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Cordillera Day – My reflections

After a seven-hour bus ride and long jeepney rides, I discovered the Cordillera for the first time. I was impressed by the beautiful landscape-- the valleys, the river and the mountains with rice terraces. It’s an amazing view that I’ve never seen before. I was very excited to discover what seems to be an idyllic area. Unfortunately I was wrong. The Cordillera is not idyllic anymore…

On Monday afternoon, we arrived at Quirino, Ilocos Sur. This first community who used to live in a prosperous area told us that their river has been so polluted that all the fishes died. In some areas it is even not possible to cultivate the lands anymore. All of these problems are due to mining wastes coming from upstream locations. Even worst is that just next to the barangay a processing plant run by the major is releasing polluted water into the river. In these conditions what is the future of this community?

The same impression followed on the next day. Once again we saw a beautiful landscapes along the road. When we reached our destination, we landed in an empty area located next to the village of Mankayan, Benguet. At the first sight, it has nothing special aside from the wooden houses. But after a short talked with their inhabitants, I learned that this two houses were actually barricades the people built to protest against a mining project. The barricade has been standing there for more than one year, and community members come there every single day to act as guardians to keep the adjacent open field free of the drilling machines owned by large-scale mines. A few months ago, the company Gold Fields began drilling operations in Mankayan which the community rejected since they understand that it will not yield any benefits to their living conditions much less to the conditions of the environment. They protested and eventually succeeded in kicking the company out. It was big success but those machines could come back at any time!

Learning about the stories of these two communities has opened my eyes. Before I had no idea about what is happening there and all the problems these people are facing. Now, I understand and I admire their struggles and their bravery. They have courage to take a stand and fight not just against big mining companies that will abuse the wealth of their ancestral land but also against their government and the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) which instead of protecting them are favoring mining operations. The indigenous people are fighting for their land and basic right—right to a decent life without suffering from pollution or landslide brought about by mining aggression.

What I will remember about this week is the strength of these people and their bravery. I’m also impressed by the active engagement of the youth. They are informed and involved and they are ready to continue the fight. I’m also happy to see that other communities from other regions or other countries were there to pledge their support and share their own experiences. There is definitely hope in seeing the rights of these population respected.

As a witness coming from the other side of the world, I will try to help them by sharing my experience once I come back home. I hope to open the eyes of other people and make them aware of what is happening in the Cordilleras.