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Honoring Mother Petra Macli-ing; mother of the Cordilleras.

 |  6 min read

This is a story about the rich and exemplary life of Mother Petra Macli-ing who hails from Bontoc, Mountain Province.



Cordillera Peoples Alliance founding member and pioneer Mother Petra Macliing, was chosen as one of the awardees of Women’s World Summit Foundation’s (WSSF) Laureate Prize for Rural Women for the year 2009. Mother Petra’s invaluable and historic contribution for the protection of indigenous rights to self determination and ancestral land was distinctly recognized alongside the efforts and contributions of the other 9 awardees worldwide. Mother Petra hails from Mainit, Bontoc, Mountain Province. She is an indigenous woman icon for her lifetime of activism for the Cordillera indigenous peoples, she is also a founding member of the Kalinga-Bontoc Peace Pact Holders Association (KBPPHA).

Against all odds, Mother Petra has managed to make a difference.

Her husband died one month after the birth of her eighth child. And so, Mother Petra raised her family single handedly, supporting them by farming, raising pigs, and keeping a store. As is common in many indigenous communities in the Philippines, Mother Petra was uneducated. But due to her determination to learn how to read, she enrolled in elementary school, going to class in the public school at the same time that her youngest daughter was studying. Later on, she continued her adult education.

She overcame all these great odds by clinging to her indigenous identity, living the values and culture she learned from her mother, grandmother and her community, and by showing her love for her people through her lifelong pursuit of what she believes is right. She is a living beacon for other indigenous women and children who are still struggling for the recognition of their rights around the world.

Her achievements are outstanding, and she deserves recognition even beyond her own communities, for her exceptional creativity, courage and commitment for the improvement of the quality of life in her rural indigenous community in the Cordillera mountains and lowland community in Nueva Vizcaya in Northern Philippines.

Honor, Courage and Determination

“It is a great honor for the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, in the person of Mother Petra Macliing, to be given such recognition in the field of protecting and promoting indigenous peoples’ ancestral land rights. We are at the same time honored for the recognition given to indigenous women in this arena”, said Jill Cariño, CPA Vice Chairperson for External Affairs, adding that Mother Petra has never wavered in her understanding that the identity and life of indigenous peoples is intrinsically tied to the protection and conservation of the land.

In her lifetime, she has displayed her firm conviction and confidence in her own people’s traditional knowledge and practices, which have proven to be viable, appropriate for her people, and ecologically sound, through centuries and generations.

She exhibited courage and resoluteness in confronting problems that threatened our ways of life. She has been consistent in defending our traditional occupations and livelihoods.

Defending the Chico River

In the 1970s, Mother Petra was a staunch oppositionist to the construction of the four Chico River Dams, which would have drowned tens of villages along the river. Together with Kalinga and Bontoc leaders, hers was one of the strong voices that got the attention of development planners in the Philippines and worldwide, which finally put on hold the construction of these four mega-dams. Until now, people remember their efforts, which successfully asserted the right of the Cordillera indigenous peoples to determine their own development.

Creativity and Women’s Power

In the 1980s, Mother Petra together with the women in her native village Mainit, showed the way in dealing with corporate mining bosses, who wished to exploit the gold reserves lying beneath their rice terraces. It was the women who initiated dialogues with the mining engineers who were conducting exploration activities within their territories for the Benguet Company, Inc. They took the lead role to avert any violence, which would have erupted if their hotheaded male counterparts would be the one to confront the mining people. However, when a series of dialogues failed, and the mining engineers continued their exploration activities against the community’s will, Mother Petra led the women in strategizing their next move which finally drove the mining engineers away.

In the cover of the night, the village mothers and grandmothers approached the mining camp, then started shouting at the top of their voices for the mining engineers to leave, at the same time unclothing and exposing their breasts to the men in the camp. Behind this action is the traditional Bontoc belief that it is taboo for men to see their mothers and grandmothers unclothed, and if they do, they will incur an endless round of bad luck. This drastic measure worked, and immediately, the mining camp was dismantled and the engineers left their village, and have not returned to this day. This is a shining example of women’s empowerment and strength, which is kept alive in the hearts of the Cordillera people, through stories and songs.

Promoting Indigenous Ecological Farming Systems

Mother Petra’s courage and commitment stems from her traditional belief in the value of the land for her people, and in the sound practice of naturally organic and sustainable agriculture in our mountain homeland.

Mother Petra, through her quiet practice and example, and her vocal leadership, has inspired her village mates and more to continue to hold on to their traditional ways of farming, and to reject the use of chemical inputs which have been proven to destroy the natural fertility of the soil. These efforts have contributed towards the food security among Bontoc households.

In her later years since 2002, Mother Petra has gone to farm in the lowlands, to experiment and demonstrate natural ecological farming, based on her own indigenous knowledge and adapting it to the agricultural plains in Nueva Vizcaya. In a new setting, Mother Petra again shows the way to her neighbor farmers, in growing rice in the plains in wide paddies, without resorting to the use of chemical inputs.

Instead of buying chemical fertilizers, Mother Petra goes to the rice mill to ask for so many sacks of rice husk, commonly considered a waste product. She applies 10 – 15 cavans of rice husk per hectare, each season. It is food for the edible snails living in the rice paddies, and when it rots, it is organic fertilizer. Her lowland neighbors, who were drawn into the cycle of chemical applications of the green revolution since the 1970s, were skeptical at first. But now, they have been converted to organic farming, since they have been witness to the growing productivity of Mother Petra’s rice fields over the years.

Her farming practices, earlier in Bontoc, and now in the lowlands, have inspired communities to persist and experiment in natural ecological farming, while achieving food security for their families.

Organizational Affiliations

Mother Petra was a founding member and officer of the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) in 1984. She was a member of the CPA Advisory Council, which is composed of men and women leaders who actively advance the CPA program for the defense of the ancestral domain and for self-determination.

She was involved in the setting up of the KBPPHA in 1979, a federation of traditional tribal leaders and peace pact holders. Through her, women were given representation in the tribal elders’ council, a role traditionally held by men. She was also a member of the Regional Council of the Cordillera Elders Alliance (CEA), a Cordillera-wide alliance of traditional elders’ organizations from the different provinces of the Cordillera, which was formed in 2006.

She is a community leader and helped organize her community by setting up the Mainit Ub-ubfo and the Maiinit Irrigators Association. She is a woman leader of the Montañosa Women’s Federation and a church leader of the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

My goal in striving so hard is to one day see my fellow Igorots basking in the goodness that our ancestral land offers and which we deserve.

MotherPetraMacliIng Cordilleras

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