Amidst intense hardships, the people's struggle advances in the Ilocos-Cordillera Region

Cordillera People’s Democratic Front

A YEAR after the US-Aquino2 regime took power, the miserable situation in the Ilocos-Cordillera region mirrors the dismal state of the nation. From the impoverished tobacco and palay farmers in the Ilocos provinces to the indigenous people plowing hybrid corn fields, vegetable gardens and rice terraces in the Cordillera, the empty promises of the Aquino regime are reflected in the continuing violations and betrayal of the people’s right to land, livelihood and resources.

The real boss of the Aquino administration turns out to be not the Filipino people, but US Imperialism as it furiously expands its economic interests as well as large scale corporate mines and geothermal and hydroelectric power projects in Northern Luzon and rams down the nation’s throat its Oplan Bayanihan (OPB), the so-called internal peace and security plan. It is these that exacerbate and continue to heighten the national oppression that reached ethnocidal proportion being suffered by indigenous people of the Cordillera and the Filipino people in general.

Indeed, Aquino’s Daang Matuwid turns out to be no different from the substandard Halsema Highway with its erosions and slides, close-open status and serving mainly foreign interests in extracting super profits from the region’s resources.

Oplan Bayanihan: Furthering the National Oppression of the Indigenous People

Despite it’s deceptive psy-war features, Oplan Bayanihan (OPB) is fast showing up it’s true vicious character compared to its failed predecessor, Oplan Bantay Laya 1 & 2 of the unheralded and despicable US-Arroyo regime. The 5th IDPA and the NOLCOM of the AFP have overzealously applied its age-old imperialist master’s tactics of ‘divide and rule’ by exploiting indigenous social, economic and political systems in its counter-insurgency operations. They target not only combatants but more so innocent civilians including minors and the elderly. Coining nice sounding contraption to hide the harshness and vileness of Oplan Bayanihan does not succeed in erasing the notoriety of the AFP as armed units of the ruling class. Changing its notorious ”Reengineered Special Operations Teams” to ”Peace and Development Operations Teams”does not do the desired trick. It succeeds though in sowing intrigues and beclouding clear provisions of peace pact pagta where armed units (AFP/PNP and/or NPA) are not covered. Operating troops continue to quarter in schools, day-care centers, barangay halls and clinics, private homes and other public and sacred places contrary to clear provisions of CARHRIHL and Protocols of the Geneva Conventions. In many cases, families are broken up as a result of soldiers’ womanizing. Young female students are also vulnerable to abuses especially where detachments are near schools. In one case, the whole tribesmen of a young lass have to be mobilized to demand accountability of the soldier’s tribes mate when a married soldier impregnated a young first year college student. Also drunken soldiers always spark troubles with youngsters even at the flimsiest of reasons.

Oplan Bayanihan does not spare even the elderly. There is no let up to the violations of human rights even under the present regime, contrary to what the regime promised to respect human rights upon its ascension to power. In the wee hours of May 27, combat troops of the 54th IB led by a certain Lt. Roland Carinan, forced open the door of the house of the CPDF Spokesperson’s octogenarian father at Butigue, Paracelis, Mountain Province. In neighboring Alfonso Lista in Ifugao, three peasants were dragged out of their huts and brought to detachment barracks on mere suspicion of aiding or housing Red fighters. When it was found out that false charges could not prosper, the troops resorted to gathering the entire community and threatening them with reprisal if any complaint is filed against the military. And in Tinoc, Ifugao, a drunken PNP personnel under the Regional Mobile Force implementing Oplan Bayanihan in the area ran amok and killed several of his companions, killing two villagers including the civilian homeowner who invited them for a drinking sortie, and wounding another.

The outskirts of villages in Southern Abra have turned into a virtual free-fire zone as two 105 mm. howitzers were placed in Kili, Tubo from May 22-29 this year, while a mortar shell was fired several times from the church grounds of Beew, Alangtin in the same town. A civilian who purchased a carabao last May 24 in Tabacda (Baclingayan), also in Tubo, was arbitrarily accosted by a 21-man section under 2Lt. Aries M. Tagayun and got the scare of his dear life when army men arbitrarily harassed him by
firing bullets near his feet three times. Movements of the population in and out of the barrios are controlled, with the troops of 50th IB commander Col. Anquillano listing the names and destination of each individual limiting their labor time thus aggravating the economic hardship of the villagers. Often, when a soldier does not like an answer from a resident, punches are thrown; and a civilian from Kili was even stripped naked for the flimsiest of accusations and detained for several hours. Fences keeping carabaos from farm fields were deliberately damaged by the military, letting loose carabaos to the rice fields causing heavy losses and destruction to their crops.

The human rights abuses run smack against the pretension of the Aquino regime to reforming the military. The continuing rampage of military operations ridicules any pretentious human rights concerns. Its ”winning the peace” mantra is nothing more than a camouflage of their concept of “peace of the graveyard” as the hallmark of OPB. Moreover, these are desperate attacks on increasingly organized people resisting the heightened intrusion of mining and other corporate economic ventures that the mercenary AFP is instructed to protect.

Economic Hardship alongside Neglect

With half of the Cordillera land area covered by various mining permit and exploration applications, further ruin of hinterland communities can be expected. Long-term effects of proposed deep-seated mining, as the Lepanto-Goldfields venture envisions, would exacerbate the destruction already impacted on municipalities such as Mankayan in Benguet. The mining operations of the US giant mining company, Phelps Dodge in Patiacan, Quirino, in Ilocos Sur and Batong Buhay, Pasil, Kalinga; Lepanto’s nine front companies planning to drill in 311,853 hectares more in 29 municipalities across six provinces; the 33 mining applications covering 292,600 hectares criss-crossing Abra; as well as Nickel-Asia’s take-over of the 194,640 hectares covered by Cordillera Exploration/Anglo-American Exploration all make a mockery of the Free Prior & Informed Consent (FPIC) process. Since the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) makes it a point to invent and recognize organization of elders that eventually grant FPICs despite opposition from genuine people’s organizations, the provisions of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) has become a mechanism that acts as a milking cow for the corrupt bureaucracy.

With the anticipated artificial energy crisis generated by the reliance of the bulk of the country’s power supply on fossil fuels, 5 geothermal and 38 hydroelectric power projects in the Cordillera would create great havoc on the environment, not to mention the effect on the livelihood from inundated fields. Gargantuan profit is assured to these energy contractors/providers as they play in the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market wherein power supply fluctuations lead to price manipulations.

Farming communities along the Abra a nd Agno rivers have to contend not only with heavily-silted and highly-polluted river systems brought about by mine tailings, but also by low farm-gate prices of their produce brought about by intensified monopolization of the tobacco industry with the merger of Philip Morris and Fortune Tobacco. BT Corn farmers of eastern Ifugao and eastern Mountain Province are likewise rendered helpless under the control and manipulation of traders that press down prices to even less than P11.50 per kilo. Prices of seeds for planting are pegged at exorbitant cost wherein a kilo of corn seeds is sold at P5,000. This chemical fertilizer-dependent genetically-engineered BT Corn needs to use an herbicide called Dekalb that is also produced by the seed supplying company, Monsanto. The escalating prices of petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides have pushed vegetable farmers in particular and all types of farming in general to an increasingly loosing venture. As a result more and more people are desperately and increasingly shifting towards the more dangerous, destructive and anarchic but relatively lucrative small-scale mining.

The Aquino regime has not only sustained but intensified the so-called quick but palliative imperialist dictated poverty alleviation program of the preceding Arroyo government– that of the dole out Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), otherwise known as Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps—insulting and turning the productive forces into beggars. So much funds have been spent already and yet health and school infrastructures in the 49 CCT areas in the Cordillera region have not improved or have even deteriorated. Even in the province of Benguet, ironically one of the five richest provinces in the country and also a CCT recipient, one out of three schools do not meet the minimum standard of one seat for every student. As much as 20% of the P20 billion earmarked for CCT nationwide goes to trainings, additional staff and printing of manuals and not to the actual beneficiaries – a source of corruption for the DSWD. A third of this amount is sourced out from multilateral finance institutions such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which have to be paid within 25 years. Interests alone will fetch an additional P44 billion.

Despite the more-than-modest contribution to the nation’s coffers – consistently contributing 2% to the Gross National Product – the Cordillera region’s national budget allocation only equals that of the lone province of Pangasinan and worst, five of its six provinces belong to the bottom 15 poorest in the country. Its infrastructure profile highlights the following stark data: The Cordillera region has the least total length of paved roads (899 kms.) among all regions nationwide, and the least number and length of concrete bridges (173 for 6,114 kms.) as well as the least number of total permanent bridges (250 concrete and steel) despite being the source of major tributaries and rivers that run the five mega dams in Luzon. Abra province has the least number of concrete bridges (7) nationwide.

Fomenting Political Warlordism

The shifting of political alliances facilitated by party turncoatism to strengthen the administration coalition has brought about warlord wannabes. This early, politicians have sought to consolidate control and influence over stakeholders, wherein even a state college president has been a victim of vicious ploys to replace the position with a lackey of the incumbent Congressman.

To further co-opt Cordillera political leaders and facilitate further the exploitation of its rich natural resources, a third attempt has been initiated to push for an Organic Act creating a bogus Cordillera Autonomous Region. Regional autonomy is meaningless and counter-productive when political power is held by imperialist lackeys and the elite classes of landlord-comprador bureaucrat capitalists, as well as criminals, opportunists, and hypocrites. Genuine regional autonomy can only be achieved when the nation is truly sovereign and free from the domination of imperialist and local ruling classes. When the ruling classes shout “autonomy,” what the latter actually means is, “Ituno mi ti Cordillera”—“We will roast the Cordillera!” solely for their class interests.

Corresponding to this maneuver is the dangling by the Office of the Presidential Assistant for the Peace Process (OPAPP) of a so-called P400 million livelihood fund to the newly cosmetized merger group that seek to regroup the fractious and moribund Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA). The Aquino regime seeks to resuscitate the comatose CPLA in order to project some progress in peace talks that it currently sabotages thus stalling the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations. In addition, the proposed arming of allegedly 1,200 remnants of the CPLA – a dubious figure since this was the same number it presented previously when the reactionary government formally integrated them in the AFP in September 2008 – poses a threat to the stability of the political climate as another private army of Ampatuan notoriety would only be at the service of regional warlord wannabes and lackeys of any resident of Malacañang, aside from resuming its status as a special paramilitary force against the revolutionary forces.

Lessons of Advancing Struggles

It is in sheer desperation that the reactionary forces are scampering frenziedly to hamper and thwart the growing strength of the revolutionary movement and the NPA as it strives to advance the struggle to a higher stage of the people’s war in the coming years. >From OPB to the resurrected CPLA, from dole outs to regional warlords, an array of obstacles, albeit futile, is being hurdled at the surging people’s struggle.

The progressive legal mass movement has made significant strides in defending the land, livelihood and rights of the indigenous people. Barricades to stop drilling, mass actions to question fraudulent FPICs launched alongside petitions and signature campaigns and confrontations from the different affected areas, all illustrate the picture of people’s response against political and economic aggression in the region.

Village folks have answered militarization by holding confrontations with CMO units right at their detachment doorsteps. Militant delegations are daringly being staged whenever rampant abuses have been committed by the military, despite their attempts to placate the civilians with psy-war savvy and an increasingly indigenized officers’ corps as well as rank and file. The genuine Cordillera Day in April this year was successfully concluded by thousands of participants despite the employment of different forms of sabotage including the use of spikes to delay vehicles along the road. Painstakingly but steadily, the revolutionary government is fast developing in the countryside, alongside genuine agrarian revolution that improves the socio-economic condition of the masses.

Noynoy Aquino can say whatever he wants in his State of the Nation, no matter how empty and unreal. He can keep parroting his hollow ‘Matuwid na daan’ line to cover up his regime’s ‘bagsak’ performance grade. His political apologists can always say, it’s too early to judge the failures of his regime in quelling both poverty and abuses in the civilian government and military establishment.

In the Ilocos-Cordillera region, the Aquino regime failed miserably. There is no clear cut difference between the present Aquino regime and the Arroyo regime it preceded. As in all the previous regimes, the Aquino regime in its first year in office failed to address but instead continued to perpetuate the historically rooted issue of national oppression being suffered by the national minorities of the Cordillera.

It failed to repeal national laws and policies that continue to violate the rights of the indigenous people over their ancestral lands and resources. Instead, it continues to deploy and launch massive militarization that continues to spawn human rights abuses—against individuals and against the collective rights of indigenous peoples. Alongside militarization comes the renewed frenzied efforts of large scale mining companies to intensify their mining ventures. Despite favorable court orders, it failed to compel its mercenary AFP and PNP to produce the body of James Balao a victim of enforced disappearance. It continues to create agencies and coddle, resuscitate and fund the comatose CPLA to misrepresent the interests of the Cordillera people.

Aquino can never stem the people’s advancing struggle regionally and nationally. The peoples’ struggle for their political and economic liberation is just and is for their bright future. Genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization perfectly serves their interests. Thus, the people’s militant and concerted action will surely continue to surge forward alongside the advancing armed struggle in the countryside, so long as the revolutionary party of the proletariat correctly leads.

It is only the national democratic revolution that will ensure genuine political autonomy and self-determination for the Cordillera people, in a people’s war that would end the ongoing ethnocide of the national minorities.






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