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The Cordillera Experience

Aeta Kid. (.bullish/Flickr)

Aeta Kid. (.bullish/Flickr)

The Impact of Globalization in the Cordillera: Continuing Militarization amidst Development Aggression 

Securing Resources for Foreign Investors

In spite of the government’s claim of success in flushing out rebels in the Cordillera, the heavy deployment of military forces in the region continues. Their deployment is not limited to areas suspected as rebel strongholds, but also in places rich in natural resources now being eyed for exploitation for project such as large scale mining, energy projects, and eco-tourism among others. Given the government’s development agenda in the Cordillera, the militarization of the region serves to protect these resources for foreign investors while suppressing the peoples resistance against “development aggression.”

The government has likewise continued to recruit local paramilitary forces from amongst the villagers despite the recruits’ record of human rights violations and other criminal activities. Recently, the Macapagal-Arroyo government has even integrated into the AFP, one faction of the notorious CPLA. The build-up of its repressive machinery in the Cordillera region belies the government’s claim of delivering peace, justice and development to the indigenous people as claimed under a new law, the Indigenous People Rights Act of 1997. 

Mining the People’s Wealth

The government’s so-called drive for global competitiveness has led to the further liberalization of country’s resources with the Cordillera’s remaining resources now thrown open to further exploitation by multinational corporations and other foreign investors.

For instance, when the Mining Act of 1995 was passed, there was a race among multinational mining corporations to take control of the peoples mineral resources in the Cordillera. This law allows 100% control of approved mineral lands claim for mining operations, as well as timber and water rights in these areas. Mining companies are also given the right to evict residents in areas of their mining operation. The law also provides tax holidays and 100% profit remittance of mining companies. To date, there are now 138 mining applications, covering more than a total area of 500,000 hectares. In October last year, 9 applications had been approved in Benguet and Abra, with a total land area of 14, 672.74. Thus, the liberalization of the Philippine Mining Industry has become a total sell out of the country’s mineral resources, and an outright disregard of the rights of indigenous peoples over their resources and will cause their further marginalization.

On top of this, it will certainly cause massive and irreversible environmental destruction of the Cordillera peoples homeland as shown by the on-going operations of mining companies in the region, especially with the use of high technology mining methods such as open pit and bulk mining. This is plain and simple plunder of the people’s resources in any language, but the government is promoting it. 

More Dams in the Cordillera

The passage of the Power Reform Act that was railroaded by the Macapagal-Arroyo government in the Philippine Congress has now liberalized the energy sector. This will also lead to the further dispossession of indigenous peoples and the destruction of the environment when the construction of new large dam will again commence.

In the Cordillera, at least two large dams will start construction upon the investment of foreign companies. These are the Agbulu Dam (365 megawatts) in Kabugao, Apayao, and the Matuno Dam (250 megawatts) in the border of Asipulo, Ifugao and Ambaguio, Nueva Vizcaya. A feasibility study of the National Power Corporation (NPC) has shown a potential generation of 4,259 megawatts from the damming of Cordillera rivers. This will be most likely taken advantaged by dam builders and foreign investors in their drive for super-profits. Meanwhile, the rights of affected communities will again be disregarded like what is happening now in the on-going construction of the San Roque Multipurpose Dam and the protection of the riverine systems in the Cordillera will again be thrown to the dogs. (Refer to annex)

Intensifying Exploitation through ODA

The ongoing expansion of the commercial vegetable industry, being supported by Official Development Assistance (ODA) from the European Community and the Asian Development Bank is also rapidly changing the landscape of subsistence production with increasing reliance on imported seeds, fertilizers and pesticides among farmers. In spite government claims of poverty alleviation as the objective of these projects, most farming communities remain poor. Their growing dependency on cash in the process of getting involved in the commercial production of vegetables has also led them to uncertain source of food and other needs, as they are at the mercy of vegetable cartels, dealers of farm implements, usurers, and price manipulation of their products.

In the recent past, crop destruction brought by certain new insects, such as the leaf miner and green tide, has affected severely the production of certain vegetables, such as potatoes and cabbages. Also, erratic climatic changes with torrential rains alternating with prolonged drought is severely affecting production. All of these are causing a bleak future for farmers in the Cordillera and elsewhere in the country.

Ecotourism projects are also being criticized as these lead to the denial of access of indigenous peoples to portion of their ancestral lands and resources designated for eco-tourism and so-called bio-diversity protection, as well as to the further commercialization of the peoples’ culture. In particular, there is a growing suspicion that rich biodiversity areas prohibited to indigenous peoples but is open for researchers will lead to the patenting of the bio-diversities for control and commercial production.

Likewise, the implementation for the privatization of public services, such as health, education, development of infrastructures are aggravating the already marginalized conditions of indigenous peoples and the majority of Filipinos. These are now becoming business enterprises for profit generation, instead of government services to the people.

Because of the worsening poverty and lack of livelihood sources, a growing number of indigenous people mostly women are now becoming overseas contract workers as care givers and domestic helpers. More than 50,000 indigenous women are now working abroad, leaving behind their children and husbands.

Thus, globalization in the Cordillera is clearly violating the collective rights of indigenous peoples, and leading to a worsening destruction of the environment. It has likewise worsened the already impoverished conditions of the people. 

In defense of land, life and resources

It is within this context of continuing militarization amidst development aggression, that the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) has been conducting a series of campaigns for the defense of peoples’ land, life and resources since its establishment in 1984..

These campaigns include opposition to the construction of large dams and large commercial mining because of their destructive impact on the people’s lives and their environment. The alliance leads in the mobilization of communities in various protest actions and lobby work. It has also held dialogues with government officials, and other concerned agencies and private entities to present the people’s case. These campaigns have strengthened the local people’s capacity to defend their rights. In the process, it has generated support at the regional, national and international levels for the indigenous people’s cause.

The Cordillera indigenous peoples movement has yet a long way to go for the realization of the peoples aspiration for the recognition of their ancestral land rights, and for genuine regional autonomy. But the capacity of the Cordillera indigenous peoples communities continue to gain strength. It is also building greater solidarity with the Filipino people and with other indigenous peoples and groups against globalization and for the recognition of indigenous peoples rights, human rights and the protection of the environment.


1. Pantatavalan. Data and Discourse on the Cordillera, Issues I and II Published by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance
2. HAPIT, Quarterly magazine publication of the CPA
3. CPA brochures