On Sept. 29, 2003, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
concealed something of importance from UNESCO. She delivered a speech during
the opening ceremony of The 32nd Session of the General Conference of UNESCO
in Paris. She praised UNESCO's efforts in preserving Philippine cultural
heritage. But the next day, her political ally, mayor Vicente Y. Emano,
inaugurated a road-and-bridge project that destroyed a huge portion of
Huluga is an archaeological area composed of caves and an
Open Site. The latter is the venue of a prehistoric, fortified village,
recorded by Spanish friars in 1622 as being populated by 500 natives. Huluga
is the home of the original people of Cagayan de Oro and vicinities.
A female cranium found in one of the caves was dated by
a US scientific firm -- the Scripps Institution of Oceanography -- as coming
from AD 350. Also found were earthenware pots, stone and metal tools, possibly
Indian glass beads, Chinese porcelain fragments, and vestiges of possibly
Annamese and Thai wares -- indications of overseas trading. The Open Site
yielded potsherds, Chinese celadon sherds, and obsidian flakes.
The National Museum recognizes the archaeological value
of Huluga when it gave the Open Site and caves separate accession numbers
Archaeological sites in the Philippines
are guaranteed legal protection, but in 1999, mayor Vicente Y. Emano conceived
the plan to bulldoze Huluga to give way to "development"
-- a P635-million road-and-bridge project. The project was stopped in 2001
when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), responding
to persistent protest by the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA), issued
a cease-and-desist order. But, unknown then to HCA, it was lifted and the
project continued in 2002, even though the project had no Archaeological
Impact Assessment (AIA) and was, and remains, illegal.
On June 7, 2003, HCA members were horrified
to discover that a road had cut through 60 to 80 percent of the Huluga
Open Site. In the words of anthropologist Clyde Jagoon who visited the
area months later, the place was "split like the Red Sea".
Despite the huge damage, HCA members, doing surface examination,
were still able to collect earthenware and Chinese pottery sherds, obsidian
flakes, animal bones, an ancient Spanish coin, and a whale harpoon similar
to those being used in Lomblen Island, Indonesia, near Australia.
On July 16, 2003, several HCA members filed a case against
Emano and the contractor UKC Builders, before the Environmental Management
Bureau (EMB). On July 28, 2003, HCA sent a
photo of the destruction to Arroyo. With the photo was a letter, requesting
her to stop the road-and-bridge project. But the project continued, and
eventually inaugurated by Emano on September 30, 2003, one day after Arroyo
delivered her speech at UNESCO.
In January 2004, the city council -- which is monopolized by
Emano's political party -- enacted an ordinance that would authorize Emano
to sign a contract with the Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) of the
University of the Philippines to do salvage archaeology in Huluga and vicinities.
ASP, however, violated archaeological code of ethics by not consulting
local archaeologists and other concerned individuals in Cagayan de Oro.
Then, after digging on top of Obsidian Hill for a week, ASP came up with
a report that said the site was nothing but an ancient camp, not a settlement.
The report does not mention a midden recently discovered by Xavier University
archaeologist Dr. Erlinda M. Burton. The midden is just below the hill.
The biggest obstacle to the preservation of Huluga and other
archaeological sites in the Philippines is government apathy and government-sponsored
assault on these sites.
All government agencies asked by HCA for help -- the Environmental
Management Bureau (EMB), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
(DENR), the Department of Tourism (DOT), the National Museum, the National
Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the 4th Infantry Division of
the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Office of the President --
all of them have failed to stop the systematic destruction of Huluga.
HCA filed a case against Emano and his contractor in 2003.
EMB decided in favor of HCA, but Emano elevated the case to the EMB head
office in Manila, too far from the cash-strapped HCA petitioners. As of
this writing, the case remains unresolved. The National Museum, too, instead
of filing a case against Emano, approved a P450,000 digging contract between
ASP and Emano. The National Museum is under the Office of the President
of the Philippines. Its director is Cora Alvina.
To give the illegal project an air
of legitimacy, the City Council filed an ordinance naming the bridge "Emmanuel Pelaez".
Pelaez, who died in 2003, was a former vice-president of the Philippines.
HCA received verbal and written promises of assistance from
politicians like Senators Loren Legarda and Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. -- a
native of Cagayan de Oro -- but nothing productive came out of them. Legarda,
a vice-presidential candidate during the last election, issued a resolution
that called for Senate investigation on Huluga, but it never happened.
Presidential advisers Luis Lorenzo and Tingting Cojuangco talked with HCA
members, but nothing came out of the meetings. Actress and environmentalist Chin-Chin
Gutierrez, named one of Asia's new heroes by TIME, came to Cagayan
de Oro like a princess, wearing an elaborate native headdress, and issuing
statements like we are the children of Mother Nature. But when I gave her
photos of Huluga and asked her to visit the place, she declined, explaining
that she was scheduled to attend a concert rehearsal.
Perhaps, the international community
-- starting with UNESCO -- could now provide pressure on the Philippine
government to save what remains of our heritage, which is also the heritage
of the world. Funding agencies and investors should examine if they are
not unwittingly conniving with "cultural terrorists". World
leaders must discuss the purpose of dealing with a president who desecrates
the land of her own ancestors, misleads UNESCO, and sees nothing wrong
with controlling the result of the national election.
HCA president Dr. Erlinda
Burton's draft plan for Huluga in 2003
- Form a committee composed of an archaeologist,
geologist, geomorphologist, and surveyor. The committee will delineate
the Huluga area to be preserved and developed.
- Produce an aerial photo of the delineated area.
- Produce a map of the delineated area and its
surrounding. The map should be topographic.
- Fence the delineated area.
- Place "no trespassing" and
other signs for the delineated area.
- Conduct test pits in spots suspected to be filled
with artifacts and fossils.
- Conduct survey of reported "new cave".
- Expropriate the delineated area.
- Construct an on-site museum.
- Construct a replica of the prehistoric village
for education and tourism.
- Have the National Museum deputize the Museo de
Oro curator, and other curators in the Philippines.
The Site and Monuments Committee of the National
Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) last year proposed the transfer
of the bridge to an area away from the Huluga Open Site and caves. While
some observers say this demand is unrealistic, HCA supports it because
the road and bridge are illegal projects.