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
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
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.