Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Standing Rock and the Memory of Macli-ing

STANDING ROCK and the memory of Macli-ing Dulag. The Standing Rock protest in North Dakota sends memories of my long coverage and involvement (as journalist, NGO worker and activist) with the Kalinga people's fight against construction of a dam back home in the Philippines many years ago. The protest led to the assassination of Macli-ing Dulag, a Kalinga leader in the Cordillera Mountains on the island of Luzon. I grew up in the Cordilleras. Its central city, Baguio, is my family's second home-city. My dad and many relatives worked in mining towns up there and some kin dealt or collaborated businesses (fresh produce and farming) with most tribes--some of my brothers still do with a number of villages.

          Macli-ing was a Pangat (tribal chief) in the highland village of Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga-Apayao. A farmer by profession, Dulag was also a road maintenance worker for the government. He staunchly opposed construction of the Chico Dam, a hydroelectric project along the Chico River proposed by the Marcos government and was to be funded by the World Bank. Indigenous peoples in the area, including the Kalinga and the Bontoc, resisted the project for three decades as the proposed dam's reservoir threatened to drown 1,400 square-kilometers of traditional highland villages and ancestral domains in the mountain region.
         On 24 April 1980, elements from 4th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army opened fire on Dulag at his home, killing him and wounding a companion. His murder unified the various peoples of the Cordillera Mountains against the proposed dam, causing both the World Bank and the Marcos regime to eventually abandon the project a few years after. The Kalinga People resisted the proposed dam project for three decades. The project was finally shelved in the 1980s and is now considered a landmark case study concerning ancestral domain issues in the Philippines. Yet even after the project was shelved, strife in the mountains didn't stop. The Marcos regime finally ended in 1986 following a people-power revolt.

          During the time of the ensuing Corazon Aquino administration, I immersed myself in advocacy work that led to the drafting of the local government code or devolution of powers from national governance to communities--which eventually ironed out in the amended Constitution that stipulates that local governments "shall enjoy local autonomy," and in which the Philippine president exercises "general supervision." Congress enacted the Local Government Code in 1991 to "provide for a more responsive and accountable local government structure instituted through a system of decentralization with effective mechanisms of recall, initiative, and referendum, allocate among the different local government units their powers, responsibilities, and resources, and provide for the qualifications, election, appointment and removal, term, salaries, powers and functions and duties of local officials, and all other matters relating to the organization and operation of local units."
          Pondering the memory of the Chico Dam/Kalinga protest and observing the current Standing Rock protest shudder my spirit. Indigenous peoples or tribes are peaceful souls who opt to live their lives apart from the mainstream--until their land/s are violated. The Standing Rock Sioux is against an oil pipeline that would run from the Bakken oil fields in western North Dakota to southern Illinois, crossing beneath the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, as well as part of Lake Oahe near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Although local government autonomy doesn't work in the US, Indian reservations do have similar treaties and agreements signed when the Indian Wars ended in 1924.
Like the struggle of tribal groups in the Philippines north and south, the conflicts in America were mostly local, involving disputes over land use. Particularly in later years, conflicts were spurred by ideologies such as Manifest Destiny, which held that the United States was destined to expand from coast to coast on the North American continent. In the 1830s, the United States had a policy of Indian removal east of the Mississippi River, which was a planned, large-scale removal of indigenous peoples from the areas where Europeans were settling. Particularly in the years leading up to Congressional passage of the related act, there was armed conflict between settlers and Native Americans; some removal was achieved through sale or exchange of territory through treaties.
          I just hope that the protest move (apart from what the Standing Rock Sioux started) doesn't   fizzle out like the fate of the Occupy protest. This time there is a clear objective or demand--unlike Occupy's abstract or sweeping demands for reform. And I hope a leadership talks and negotiates with government emissaries this time--than what it was when activists insist that "we are all leaders and we are all followers too." I remain positive that this cause will win. My spirit has subsided into a mere observer of life these days--and what I can do most is simply share some stories and wisdom that I lived through my life's journey.

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