Mon, May 05, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Workers observe Cordillera Day

STAND TOGETHERThe day commemorates indigenous resistance to large-scale corporate-state exploitation of natural resources in their traditional domains

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Filipinos gather yesterday at Shuangcheng Park in Taipei’s Zhongshan District to celebrate Cordillera Day.


Filipino workers in Taipei — joined by Taiwanese Aboriginal groups, human-rights organizations and migrant worker-support groups — commemorated Cordillera Day in Taipei yesterday.

“Indigenous Filipino peoples protested when the Filipino government planned to build a dam in the Cordillera region in 1980. A Cordillera tribal leader who led the resistance was then assassinated by the [Filipino] government,” said Dana Wu (吳佳臻), a member of the TransAsia Sisters Association Taiwan, explaining the origins of the day. “There have been Cordillera Day commemorations every year, starting in 1981.”

Cordillera is a region in the Philippines covering six provinces that are in extreme poverty. Most Filipinos who come to Taiwan as migrant workers are from the Cordillera region.

The region is rich in gold, silver and copper mines, and once had a self-contained economy.

However, that is no longer the case after the government prohibited traditional small-scale mining by the local indigenous population and gave mining rights to multinational mining corporations such as Canada-based Olympus Pacific Minerals and its Filipino subsidy Abra Industrial Mining Corp in the 1970s, Wu said.

Noemie, a caregiver from the region who has been working in Taiwan for three years told the story of her family during a brief interview with the Taipei Times.

“Traditionally, we [the indigenous people of Cordillera] have always had small-scale mining activities,” she said in English.

“We mine gold or silver, process them and sell them to people who come to buy refined gold or silver. We also make some rings or bracelets, but not many,” she said.

But since the large corporations took over the mines, life in the region has changed.

Noemie said that her grandfather had been a miner his whole life, but small-scale mining began to decline during her father’s generation.

“Small-scale mining just cannot compete with the large-scale mining,” she said.

But what has been affected was not just the local mining industry, but also agriculture.

“We don’t just do mining, we also have farms. But because the big mining companies always explode the mountains so we’ve lost our lands and cannot grow things now,” Noemie said.

Noemie’s brothers have been forced to move away from their native village to find work, and both Noemie and her sisters work abroad as migrant workers.

Finding similarities in the problems they’re facing at the moment, Taiwanese Aborigines joined the migrants to support the Filipino indigenous peoples.

“I don’t find difference in the repression that indigenous peoples both in Taiwan and the Philippines are facing,” said Yunaw Sili, an Atayal convener at the Taiwan Committee for Philippine Concerns.

“The natural resources in our traditional domains — mines and forest for the Philippines and woods and water resources for Taiwan — are both being exploited by capitalists and governments without our consent.”

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