Heritage Conservation Advocates
Photo of Antonio J. Montalvan IICultural Terrorism in
Cagayan de Oro
By Antonio J. Montalván II, Ph.D.

MADAME President: If this were the war against Iraq, they would already have merited their terrorist labels from you. That would have been enough stimulus to get your anti-terrorism rhetorics and your popularity ratings soaring in the wind again. It might catch your fancy, Ms President, that there are other forms of terrorism today. One such is called cultural terrorism.

This terrorism, Ms President, is not only lurking in our Islands Philippines. It is a worldwide phenomenon, even if many European countries like France and Germany (yes, the usual "sour grapes" to the US-led coalition) have now realized that in fact it can go hand in hand with development.



Word has spread that you will be gracing the city fiesta of Cagayan de Oro this coming Aug. 28. Señor San Agustin would be very pleased. But I think not, even if you would drown him with your shouts of "Viva!" The news has been spread by Mayor Vicente Y. Emano himself that you will be here during the fiesta to cut the ribbon for the new South Diversion Road.

That will be a costly political mistake, Ms President, with or without 2004. The South Diversion Road -- which comprises a new mammoth bridge spanning the rapids of the Cagayan River where you enjoyed whitewater rafting last year, and an arterial road that is now almost completely paved -- may also be your road to political perdition.

Do not get us wrong, Ms President. Mindanao needs infrastructure. After all, you grew up in nearby Iligan and we are convinced of your familiarity with Mindanao's vast underdevelopment. Cagayan de Oro truly needs this kind of project. With urban management a poor reality in our city, how can traffic jams be made less troublesome for us? Besides, with the new concrete roads will come the business investors. And yes, the tourists.

But pray tell us, Ms President, what tourism sites will they see in Cagayan de Oro? The Huluga Open Site, an archaeological site important not just to Mindanao's heritage but to the entire country as well, is now almost totally leveled. And all because Emano did not follow the recommendation of the Environmental Management Bureau to divert his project and protect the heritage site.

It might interest the President to know that an Environmental Compliance Certificate was awarded even if it did not meet the required Archaeological Impact Assessment and the specific conditions stipulated which included consultations with the National Museum and the Research Institute for Mindanao Culture of the Xavier University. The ECC was awarded on April 22, 2002 by the regional director of the DENR at that time. And here we have not just a violation of the ECC law, but a possible conflict of interest which you might wish to look into. For part of the heritage site where there is the Huluga Caves is titled under the name of a regional government official whose office has the broadest say on the granting of ECCs. That land's valuation is now several millions higher.



We invite the President to come with us to the now damaged Huluga Open Site. We will show her how to do "surface scans." It is an archaeological term which means ocularly scouring an area for possible artifacts. She will not go home to Malacañang empty-handed. Like us, she will likely have her hands full of ancient obsidian glass flakes which our Mindanao Neolithic ancestors used as cutting tools. Shards of ancient Philippine pottery, a spear point possibly of the Metal Age, shards of blue and white Chinese porcelain, perhaps a copper 8 maravedis of Spanish King Carlos IV, minted in Segovia sometime in 1788-1807, are there for the finding if they have not yet been trashed by the city government's interests. You see, the Huluga Open Site was a settlement site that was possibly used continuously from the Stone Age to the Spanish period. The President can check with National Museum director Cora Alvina who is distressed over the destruction. She will tell you that the Huluga Open Site has been coded as X-91-Q2. The presidential legal adviser can tell the President that this means it is automatically conferred the status of "heritage site" and therefore covered by Republic Act 4846, the Cultural Properties Act.

We certainly would not mind seeing her go ballistic, as she did many times in her surprise visits to inept government offices, and finding a matter of serious irregularity. The City Council of Cagayan de Oro had already declared the Huluga area as a "heritage landmark" on Sept. 28, 1999. In fact, the letter of that local legislation wanted the site to be protected with "urgency" from "projected developments." It appears now that the city government of Cagayan de Oro has violated its own legislation. Now, that would not be good for a Strong Republic, would it?

Mindanao development projects such as these can go in tandem with cultural preservation, just as they do in France and Germany. These heritage sites are part of our patrimony and integral to the understanding of Filipino cultural history. But cultural terrorism has rendered these concepts irrelevant.

If only because the President's high office will be used to put a stamp of approval on a cultural desecration, I pray that she will not come to Cagayan de Oro. Not that she is not welcome here, but because part of her official agenda will inadvertently bolster what is clearly a cultural wrong -- and other things besides.



Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 14, 2003. Reprinted by the Heritage Conservation Advocates, Cagayan de Oro, Philippines.
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