KASAMA Vol. 10 No. 2 / April-May-June 1996 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

The Chico Dam Project and the Kalinga Women

Presented at the NGO Forum of the Fourth World Conference on Women 1995, Forum on Women's Resistance Strategies by Leticia Bula-at of INNABUYOG
Edited and translated by Bernice See

Graphic: Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos, ECTF Research Series, 1983

The men first came to my village when I was 19 years old - that was in 1967. The men spoke with our elders. They said that they were sent by the government to survey our land. Our people became wary. We did not exactly know about this plan by the government. We were never consulted, just like when they surveyed our land the first time. My elders remember that this was during the American colonial period. First the white men came for a visit carrying some kind of gadgets where they peeped and wrote some things on paper. Then after a few years, some men came back and said that all of the people in my village are required to apply for the titling of the land where we live. The men said that without this, we can't own our land. Our people did not understand - what paper title? What piece of paper to show ownership? Isn't it enough that this land is where all the generations of our people lived and died? Then they said that we have to pay taxes to the government for the land! This is our land, why should we pay? These ideas were totally alien to us.

Then here comes another survey. YES, that is exactly the word that the Americans used - SURVEY! Our people asked, What is the government up to now? A high government official from our province in Kalinga came and said that we must not oppose the survey. It will be beneficial to many and that he already saw the area where we were going to be resettled. Resettled? We got more confused. We started to ask more questions. Our people started to hold meetings and consultations with other villages being surveyed. Our people tried to investigate. Then we found out! All along, the government had been planning to build four big dams along our Chico River!

And it is not only our village that was going to be affected, but many other villages. It will cross over two provinces. We did not know what was a dam then - but we heard stories from the men in my village who worked in the construction of a dam in the 1950s in a southern province in the Cordillera peopled by Ibalois.

They said that they would build big and high walls in our rivers. It will be big enough to submerge our villages, the forests, our swiddens and terraces, the land where our ancestors are buried! This was what happened to the village of our Ibaloi brothers and sisters who were displaced because of the construction of the dam. They were promised land where they can be resettled and the government said that they will be paid - these promises were never fulfilled. It was only the time when they planned to build the dam along the Chico river that the government offered and gave them a resettlement site - but in an area so far away from their original village, where there is no clear source of water, where the land is not arable and in an area that is malaria-infested and it was on an island so far away from home. Many of the people got sick. They left the area to live with their relatives. Others went to live in the cities but were considered as squatters. At another time, they were offered a resettlement area in the nearby lowlands. Again this was not arable and worse, it was the ancestral home to another group of indigenous peoples. Some went to Casecnan - in an ancestral land of another tribe where they are presently again being threatened to be displaced because of another World Bank-funded dam project of the government.

The government went on with the survey of where they were going to construct the dam, while our people went on with the meetings and consultations with other villages to discuss and plan how we are going to oppose the construction of the dam. At first we sent petitions and delegations to the President to express our opposition. The President did not respond, instead in the mid-70s, more men came back - this time, they were in fatigue uniforms and carrying guns. They had with them big construction equipment and materials - they came to start the construction of the dam. They started first to set up big tents. When we learned about this, some women in the village stopped working and went to the site to confront the men. They asked the men not to continue with what they were doing. The men did not listen to them so the women dismantled the tents themselves. This was the start of a long period of active resistance by the people against the IMF-WB funded Chico River Dam development Project of the government where women played key and important roles.

Our people and the people from other villages forged peacepacts through our traditional systems and united together to oppose the dam project. We kept vigil at night and barricaded the sites - men, women and children were all involved. We took turns in cooking, planting, keeping vigil and watching over the barricades. Almost everyone in the villages affected were mobilized. Each day, callers were assigned to provide the signal whenever government men brought in construction equipment and materials or if they made a move to start to build the dam. And if we heard the loud cry which is the signal - everyone of us stopped what we were doing - and we'd go to the site and stop any move to construct the dam.

At one time, when they attempted to set up their tents again - the loud cry came - we all rushed to the site - we dismantled and took the tents and other equipment with us. Then we brought them to the barracks in the town center - we had to march for miles. We started walking late in the afternoon. We shouted slogans against the construction of the dam as we marched along. We arrived in the barracks early the next day. This we did as an act of protest.

But after several days, the soldiers brought the equipment back.

At another time, during the height of the struggle, women tried to prevent the entry of a truck that was bringing in more construction materials. We laid down in the road so that the trucks would not be able to pass. When they tried to bring the materials down from the truck, others tried to physically struggle with the men - the men were becoming more aggressive - many among us were hurt - we cried but at the same time we fought back and kicked them. All the women who were there did what they thought was best to prevent any move by the men to construct the dam or set up their tents. In desperation - one woman removed her clothes - others followed. One lactating mother had to squeeze out milk from her breast to prevent a soldier from getting near her. But the men had guns, so they were able to take many of my elders, sisters and brothers to the barracks where they were detained. After a few days, our leaders were brought to a detention center in Manila.

Demanding for their release was what occupied us for the next months. Many more were mobilized not only from our villages but from other parts as well. We were able to generate, gather support from our sisters and brothers from the other sectors of society; and gain support from the national and international levels. They struggled together with us - they also demanded the release of the villagers that were detained.

However, this was also the time that the men were able to set up concrete structures in the sites that would serve as their camp and at the same time a site where they were going to deliver equipment and materials that would be used for the construction of the dam.

Because of the widening support and pressure, the government was forced to release our people after 6 months of detention. When they came back to our villages, we sustained and continued our opposition to the construction of the dam. Many of our villagers including some of our women joined in the armed resistance.

Finally, in 1987, 20 years after they started the survey, the government officially shelved the Chico River Dam Development Project. Our people rejoiced and held celebrations. This was a historic event because we learned that it was the first time that an IMF-World Bank-funded project was successfully stopped because of the militant opposition by the people.

A few years ago, we again learned that the government is planning to implement so called development projects. But this time it will not only be in our villages, but in the entire Cordillera. This time they don't only plan to build 4 but 17 dams. Our government has a vision of making our country a newly industrializing country by the year 2000. And they said that these are necessary to generate power and electricity for the needs of the big companies that will be set up. The government also recently passed a mining law that allows mining companies to further exploit our lands - we know that these companies being allowed by our government to mine our lands are owned by foreign big businesses. They said that they can mine the land from 50 to 75 years to a maximum area of 81,000 hectares. They are also planning to convert our rice fields and terraces into the production of cash crops such as cut flowers and mango trees. They said that this will be good for us as it will bring about development to our country.

But we know that it is not us poor people who will benefit from these programs. Not us in our village not the majority of the people in my country who are poor. Then, the Marcos government used to say - we must sacrifice for the sake of the majority - but it is not even the majority who will benefit but foreign big companies and their local partners who are also the high government officials in my country.

The generations of my people have nurtured, protected and defended our lands for many centuries now. Our people resisted hundreds of years of colonial rule and struggled against vested interests who considered our lands only as a resource base. Today, we continue to fight and struggle against these oppressors. We will not allow our lands to be taken away from us. We will not allow our resources to be further exploited. For us - land is life, it is sacred. This land is where our ancestors are buried. This land is what kept generations of my people alive and this is where we are going to die.

First printed in Chaneg Vol. 4 No. 2 & 3, Jun-Dec 95

Graphic: Chaneg, Vol.3 No.1 Jan/April 1992

PROFILE: Innabuyog

March 8, 1990 saw the birth of Innabuyog, an alliance of community-based indigenous women's organisations in the Cordillera region of northern Philippines. To date there are 82 member organisations, mostly based in remote, rural areas.

The Innabuyog General Program of Action covers the entire breadth of the women's lives. This includes political, economic, social, cultural and environmental concerns. Human rights is a major concern and area of work. Documentation of women-specific human rights violations in militarised areas have been done. Some of these have been published in TEBTEBA, a journal of the Cordillera Women's Education and Resource Centre (CWERC). It has sent participants in human rights education seminars in order to enhance the awareness of the women on their basic rights and their rights as indigenous peoples. Coming mostly from remote areas, these are also needed when they have to face the military who often accuses them of being rebel supporters. Testimonies have been presented on violations of Cordillera indigenous women's rights in different fora both nationally and internationally.

The lack of basic services such as a waterworks system is a major problem of Innabuyog women. After taking a basic leadership training seminar one organisation negotiated with government agencies and officials, and landed a contract for a waterworks project in their villages. They implemented the project beyond the specifications defined by the government agency. As a result of village politics, mainly through male village officials, the women lost financially but gained an important learning experience.

Many women set-up their own day-care centres before asking for assistance from government. In order to improve the capability of caregivers and the women themselves, Innabuyog organised three early childhood education seminars and accessed books to equip day-care centres and schools in the villages.

Innabuyog holds lessons from history. Many village women have been active participants in the defence of their land and resources. Land surveys, mining prospecting, open pit mining operations, and logging have been actively opposed by women since the beginning of the century - a militant tradition which Innabuyog continues.

As community mangers, Innabuyog organisations are doing advocacy work at the village level. Drunkenness, which leads to increased domestic violence and wastes money, moved many Innabuyog organisations to lobby for bans on liquor and gambling where regulations existed, the women lobbied to be given police powers to be able to patrol the village and to arrest violators. Some village organisations, through the efforts of women, have made domestic violence a ground for expulsion.

Innabuyog had been active in peasant concerns. It participated in rallies, fora and other activities during Peasant Week and Day for the past several years to give a woman peasants perspective to issues raised. The impact of SAPs, GATT and other policies will continue to be of concern to the women. Innabuyog has taken the lead in the anti-pesticide campaign in one of our provinces. This will be a continuing concern with deepening analysis and education for the women.

Education to raise the awareness of women on their situation as Filipino citizens, as poor peasants, workers, or urban poor, as women, and as half of the indigenous peoples, is a major component of the program in Innabuyog. These are done in the villages with local resource persons as much as possible. The CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women), the Draft Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights, and other pertinent national laws which affect the women are included when necessary. The objective is to provide the women with a forum with other women where they share their experiences, knowledge, concerns, problems and issues, and how they dealt with these.

This collection of small successes provides big lessons. From these small victories, small struggles, Innabuyog derives its strength. Our concern is to empower the women to change their lives at their own pace, from their own initiative and resources. These are not earthshaking achievements, but they mean a lot to the poor, voiceless and disempowered indigenous women of the Cordillera.

INNABUYOG, Philippines has been successful in focussing its members efforts in the quest for sustainable development and the defence of their ancestral lands. It has played an important role in responding to local needs and issues such as a ban on liquor, illegal logging and development aggression by foreign corporations. It runs its own small scale socio-economic initiatives and production activities, and provides childcare services based on the principle of collectivism and mutual support.

Contact: Bernice A. See, Innabuyog, 16 Loro Street, Dizon Subd., Baguio City, 2600 Philippines. Tel.# 63 74 442 5347 or Fax.# 63 74 442 5205