When I was in grade four, our teacher told us the story of how a group of courageous tribeswomen stood up against the corporate bigwigs to protect their ancestral lands from exploitation and inevitable degradation. The memory remained with me although I never once thought of reading or learning more about it.
The more I research on this heroic and bold feat, one name repeatedly came out – Petra Macliing. In Kalinga, Macliing Dulag is an icon for his heroics during the anti-Chico damming struggle. Amongst the Bontoc tribe, Petra Macliing’s heroics stand tall. And no, they’re not blood related at all in spite of the shared namesake.
Honestly, it was recent that I have heard of Ikit Petra Macliing but the very few I read piqued my interest. To commemorate International Women’s Day, I resolved to research on her story. The more I read and researched about her story, the more engrossed I became. Her story is not just an individual’s victory but the ubiquitous story of women who are courageously standing up against and rising above different adversities.
Them Who Squeezed Balls
It was the 1970s. Philippines, known for its rich deposits of gold and other minerals, is experiencing a mining boom. Corporate giants such as Philex Mining, Lepanto Mining and Benguet Corporation were lording it over the lands of the Cordilleras, fabled for its very rich deposits of minerals.
Barangay Mainit has been a hotbed for myths of gold deposits. Because of this, it has caught the attention of Benguet Corporation Inc. (BCI). In 1975, BCI sent its people to survey and prospect the place. It was met with fervent opposition by the locals. To show their anger on this proposition, Petra Macliing, warmly referred to as Ina Tannao, led a hunger strike. BCI was nonplussed.
In 1980, BCI, in an aggressive move, mobilized its machines and its engineers to commence mining activities. Despite the vocal objection of the locals who held these mountains sacrosanct, the invaders started drilling. With the abrupt development, Ina Tannao again led an initiative, gathering her fellow Mainit women. If no one is going to stand up against the corporate giant, then they will.
Ina Tannao’s plan was simple: challenge the men by baring their chest. Amongst the Bontoc tribe, it is believed that baring the chest would jinx unwanted strangers. So there they were, local women who were inching their way towards the place where the engineers were rooted, diligently drilling the mountain.
As instructed by Ina Tannao, the women slowly stripped naked, baring their chests to the engineers who were stunned by their presence.
“Uray maid armas mi
armas mi nan ima mi
ikmer mi snan fitfitli, fitfitlin na raraki
(We may not be armed/ but our hands are our weapons/ We use our bare hands to squeeze balls, the balls of men.)
With arms linked together, they chanted these lines, asking the corporate aggressors to leave their lands. The unusual vision, paired with colloquial chants, were too much for the outsiders. Discerning that the chants might somehow be a part of an elaborate tribal ritual that would hex them, they hastily retreated.
Relating what happened that day, Ina Chamgay Tayyug, one of Ina Tannao’s comrades, told how they “dared them to harm the womb from where they came.” After the engineers were driven away, the women raided their camp. Without any intention of consuming the the engineers’ supplies, these were taken to the town center, left to rot. Their equipment were thrown downstream.
But it wasn’t only women who went against the corporate giant. Amongst the 200-headstrong group are some men. In an interview with the Cordillera People’s Alliance, Ina Tannao related how the men wanted to be physically aggressive against the BCI camp. Knowing that it could end up in violence, Ina Tannao convinced the men down to let the women lead the undertaking.
Because it is an exercise in futility, no other company tried going up the mountains of Mainit to try and mine its rich deposits.
Indomitable Courage Without Borders
Ina Tannao didn’t confine herself to the concerns of her village.
When the Kalinga tribe, led by aforementioned Macliing Dulag were fighting against the World Bank-funded damming of the Lower Chico River basin, Ina Tannao joined their call. The Chico River Dams were to be the biggest dam project of that time.
This project was highly opposed by the different tribes affected, including the Bontocs, the Tomiangans and the Butbut tribes. Not only will it displace thousands of indigenous people, but it will also submerge their homelands and their source of income.
Ina Tannao, together with her fellow tribe leaders, forged a bodong (peace) pact to unite against these development projects. Ina was the only rose among the thorns. Historically, the tribes along the Chico River don’t get along well, but they all chose to overlook their differences. This was also in spite of the Martial Law that prevailed at that time.
Her voice was also heard when the locals of Abra were protesting against the illegal logging activities of Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC). Due to her position, she and her fellow tribe leaders from Abra and Kalinga would troop to Manila and relate what is happening in the Cordilleras. Their persistence paid off. The Chico Dam project was called off and the illegal logging activities of CRC were stopped.
For her works, Ina Tannao, along with eight other women, was awarded the Women’s World Summit Foundation’s (WWSF) Laureate Prize for Rural Women in 2009. The WWSF is a humanitarian, non-government, non-profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. The WWSF’s Laureate Prize was created to honor “creative and courageous women and women’s groups worldwide for their contribution at improving the quality of life in rural communities, for protecting the environment, transmitting knowledge and standing up for human rights and peace.”
In spite of the accolades and the recognitions, Ina Tannao remained humble. When Ina Tannao accepted the WWSF Laureate Award, she said in her native tongue “Para kendatako amin man na,” (This is for all of us).
Beyond the Masquerade
More than her pioneering achievements for her community, Ina Tannao is, first and foremost, a woman, and a mother.
Yes she is courageous and bold beyond means. Beyond the domineering façade is a woman who bore eight children. Widowed after her last child was born, she never relented, instead finding courage within herself to keep trudging on in spite of the realities that were gripping her.
She kept tilling the soil that was the main source of her income, supplementing it with a sari-sari store. Fighting against destitution, she was able to support her seven children’s education; her only son died at a very young age. The accomplishments of her children speak volumes – amongst her children is a lawyer, a doctor, a businesswoman and a teacher.
Ina Tannao is the very fabric of a modern woman – fearless, brave, resourceful, innovative, hardworking, and most importantly, humble. In the face of adversity, she never cowered. In the face of uncertainty, she walked a certain path. She stood not only for her ideals but also for her community.
She is not only an icon for indigenous people but also an icon for women. Her heroic deeds showed her understanding of the needs of her community. Her leadership and her unwavering conviction redefined what it means to be a woman in a society dominated by men. Until today, the heroics of Ina Tannao resonate. She might have passed away last May 25, 2018, but her legacy lives on.
Ina Tannao’s story is a beacon in times when darkness looms. Both men and women can learn lessons from her story, one that is worth emulating. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us remember the women who challenged the norms, women who stood tall when everyone chose to kneel, women who empowered those who are weak, and women who went against the prejudices to prove what women are capable of.
- Allad-iw, A. (2009, November 15). Anti dam activist gets International Laureate award. Retrieved from https://www.nordis.net/
- Quitasol, K. (2018, June 1). Remembering Mother Petra, Bontoc warrior. Retrieved from https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/
- Quitasol, K. (2018, May 31). A woman who ‘squeezed men’s balls’ in defense of her homeland. Retrieved from https://kodao.org/
Carino, J.K. (2018, May 26). Eulogy for Mother Petra Macliing. Retrieved from https://www.cpaphils.org/
Catajan, M.E. (2018, June 1). Sagada salutes Petra Macliing. Retrieved from https://www.sunstar.com.ph/
- Bengwayan, A. (2006, February 1). The courage and leadership of Petra Macliing. Retrieved from https://www.cpaphils.org/
- Women’s World Summit Foundation. Protecting indigenous land culture. Retrieved from https://womensection.woman.ch/
- Innabuyog. (2017, October 8). Mother Petra ‘Tannaw’ Macliing: mother, activist. Retrieved from https://northphiltimes.blogspot.com/
N.B. I would like to thank Mr. Beau Amangay Killip Macliing for giving me permission to use his picture of Ina Tannao. It is the picture used as a feature photo for this article. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the Cordillera Women’s Education, Action Research Center, Inc. (CWEARC) for giving me permission to use their picture of Ina Tannao.
On another note, I want to greet all the women in my life a Happy International Women’s Day. You are all great. You are all amazing. Continue being so!