of Ama Macliing’s martyrdom and the people before him. Cordillera Day is both a celebration of people’s victories and a challenge for the present to continue in fighting the cause for the present and next generations.
We travelled from Manila at midnight for breakfast near a church in Bangued where it took us three matrimonies and two elegies to wait for our jeepney service that would take us to the heart of Lacub. Eventually, we learned that spikes of nails were spread in our route that caused flat tires to the delay of our service and of our fellows who were traveling from different points north, south, west and east. It was terribly funny, such anarchic move from who-else but desperate armed agents of the government.
While thinking of the cool temperature in Bontoc and its famous alamid that offers kopi luwak to the pleasure of anyone with dollars, the transpiring heat in Abra was terrible but the greens were more tolerable for the eyes. Still mountains away though, we were caught by the rain and because we were in the top-load, we can only chill in soaked kapote. Our local friends who guarded us in the top-load and who did not show any evidence of feeling cold nor hurt by harsh wind and wild branches, were adamant in telling the stories behind Abra’s caves and holes and how the locals struggled through constant construction and visits in trailing naba (ore) and gold. We’ve seen such holes here and there in this part and that though they only pass through our glances as quickly as the wind throw their kisses in our cheeks. Of course, our Apo would remind us that this gold belongs to Abra indigenous people and not to foreigners nor to their local collaborators, saying “When foreigners reached Abra, they did not bring with them any land or gold so they cannot naturally claim anything from the mountain-locked province”. Indeed. Indeed reality is an irony in a place famous for notoriety of warlord-gold diggers whom others would compare to the famous in Mindanao.
The scenery was marvelous and in a slacken speed of our jeepney, I had a closer look of the dogholes. Too bad my camera is not meant to marry the rain.
After passing through three checkpoints, a hanging bridge, many rivers amazingly passable by both cars and cows and a hike because it is safer for us and our jeepney, we finally reached the community of Buneg to the delight of hot coffee and beef soup.
It’s too dark as early as 6PM. One main reason is that when the Lord said, “Let there be light!”, it did not reach Buneg like in many Philippine provinces and so we had to allow the noise of generators to blend with rustic music in the depths. After the opening rituals by the elders, the night and succeeding nights cannot be called so without the pattong, the tadek, the salidummay and hundred chants: traditions in the genre of art as a way of life. These community songs and dances of the Cordillera are deeply rooted in the land of their birth and repose. They are the navel of their struggles and visions. And I should say these pieces that I love about the Cordillera are home of my inspiration.
The site was a small village where I can only imagine some civet cat may be roaming around to guard the village from military monsters. The event was especially relevant because peace consultation on socio-economic policy was held between the government and NDF panel. Dubbed “Addressing the Roots of the Armed Conflict Towards a Just and Lasting Peace, more than 5,000 people witnessed the peace talk. The Igorot are aggressive of their demands on land and life and the government is expected to be relatively serious both in short and long terms. The answers to social problems are actually just common sense: free earth, water, air, fire yet the government panel believe these are infeasible as quite giant demands though from the end of the representatives, they would as much want to directly tell Pres. Noynoy about the people’s situations and their asap and sustainable proposals.
One ritual of the elders wherein panelists were made to drink Basi (rice wine) and boar’s blood while being given shield and spear symbolized that if any from the party should not implement what they had agreed upon, the other party has the right to declare war. For example, if any from the present NDF panel and village elders would be arrested for no reason or would be in the tally of desaparecidos, the indigenous people are not hesitant to call for Fetad!
One elder chanted about the need of the peace talk now “whereas many talks in the past only proved of the government’s insincerity. As civilians, indigenous people have nothing to give up but their trust but the rest of the people should know that for Cordillerans, a person’s life is so dear that when one dies, one is not forgotten. And one mere chicken or pig cannot compensate for one person’s life lost”. The ancient practice eye for an eye in this context is based on justice.
Meanwhile, there is always a deeper reason to dance the pattong or tadek or sing the salidummay and uggayam or drink basi. Igorots are warriors and I always believe the winner in any fight is the one who aspires the end of fright and hunger. Fetad, traditionally a call for tribal war, is now a people’s war for democracy and self-determination against a common enemy of all the tribes like politicos and profiteers with surnames of mine. #
- TEFAG: Echoes in the Midst of Storm (juanalily.wordpress.com)