Sunday, March 29, 2009

Seventh sense

FIVE senses define us: sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing.

Psychics are said to have a sixth sense, an extrasensory perception independent of the first five senses.

The Earth Hour movement—that had people voluntarily putting off their lights for an hour last night—taps the seventh sense: deprivation.

A year ago, when Earth Hour was first launched, I learned that deprivation means more than the absence of the other senses.

Lying in the dark, with two bored sons counting every second their cell phones, computers and TV set were placed on hold—their “whole life,” as my then nine-year-old griped—I learned that deprivation can be a presence, an affirmation.

How else to explain why, after our appliances were unplugged, I plunged into blindness but found myself connected, secured, cradled by a fluid dark?

Something weightless settled near my chest. Freed from noise and activity, I heard it take hold as insubstantial cobwebs trailing arouse a universe of sensations.

Hearing this sound without a sound, I found something, not myself, telling the boys about Macli’ing Dulag.

Gunfire shattered more than the evening quiet of Bugnay, a village in Kalinga, on April 24, 1980. After the soldiers dispatched by then President Ferdinand Marcos stopped firing, Macli’ing Dulag was slain while another tribal leader was grievously wounded but survived.

Macli’ing Dulag led the Kalinga and Bontok peoples in resisting the World Bank-funded Chico River Basin Hydroelectric Dam Project. For Marcos, greedy for foreign loans and a showcase for his visions of industrialization, the Chico River Dam Project was more indispensable than the lives of those opposing it.

If Macli’ing Dulag became more than a New Society statistic—who can count the uncountable when many were killed but even more disappeared during the dictatorship?—it was because the deeds of the pangat (chieftain) of the Butbut tribe lived on in his words and the stories that are still retold till now.

The proposed four dams at the Chico River Basin would have generated 1,010 megawatts of electricity. It would have also displaced over a thousand Kalinga families. It would submerge at least four towns and erase hundreds of hectares of ancestral land: sacred burial grounds, rice terraces and tribal homes passed from generation to generation.

It was Macli’ing Dulag who made his people see the horror of landlessness hiding behind the lures of development. “If Kabunian gave you a land of milk and honey/ and ordered you to take care of it for posterity/ What will you do if intruders want to take/
it away?” he wrote in his “warding-off speech.”

“I imagine that you will fight/ For they who do not are ungrateful to
Kabunian…/ They who do not, spit on the graves of their ancestors/ who preserved the land for them/ For land is life/ For life is the land.”

Like fruits of a bitter harvest, their fallen leader’s words fed the tribes’ opposition, repudiating the broken capitulation that must have been anticipated by Marcos.

Twenty years after the first surveys were made, the Chico River Basin Project was shelved in 1987, the first World Bank project ever stopped by communal opposition: villagers who lay on the road to block trucks from bringing in construction materials, women who spied, fought, bared their breasts to turn away soldiers, men who were jailed for tearing down structures and repeated the acts as soon as they were released.

According to, Cordillera Day, celebrated on April 24, marks not just the death of a hero but celebrates the continuing heroism to uphold indigenous people’s rights.

While Macli’ing Dulag’s name is inscribed in the Wall of Remembrance honoring those who opposed with their lives the Marcos dictatorship, it is not that monument of stone in Quezon City that honors him best.

“Such arrogance to speak of owning the land when we instead are owned by it. Only the race owns the land because the race lives forever,” wrote Macli’ing Dulag, who saw through the illusions of multinational corporations and mines, cash crops and exports, who foretold that not all affluence is real nor all deprivations, negation and poverty. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s “Matamata” column, published last March 29, 2009

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