Tartaria and Cordillera: Land and Resistance

The residents of Lupang Tartaria. Photo credit: KASAMA-TK Facebook Page

There was breaking news a couple of days ago as of this writing. Resident farmers and their families at the Lupang Tartaria in Silang, Cavite witnessed violent actions from private goons. What happened is a grim reminder that the issues of land, land grabbing, development aggression, the use of goons and guns by powerful clans like the Ayalas and the Aguinaldos are deeply entrenched problems experienced by the peasants, farmers, and rural poor in the Philippines.

The goons of Jarton private security agency have gone into Lupang Tartaria to drive the resident farmers out of their homes by threatening them at gunpoint, kicking the residents, stealing if not burning their belongings, and setting up illegal fences around their area. Anyone who enters the fences will not come out alive, the goons have threatened.

According to the regional peasant group Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama – TK), the powerful clans, despite unresolved land ownership issues which have yet to be decided by the Supreme Court and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), have mounted harassment and violent actions in past years to land grab these lands.

The farmers have posted photos and videos of what is happening. “Halos pitong dekada nang nakabinbin sa huwad na Department of Agrarian Reform ang laban ng mga magsasaka ng Tartaria sa kanilang lupa, at mag pasahanggang ngayon buhay na buhay pa rin ang ating diwa para sa pagtatanggol ng ating mga karapatan.“ (It has been seven decades at least since the case of the farmers in Tartaria has stalled in the Department of Agrarian Reform, but our fight for the land and the spirit to defend our rights remain alive.)

Teresita Alvarez of the Ugnayan ng mga Ina sa Tartaria, said, “Ang mga ninuno namin, 1911, nandito na at nagsimulang magbungkal ng lupang ito. Pang-apat na henerasyon kami at mga apo na rin ng mga Aguinaldo ang siyang nagpipilit na kuhanin nagpipilit na iutos sa mga ahente na kuhanin ang lupang ito. Kaya matatag naming sinasabi ang lupa ay higit na kailangan natin, ang lupa, ang lupa ay buhay.” (Our ancestors, [since] 1911, were here and started to till this land. We have been here for four generations, and the grandchildren of the Aguinaldos are trying to force the agents to take this land. So, we firmly say, we need this land, this land, this land is life.”

Up north in the Cordillera, starting April 24, the beating of the gongs and the sound of feet stomping on the ground will reverberate across the land to mark the 40 years of struggle to defend their ancestral lands, the environment, and culture. It was on that day in 1980, that the Philippine military killed pangat (tribal chieftain) Macliing Dulag, warrior and land defender, in the vain hope that the resistance against the building of the Chico River Dam, a project of the World Bank and the dictator Marcos the Elder, would stop.  It did not. The people won.

Four years later, the Cordillera People’s Alliance was founded by indigenous leaders and activists who fought against the dam project and the commercial logging operations of the Cellophil Resources Corporation. Forty years later, the CPA remains strong in defense of the land and why shouldn’t it?  Because the CPA, the traditional host and lead in the annual celebration of Cordillera day, as described by Luchie Maranan from the Cordillera, “is warmly embraced by the cradle of indigenous resistance against imperialist plunder and development aggression, even as the state relentlessly singles out its leaders to vilify and persecute.” 

The lust for profits and the greed for land (and more land) by big foreign investors and banks, big landlords and big business, bureaucrat capitalists who also make the rules, and the mercenary state military and private armies are insatiable and evil. These blood suckers could not care less about small farmers, peasants, agricultural workers, the landless, the poor, essentially the majority of the Filipinos.

Two stories tied to the land.  And two stories of defiance and resistance. And these are just two of so many more.

I end with the words spoken by Wilma Delo, a daughter of the Cordillera.

“Land is Life. As a daughter of the Cordillera, there is no other road but to struggle; it is in this journey that we defend our honour as peoples of the Cordillera. From our forefathers and foremothers who have taught us to fight, we continue this fight for our ancestral lands and self-determination, a fight that defines our honour and dignity as a people. As we hear the sound of the gongs and we dance to its rhythm with our feet on the ground,  we join our voices with all those who fight for land to rise and resist: Sumkad Cordillera! Sumkad, Land Defenders!###