CPA THROUGH THE YEARS OF STRUGGLE (A History of Campaigns)
Since its formation in 1984, CPA waged numerous campaigns to educate, organize, and mobilize the Cordillera peoples. It was able to conduct widespread public information and educational activities to popularize indigenous peoples’ rights in general, and specifically the Cordillera peoples' aspiration for self-determination in the form of genuine regional autonomy. It also spearheaded series of protest actions against the fascist Marcos dictatorship.
Pushing for genuine regional autonomy
Upon the ascendance in 1986 of the initially popular government of Corazon Aquino, CPA pursued its call for the creation of a Cordillera region as one geopolitical entity, in recognition to its character as the homeland of the Cordillera indigenous peoples and towards the formation of a Cordillera autonomous region.
CPA successfully lobbied for the inclusion of the Cordillera peoples’ right to regional autonomy in the Philippine Constitution of 1987. However, the Organic Act approved by the elite-dominated Congress – the enabling law that would have created the Cordillera autonomous region – did not embody the substance of self-governance and indigenous peoples’ control over their resources. Thus, CPA called for its rejection which was supported by the people during the referendum held on this law.
It became clear that the struggle for genuine regional autonomy could not be achieved, unless there is truly a democratic and sovereign national government that will recognize the collective rights of indigenous peoples for self-determination and governance.
Militarization and political repression
When the Aquino regime declared “all-out war” against insurgents, and joined forces with the self-styled mercenary group, the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA), their deadly combination resulted in more CPA leaders and members being killed and harassed. This included the killings by the CPLA of CPA Vice Chairperson Daniel Ngaya-an and Romy Gardo, CPA organizer in Abra province.
In the midst of a series of intense military operations among indigenous communities, and the red-baiting and black propaganda against CPA and other progressive organizations, several member-organizations of CPA became inactive due to fear, harassment and intimidation.
But CPA began to recover from this situation through its perseverance and consistent advocacy on human rights and indigenous peoples rights at the local, national and international levels.
Campaign for the Defense of Land, Life and Resources
When the United Nations declared 1993 as the Year for Indigenous Peoples and later the years 1994-2003 as the Indigenous Peoples (IP) Decade, CPA launched its decade-long campaign for the defense of land, life and resources, coinciding with the UN-declared IP Decade.
This period covered the intense campaign of CPA and its allied organizations and networks against the open-pit mining project of Benguet Corporation, which stopped operation in 1992. CPA also implemented a participatory research program on land related-issues and successfully held the second Cordillera multi-sectoral land conference in 1995.
The adverse impact of Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the Cordillera was also highlighted in its continuing education and public information campaign. The campaign focused on the Cordillera Central Agricultural Project (CECAP) of the European Community and the Highland Agricultural Development Project (HADP) of the Asian Development Bank, which later became the Cordillera Highland Agricultural Resource Management Project (CHARMP).
No to large-scale mines in the Cordillera, save the Abra river
When Congress passed the Mining Act of 1995, CPA immediately held a series of protest actions and community mobilizations to demand that this oppressive law be scrapped. This law is for the full liberalization of the Philippine mining industry, allowing 100% ownership of foreign mining companies, among other numerous incentives, benefits and privileges given to mining companies.
With numerous mining applications by foreign and local mining firms covering almost half of the Cordillera territory at one time, CPA pursued a widespread and sustained campaign against large-scale mining in the region, together with other groups and networks.
This sustained education, lobby and advocacy campaign gained support from a number of local government officials, who endorsed resolutions disallowing large-scale mining operation in their jurisdiction. Likewise, the continued vigilance of indigenous communities is making it difficult for mining firms to open up new mines in the region.
In January 2004, the Supreme Court issued a decision stating that certain 1995 Mining Act provisions, which allowed 100% ownership, management and control of local mines by foreign firms, were unconstitutional. CPA welcomed the SC ruling, and continues to call for the cancellation of other mining applications, genuine rehabilitation of mined-out areas, compensation for victims of mining-related disasters, and a stop to expansion programs of existing mining firms.
Another focus campaign of CPA is the continued operation and expansion of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company in Mankayan Benguet. Affected communities have been complaining of land subsidence, pollution of the Abra river from the toxic tailings dam, other environmental and health impacts of the project. CPA spearheaded the formation of the Save the Abra River Movement (STARM), a broad coalition of various sectors and concerned citizens.
Divisive and deceptive laws and policies
CPA came out with its critique of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA) after it was passed in 1997. This law, while sounding progressive in language, does not provide for the actual recognition of ancestral land rights and indigenous peoples’ control over their resources. Inspite of the passage of this law on indigenous peoples rights, indigenous communities in the Cordillera and the rest of the country remains confronted with serious problems on the violation of their collective rights over their land and resources and human rights violations by development aggression and militarization being pursued by the government. CPA continues to fight assert the collective rights of indigenous peoples over their land and resources, for self-determination and genuine people’s development.
CPA also came out with its critique on the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) and other related forestry and land laws and policies, adversely affecting indigenous peoples.
No to the San Roque dam and other megadams in the Cordillera
From 1998 onwards, CPA launched its sustained campaign against the San Roque Multi-purpose Dam, with its member-organizations of the affected communities. This campaign generated a very broad support at the regional, national and international levels. It has engaged in direct lobby work with the dam-funder, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) as well as with national legislative bodies. The dam project is currently in operation, and CPA continues to oppose this destructive project and other planned mega-dams in the region.
Militarization and ethnocide
Through the years, CPA has exposed countless cases of human rights violations committed in the region, and fought for justice and compensation to victims of militarization.
Massive military deployment, sustained military operations, and aggressive recruitment of paramilitary forces among the village folk, have resulted in numerous human rights violations, more tribal conflicts, community disharmony, and general instability in the Cordillera countrysides.
CPA has thus been calling for the pullout of military forces, the dismantling of paramilitary units, and justice to all victims of human rights violations.
CPA has been active in tackling major national issues in its public information, education and direct-action activities. These include its opposition to national policies that implement structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and WTO-imposed policies on privatization, liberalization and de-regulation of basic industries, services and agriculture.
Within this framework, CPA, mainly through its Metro Baguio Chapter, the Tongtongan ti Umili (TTU), has been spearheading protest actions against the privatization of power, against the deregulation of the oil industry causing a long series of oil price hikes, and against the worsening economic crisis and political repression.
CPA was also in the forefront of the popular campaign and mobilizations demanding the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada, who was being impeached for plunder and other charges.
CPA has also been also active in the protest campaign against the US wars of aggression and continuing occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, in the campaign against the US global counter-terror crusade that is being supported and promoted by the current Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime. It actively participates in direct actions calling for the pullout of US military forces in the Philippines, and asserts the Filipino people’s rights to national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
International advocacy, networking and solidarity
Since its formation, CPA has committed itself to establishing friendly and principled relations with overseas indigenous peoples’ organizations, advocate groups, and progressive individuals and institutions.
In 1987, CPA organized and hosted the first Asian Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Conference, which led to the establishment of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP). This organization remains as a major Asian IP formation, and CPA is presently in its executive committee as represented by its Chairperson.
CPA also organized and hosted the First Asian Indigenous Women’s Conference in January 1990, which led to the formation of the Asia Indigenous Women’s Network (AIWN).
CPA is also a founding member of the International Alliance of Indigenous/Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forest ( known as International Alliance of IPs), which was formally established in 1993.
Likewise, CPA maintains strong solidarity relations with numerous IP advocate groups based in countries of the global North.
In line with its international lobby and advocacy work, CPA regularly participates in the annual meeting of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Issues, and the sessions of the United Nations Working Group on the draft Declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. Likewise, it actively participating in the annual sessions of the United Nations Permanent Forum on indigenous issues since the forum was established in 2001.
CPA sponsored an Asian Human Rights Training on International Human Rights Instruments in October 2002, in partnership with the Saami Council based in Norway.
In line with its advocacy against large dams, CPA hosted the Second Meeting of the Rivers Watch, East and Southeast Asia (RWESA) in February 2002, and is currently the facilitator of this network opposed to large dams and for the protection of rivers and people’s livelihood.
On the basis of its advocacy and campaigns against large dams and commercial mining, CPA maintains a very broad linkages and partnerships at the international level.
Since 2002, CPA has also been participating in the the World Social Forum as the biggest gathering of anti-globalization civil society organizations and institutions, organizing its own events with other IP organizations. It also participated in the NGO parallel events during the 2003 Cancun Meeting of the World Trade Organization.
CPA seeks to unite with all anti-imperialist groups and organizations. It is a member of the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS), an anti-imperialist formation at the international level.
Cordillera Day: an annual solidarity gathering
Ama Macliing Dulag, a tribal elder who helped lead the indigenous peoples’ struggle versus the Chico dam project, was killed in April 24, 1980 by a unit of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In the next years, CPA and indigenous communities held Macliing Memorial Days annually to commemorate his martyrdom. Since 1985, the Macliing Memorial was transformed into Cordillera Day, as a day of commemoration of all Cordillera martyrs and heroes, and also as a solidarity gathering of Cordillera indigenous communities, friends and advocates for the continuing struggle for self-determination, indigenous peoples’ rights, human rights, and social justice.
This annual gathering, held every April 24-25, has been well attended by an average of from 3,000 to 4,000 participants each year. The celebration is usually hosted by an indigenous village community in one of the region’s many hinterland areas, emphasizing its character as a grassroots-based solidarity affair. At the same time, Cordillera Day enjoys increasing recognition overseas, with a growing number of international participants from both the global North and South.
Through the years, CPA has been continuing its organizing work in numerous communities in the various Cordillera provinces, giving education and training seminars and facilitating needed and appropriate community projects and other services for grassroots development and welfare. In its organizing work, it carries the positive values of cooperation and mutual assistance within and among villages in addressing their concerns and welfare.
Likewise, CPA has been conducting an educational campaign against the scourge of tribal wars, and has been active in tribal conflict resolution and in promoting inter-tribal unity.
With CPA’s painstaking organizing and education work among indigenous communities and sectors, its membership and influence base has been steadily growing. Aside from its community-based multi-sectoral organizations, it now includes regional sectoral alliances and federations of peasant women, youth and elders.
Just like other big organizations, however, CPA faces new challenges on how to further consolidate its growing membership and its other political gains, given the changing political, economic and socio-cultural realities at the regional, national and international levels.