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Peoples' Cordillera Day 2024: Solidarity Message from IWGIA

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) extends our warmest greetings of solidarity to all the participants of the 40th Peoples' Cordillera Day celebrations. Peoples' Cordillera Day is truly a remarkable event. It is a strong manifestation of the unity of Indigenous Peoples in the Cordillera region and of your determination to continue the struggle for genuine self-determination manifested in the theme of the event for 2024: “Courageously Advance in the struggle for land, life and honor!”. We are happy to be able to celebrate this important event with you on this remarkable occasion marking the 40-year anniversary of Peoples' Cordillera Day.

IWGIA is proud of its long-lasting partnership with the Indigenous Peoples of the Cordillera. We admire the strength, resilience, perseverance, and unity that you continue to show - even when your lives are put at risk in your struggles, and you are continuously, including today, being accused of terrorism to defend the rights of your peoples in the region. The struggles of the Indigenous Peoples of the Cordillera for self-determination and the right to control your land and natural resources is under extreme pressure from outsiders who want to extract your resources. The dismantling of your heroes’ monument, the online and offline vilification and harassment of Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders, and the unethical and unlawful charges and cases filed against your leaders requires resilience, perseverance, and unity – all qualities that the Indigenous Peoples’ movement in the Cordillera have. These virtues continue to be of great inspiration to other Indigenous Peoples all over the world – inspiring us all to stand stronger united in the vindication of Indigenous Peoples’ rights and in the struggle against vigorous powers and exploiters of Indigenous Peoples.

In these trying times IWGIA stands with you in solidarity. We are extremely encouraged by the fact that Indigenous leaders in the Cordillera, as well as all over the Philippines, continue the fight – despite the severe threats. During these times of struggle, the 40th anniversary and re-enforcement of solidarity is highly needed and we hope that the celebration this year will be fruitful to all.

May your land be protected, your rights respected, and your honor and dignity retained.

In Solidarity,

Brief background on Peoples' Cordillera Day

April 24 remains a historic and significant date for the Cordillera peoples. It was in the evening of this day in 1980 when soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division, under Lt. Leodegario Adalem, fired at two houses in the village of Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga.

The attack meant to kill two prominent leaders of the Kalinga and Bontok peoples, Ama Macliing Dulag and Pedro Dungoc, opposed to the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, during martial law. Macliing Dulag, a respected pangat (tribal chieftain) of the Butbut tribe, died from multiple gunshots while Pedro Dungoc survived. Pedro Dungoc later joined the New Peoples Army (NPA) and died a red fighter.

This cowardly act of military terrorism did not cow the Bontoc and Kalinga peoples into submission into the construction of the dams. Instead, the Macliing assassination strengthened the determination of the Kalinga and Bontok tribes to further unite for the defense of their collective rights over their land and resources and against a common enemy - the Marcos dictatorship and the World Bank funded Chico dams.

State fascism since the 1970s was a major factor in firming up the commitment of the Chico communities in the anti-Chico dam struggle. This later broadened into a mass movement of the Cordillera peoples and advocates into the struggle for the defense of ancestral land and for genuine regional autonomy. The Kalinga and Bontok tribes people managed to stop the construction of the four huge hydro-electric dams which were a priority energy project of the
Marcos government throughout the long years of martial rule. They were able to stop construction against fearsome odds by asserting their tribal people’s power. In their steadfast and uncompromising defense of their ancestral lands and their indigenous way of life, they earned the respect and support not only of other indigenous peoples in the region, but also those in the Philippines and abroad. The Marcos dictatorship, with its World Bank funding for the project, was caught flat-footed. They did not reckon with the strong communal ethos still existing then between the Bontok and Kalinga, which allowed them to forge agreements among the binodngan – peace pact-practicing communities along the Chico River in opposition to the project. Nor did they expect the people to muster widespread national and international support.

From 1981 to 1984, the commemoration of the death of Macliing Dulag was called Macliing Memorial. But with the broadening of the Cordillera mass movement encompassing all the provinces of the Cordillera, the commemoration started asCordillera Day in 1985 to symbolize the widening unity and solidarity among the different indigenous peoples of the Cordillera, and with advocate and support groups at the regional, national and international levels. The first celebration of Cordillera Day was held in Sadanga, Mountain Province. It was  also in June 1984 that the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) was founded and took the lead in the celebration of Cordillera Day.

Since then, Cordillera Day was held all over the Cordillera region with particular focus per celebration, in consideration to burning regional issues, and major national and international developments as well as the urgent issues of host community. Past celebrations gathered as many as 3,000 to 4,500 individuals. It has become the biggest annual political solidarity gathering of indigenous peoples in the Cordillera with friends and advocates. The general programme for the two- day celebration includes workshops on major issues affecting indigenous peoples, presentations on the regional and national situation and challenges; on experiences and lessons from struggles in defense of indigenous peoples rights and human rights and various cultural presentations presenting the issues of communities and sectors; including the tribute to Cordillera martyrs. The two-day celebration includes a lot of community dancing, playing of gongs and community chanting. The festive atmosphere of each celebration remains political but colorful and inspiring.

As a political solidarity event, several host communities were intimidated and harassed by the military and some government officials. But these circumstances did not discourage the communities to prepare and host Cordillera Day. The celebration of Cordillera Day has also expanded overseas which is a clear manifestation of the growing international solidarity for the Cordillera indigenous people's movement. For several years already, Cordillera Day has been celebrated in Hongkong, Belgium, Macau, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Canada and USA. These are being organized by Cordillera migrants and workers together with international solidarity partners and advocates of Cordillera struggles and indigenous peoples’ rights.

More than just a gathering, Cordillera Day is a political statement on present realities by the militant Cordillera peoples' movement. It carries with it the historical advances of the mass movement for self determination and national democracy. It is the affirmation of principles and struggles for defense of the ancestral domain and for self determination and pursues what the Cordillera martyrs and heroes have fought for. The solidarity and camaraderie forged during celebrations serve to enhance the particularity of the Cordillera peoples struggle and to inspire others. At the same time, it strengthens the unity of the Cordillera peoples with other indigenous peoples and sectors across the region, and at the national and international levels. The struggle for the peoples' aspirations for social justice, genuine development and peace, freedom and democracy are still far from over. Macli-ing Dulag and all our other martyrs did not die in vain. Cordillera Day and our continuing campaigns and struggles shall be raised to a higher ground until our aspirations become a reality.

> This background was provided by our partner the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and be found online here

Tags: Human rights



IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting and defending Indigenous Peoples’ rights. Read more.

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