(and we remember Macli-ing Dulag)
By: Quennie Ann J. Palafox

       In September 26, 2009, Typhoon Ondoy flooded the streets of Manila Marikina, Pasig, Quezon City, and submerged the houses of the people living in the provinces of Laguna and Rizal. The water level at the Angat Dam in Bulacan almost reached the critical level of 216 meters above sea level, and had to release its water even as Ondoy. Many believed that the release of water by the Angat Dam is responsible for the flashfloods that wreaked havoc on thousands of properties and killed several people in the province of Bulacan, which included Meycauayan City, in the towns of Marilao, Bocaue and Sta. Maria. Now that we bade adios to El Niño (dry season) and say hola to La Niña (rainy season), many people, specially those who are dwelling in flood prone areas, are starting to worry that heavy rains, like that brought by Ondoy that claimed hundred of lives, will happen again.

       There is, however, another kind of destruction we seldom attributed to dams, but which is so read. Dams should not really be regarded with trepidation at all for its incapacity to arrest floods during stormy seasons, it is the negative impact of the construction of dam to the culture and history of the natives living near the dam which is essentially more destructive. With the construction of the San Roque Dam, over 160 families at the dam site in Pangasinan were forcibly displaced in early 1998. It was barely 50 years ago that the native of Cordillera people led by the bold Macli-ing Dulag opposed the government’s plan to build the Chico Dam in the land where they lived for generations and their great grandfathers grew and died.

        Clad in the G-string, Macli-ing is a notable hero for the environmental and indigenous activists for his leadership in the anti-Chico Dam campaign of the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was brave and incorruptible, the reason why he was killed. Dulag was applauded because of his principle for not being swayed to give up the fight in exchange for a handsome bribe.

       Macli-ing’s parentage and origin remains a puzzle because of the absence of birth records. Macli-ing did not attend any formal schooling but that did not prevent him in becoming a leader in his community. He was elected barrio captain of his village of Bugnay. There was even a popular story that Macli-ing in his early 20s served as a porter to guerilla fighters during the Japanese occupation in the 1940’s. He was estimated to be in his late 50s when he was murdered by government agents who were ordered to silence him. He struggled against the construction of the dam because he knew that the people would not benefit from it and instead will lose their source of livelihood.

     The government came up with the Chico River Basin Development Project in 1965 with financial assistance from the World Bank to fund the project in Cordillera. Four were planned in the Chico River and three in Abulog River in Ifugao, one in Parasilis River in Mountain Province, one in Pasil River in Kalinga-Apayao and two in Abra River The affected areas would include municipalities of Tinglayan, Lubuagan, Pasil and parts of Tabuk in the mountain Province. An estimated population of 100, 000 were feared to be displaced if the Chico Dam project pushed through.

       Long before the government bared its plan to build a dam in the Cordillera, the people were enjoying the serenity of the mountain. They observed their native practices such as ancestor worship and reverence for the spirits of the inanimate objects such as trees. Leaving their lands and their homes was difficult for the people of the Cordillera because they considered their land sacred and leaving their lands would mean their history and culture will be lost.

      Macli-ing in behalf of his people painstakingly convinced the high authorities to abandon their plans to build a dam. Those who opposed the dam were arrested and charged with offenses that they were not familiar with. Macli-ing’s resistance would be the cause of his detention with other Bugnay villagers in 1977 who joined Macli-ing to his campaign. 

     The campaign to stop the construction of the dam was gaining widespread support from the media. Government officials already desperate to pacify him sent armed men on April 24, 1980 to Macli-ing’s house. These men in uniform shot Macli-ing to death.  He was interned after a few days.

     The murder of Macli-ing fueled militant protest against the dam by other villages even if they were not affected.  Twenty years after Macli-ing’s death, the government aborted the Chico River Dam Development Project because of the strong opposition coming from the people. This historic success was achieved for a price. It was Macli-ing who paid the price with his precious life, but he took the dam with him.