Attending the meeting titled: Defending the Defenders, May 9, 2015 in the bustling and smelly if always interesting working class district of Hong Kong’s Mong Kong proved to be an eye-opener.

Windel Bolinget was in the chair and at the time of my late arrival – what happened to the Mongkok Road numbering system! – was highly charged. As chairman – the Filipinos are so politically correct, sorry, chairperson – of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance he had every right to be, given what I heard and learnt on that rainy afternoon.

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) is an independent federation of progressive peoples organizations, most of them grassroots-based organizations among indigenous communities in the Cordillera Region, Philippines, and the organisation is committed to the promotion and defense of indigenous peoples’ rights, human rights, social justice, and national freedom and democracy.

This forum was about the state-of-affairs among the various peoples of Cordillera Central, a lengthy mountain range situated in the northern central part of the island of Luzon which encompasses the provinces of: Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Cagayan, Ifugao, Ilocos Norte, Kalinga and the aptly but disconcertingly named Mountain Province.

The range includes the well known city of Baguio, lying within Benguet and at an elevation of over 5,000 feet (1,500 m). The colonising North Americans found the place ideal as an escape from the heat of the plains in the early 20th century during their fairly short occupation.

The tendency to, not over-state but to deluge the argument put forward in statistics, reflected the Filipino way of what could be seen as over-compensation. I was quite content just to listen to Windel Bolinget’s words without all the stats but as he humourously stated, the Hong Kong group had kindly paid his ticket all the way from the Philippines so he had to give them their monies worth!

The long and the short of it is, terribly, the Philippines government is guilty of complicity in the denudation of the wealth of the Cordilleras; meaning its peoples, minerals, timber, thermal and hydro energy potential and more and has no regard for the land itself. That land is being massively despoiled and more-than-that, it is the target of future much more rabid despoliation. as everything of worth is to be extracted – without any inclusion or co-operation from those with such an ancient link and cultural heritage to that landmass. Some 80% of the total Philippine gold production comes from the Cordillera.

Nor has any provision of meaningfully adequate services by way of health or education been provided that at all reflects the monies gained by the government to date.

Equally monstrous is the effect of the low minimum wage provision in those provinces which has 5,000 Filipinos leaving the country every day for work abroad because the government has not tried to rejig the system so that full employment is provided domestically and in an agricultural economy that can be done.

With a weakened population with the strongest and most able workers putting their youthful energy into supporting foreign economies, it is easy for the politicians in the Philippines to just take it easy as the money rolls in without them spending any effort at all.

This in particular disarticulates the Cordillera peoples because this leaves their ancestral lands unguarded and big firms like Chevron, through its Caltex (USA), which deals through SM and its Abolitz group (Norwegian), which in turn brings in Ayala Corporation with its Quadriver Company… with those big guns there is simply no defence.

When the locals do get together and form alliances they are called out as Communists and the long-time renegade New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is brought out of the cupboard.

The CPA itself has been labelled a terrorist organisation and misinformation has been spread from government sources villifying its regional leaders to the extent photographs of community leaders have appeared on wanted posters.

As Windel Bolinget pointed out, what do parents, sons and daughters and friends start to think when they see such posters as there is no counter-information available but ‘oh my God, dad’s a terrorist!’

The result is the government sends in the military and the map shown at this timidly attended meeting revealed, interestingly, that all the military outposts – and there is an over- abundance of them – strangely coincide with all the mining operations, like, exactly…

Anyway, why so massive deployment of military in the mountains? What are those soldiers doing up there? They are protecting the foreign concessions. The soldiers go on sorties using mortars, yes, they bomb in the mountains and cross-fire has killed renown human rights defenders yet little accountability is seen! They are terrorising the indigenous peoples.

On another tack the matter of environmentally friendly working practices was broached and the term ‘Green’ whatever, but in those mountainous regions the various mining and energy withdrawing technologies – even windmills with say 15 of them in a pod, each one weighing five tons, these cause instability which adds to the denudation and has mine leavings flowing into rivers which are supposed to be good for irrigation… The term Green is out of place, it’s wilfully wrong to use that term.

Dams of course were seen and experienced as absolute no-nos as they serve no local purpose at all – not to mention people displacement – and certainly no funds return to the region from the energy generation but not only that, they are false solutions and a danger to all lower riparian dwellers.

The San Roque Dam was brought up as an example, 200 metres tall, 1.2 kilometres long embankment dam on the Agno River. It could not hold the waters in 2009 which were let free with the result of flooding all the way through to Pangasinan and into Tarlac. Massive losses were incurred by the lowlanders.

The culture of the inhabitants of the Cordillera is rooted in the land. The audience so-gathered on this afternoon deep in the urbanity of commercial Hong Kong were simply advised never to forget who you are, where you came from, that itself will bring to bear what’s needed to protect the Cordilleras – given united and coherent action, which is where the Cordillera Peoples Alliance comes in.