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Seasons Greetings!

The Pangat, the Mountains,
and the River

Written by Luz B. Maranan
Illustrated by Ariel Santillan

Macliing Dulag

In earlier times, indigenous people did not have any written records of birth, so Macliing Dulag’s exact birthdate is unknown. But his descendants estimate it to have been in the early 1930s. Macliing was born to the Butbut tribe in the village of Bugnay, a community nestled among the mountains of Upper Tinglayan in the province of Kalinga. As a young man during the war in the mid-1940s, Macliing helped the Filipino guerillas fight the Japanese by serving as a porter. After the war, he cultivated land for rice, beans, and sweet potatoes that his family consumed.

It was second nature to Macliing to be concerned about  his community. Though he did not acquire an education, he developed skills as a local leader and spoke his mind well. This endeared him to the people, and earned for him the respect of his community who chose him as their barrio captain.
By 1966, Macliing was a respected pangat or community leader of Bugnay. His sense of service to his fellow villagers became even stronger.  He also worked as a caminero or road maintenance worker. The government under then President Ferdinand Marcos came up with the Chico River Basin Development Project in 1965 with financial assistance from the World Bank. Four dams were to be built along the Chico River. They would provide electricity to the lowlands, but they also would flood many villages in Bontoc and Kalinga, especially those along the Chico River.
An estimated indigenous population of 100,000 stood to be displaced if the project pushed through. Macliing, representing  his people, bravely confronted government authorities, telling them to abandon their plans to build the dams. Those who opposed and resisted were arrested and charged with offenses and detained. Macliing’s resistance led to his detention with other protesting villagers in 1977. The opposition to the dams grew louder, stronger and wider. The attempts of Malacañang‘s Kalinga Special Development Region (KSRD) agency, and the Presidential Assistant for National Minorities (PANAMIN), to persuade the leaders and people in the Chico area failed, despite truckloads of food  and other enticements. Bribery, deception and coercion worked among a handful of isolated elders, who were criticized by the majority. PANAMIN even stirred up tribal wars to sow disunity among the people. Macliing led the campaign to stop the construction of the dams, gaining widespread support from local and international media and organizations.
Desperate government officials sent Philippine Army soldiers on April 24, 1980 to Macliing’s house, and shot him dead, silencing him forever. But Macliing’s death failed to intimidate the people. It only served to  fuel militant protest against the dams by other villages even if they were not affected.  After Macliing’s assassination, the government aborted the Chico River Dam Development Project because of the continuing strong popular opposition. This historic success was achieved at the price of Macliing’s life. The people who refused to yield held a Macliing Dulag Memorial to commemorate his martyrdom.

Since then, there have been bigger celebrations each year to remember the martyrs and warriors who have given up their lives in the Cordillera people’s struggle for the defense of their ancestral land and for self-determination. It has also become  an occasion for solidarity among the various groups of indigenous people in the Cordillera. Since 1985, April 24 has been commemorated as Cordillera Day by the Cordillera People’s Alliance, which is supported by indigenous people’s groups from all over the world.