BAAY-LICUAN, Abra― Distance has never prevented overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from celebrating Cordillera Day and taking on issues affecting them and the Filipino people.
Cordillera Day is celebrated annually in one of the provinces in the Cordillera region every April 24, a historic and significant date for the Cordillera people. On April 24, 1980, soldiers belonging to the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division, under Lt. Leodegario Adalem, fired at two houses in the village of Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga. The purpose of the military operation was to kill two prominent leaders of the Kalinga and Bontok peoples who were opposed to the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Ama Macliing Dulag, a respected pangat (tribal chieftain) of the Butbut tribe, died from multiple gunshots while Pedro Dungoc survived. Dungoc later joined the New Peoples Army (NPA) and died as a guerilla fighter.
Through the years, Cordillera Day symbolized the widening unity and solidarity among the different indigenous peoples of the Cordillera, with advocate and support groups at the regional, national and international levels participating in the annual event.
The 24th Cordillera Day, this year, was celebrated in Baay-Licuan, Abra, the site of a mining exploration project in the province.
Cordillera Day commemoration abroad
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in Taiwan and Hong Kong likewise celebrate Cordillera Day, albeit at a different date, the Sunday after April 2 4, to maximize the day off of migrant workers. OFWs in Taiwan would celebrate this year’s Cordillera Day on May 4, while OFWs in Hong Kong would celebrate it on May 5. Filipinos in Macau, Belgium, and Japan also observe Cordillera Day in their respective host countries.
Cordillera Day celebrations in Hong Kong is spearheaded by the Cordillera Alliance, which is composed of migrant groups whose members come from Bontoc, Abra, Kalinga, Benguet and Ifugao.
OFWs Ludy Guinaban and Dolores Dayao said that their Cordillera Day celebration in Hong Kong is both a show of richness of their culture and a means to assist fellow migrants.
Guinaban, 38, from the Binongan tribe of Brgy. Lenneng, Licuan, Abra, said that in Hong Kong, OFWs from the Cordillera region wear their traditional clothes distinct to their province.
Guinaban is the secretary general of the Abra Tinguian Ilocano Society (ATIS). ATIS, a member of the Cordillera Alliance, is a federation of 19 organizations composed of natives of Tinguian and Ilocanos from different municipalities of Abra. The Licuan Hong Kong Association where Guinaban serves as its chair for the past five years is also a member.
Every year, Guinaban said, OFWs from each province in the region present a skit and cultural dance portraying the most pressing issue of their province. The leaders of the member-organizations also give a talk on the current situation in their respective provinces. At the end of the program, the different migrant groups under the Cordillera Alliance sign a unity statement, which is in line with the theme of the Cordillera Day celebration in the Philippines.
For this year’s Cordillera Day celebration, the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil-HK), the umbrella organization of OFWs in Hongkong of which the Cordillera Alliance is a member, is conducting a signature campaign to stop mining operations in the Cordillera Region, particularly the explorations in Licuan, Abra.
Since they would hold the celebration in a public place, at the Chater Road or at the Chater Garden, other OFWs who are not from the Cordillera would be able to watch and join their activity.
"Taking the opportunity to reach out to fellow OFWs"
The Cordillera Day celebration also serves as a venue to assist OFWs and other migrant workers who seek their assistance, said Dayao, 56, an Igorot from Besao, Mountain Province.
Dayao is a member of the migrant group Besao Organization and a volunteer of the Mission Volunteers-United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Movers-Unifil-HK) of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and the Anglican Church.
During the Cordillera Day celebration, Movers-Unifil-HK volunteers offer counseling services to fellow migrant workers. Movers-Unifil-HK also provides (a) legal education and assistance; (b) documentation, research, and information dissemination; and (c) pastoral care. At present, their shelter called the Bethune House accommodates Filipinos, Indonesians, and Indians, said Dayao.
But even if they make do with what they have in Hong Kong, “there’s still no place like home." That is why, whenever possible, OFWs prefer to celebrate Cordillera Day in the Philippines, as what Guinaban and Dayao did this year.
"Celebrating at home"
Guinaban timed her vacation this year in April so that she could attend the Cordillera Day celebration in Licuan, Abra, her hometown. She has been working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong since 1995. She is a college graduate, with education units but worked as a factory worker in Baguio. She taught for a while under the non-formal education program of the Aquino administration. She was then teaching 25 years old and below Abrenians how to read and write. But the sessions lasted only for three days, which, she said, was not enough.
“Napakahirap dahil 40 minutes ang lalakarin ko bago makarating sa lugar. Pa’no matututo ‘yun? sa tatlong araw lang?" (I had to walk for 40 minutes to reach the place. How could they learn anything in three days?) said Guinaban. She was paid a mere P3,000 even if they had to climb mountains to reach her “students."
Then, Guinaban’s family survived through farming their ancestral land. “Sapat na sana sa family kaso hindi naman productive na ibenta sa market dahil walang kalsada..pa’no ‘yung ibang needs gaya ng education?" (It could have been sufficient for the family but it did not pay much to sell the produce as there were not farm-to-market roads. We could not pay for our other needs such as education.)
During her 13 years of working in Hong Kong, Guinaban was able to spend her vacation in her hometown only seven times, including this year. But this is the first time she was able to attend the local celebration of Cordillera Day.
“Iba ‘yung feeling. Proud ako ito (Abra) ang napiling place. Nakakaiyak na maraming dumating at kasama sila sa paglaban sa isyu naming. ‘Di ko alam kung pa’no sila pasasalamatan sa suporta nila," (I feel proud that Abra was chosen as the venue for this year’s celebration. Seeing the many people who attended this year’s celebration and who are supporting our issues makes me cry. I do not know how to thank them for their support.) said Guinaban. She recognizes the impact that the people who attended the celebration could create just by merely telling others about the issues of the people of Abra and the Cordillera region.
For Dayao, this is the fifth time she was able to celebrate Cordillera Day in the Philippines. Dayao has also been working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong since 1981. Being the eldest, she was forced to work abroad to help support her five other siblings and her mother, who suffered physical injuries from an accident in 2002 and from a stroke in 2003. Because of these incidents, her mother requires maintenance medicines amounting to P10,000 ($237.86 at an exchange rate of $1=P42.04) a month.
Dayao said she is only earning HK$3,480 and that is just enough to support her own needs and her mother’s. Fortunately, her employer shoulders her airfare whenever she spends her vacation in the Philippines. “Gusto ko talaga mas makita ko s’ya nang regular kasi sympre tumatanda na ang nanay ko," (I really want to see my mother regularly as she is already old.) said Dayao, whose vacation coincides with Cordillera Day most of the time.
According to Guinaban, there were about 10 OFWs who were able to attend the Cordillera Day celebration this year.
"Continuing the fight"
Even if they work in a foreign land, OFWs keep themselves updated on issues affecting not only their respective provinces but also the whole country.
Through Unifil-HK, the OFWs are informed about and are able to discuss the urgent issues of the day during special meetings, leaders’ forums, and their regular gatherings every Sunday. OFWs also do their share in the advocacy for these issues through conducting protest actions at the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong and signature drives.
“Pero kung urgent at hindi nakakapag-meet agad, meron namang text, tawag o internet para malaman ‘yung isyung ‘yun," (If there is an urgent issue and we are not able to meet immediately, we call or send text messages to each other.) said Guinaban.
But, of course, OFWs still prefer to be at home.
“Napakasaya dito sa amin pero mahirap. Kung sana nakakasuporta sa needs namin…trabaho, patubig..edukasyon wala," lamented Guinaban. “Talagang pinabayaan kami para maging mahirap. Kaya ayaw nilang bigyang pansin kami..para bilhin nila..para madali nilang kunin mga resources namin." (We are happy here but life is hard. If only, we get support for our needs such as jobs, irrigation, and education, but there is none. I feel we are being neglected on purpose to keep us poor, to be able to get our resources easily.)
Guinaban said, “Kahit mag-aral ang mga tao, may mga prinsipyo kami na minana sa aming ninuno." (Even if there are some among us who are able to move forward in life because of their education, we do not forget the principles passed on to us by our ancestors) She explained that even if only four villages would be directly affected by the mining exploration, other neighboring villages would also join the fight. “’Pag scattered kami (Binongan tribe) pati culture namin (at ng ibang tribo) mawawala." (If we are not united, even our culture would vanish.)
She added that even if her brothers and sisters already live with their own families in Bangued, Abra’s capital, she said they still go in Licuan where their parents live because their memories were born in this very land.
Dayao also share the same sentiment. Although she admits that life is very hard in the province especially during these difficult times, she nevertheless would not hesitate to go back when she retires.
“Kung babalik ka naman dito, ano’ng babalikan mo?" (If I go back now, what is there for me?) said Dayao, noting that there is no gainful employment available that would enable her to support her mother’s medical needs.
Guinaban originally planned to resign from her employer this year but first she wants to make sure that their organizations in Hong Kong, the ATIS and Licuan HK Assoc, would be able to continue fighting for the rights and interests of OFWs and the Filipino people.
“2008 dapat uuwi na talaga ako for good. Pero gusto ko muna mag-train ng iba pa sa ATIS para ‘di mawasak ‘yung org..di masayang ‘yung mga pinaghirapan namin," (I plan to go home for good in 2008. But I still want to train people who would be able to take on responsibilities in the organization. It would be a pity if the organization that we worked hard to build would cease to function.) said Guinaban, noting that ATIS is one of the migrant groups that fellow OFWs have been able to rely on. - Bulatlat