A woman who ‘squeezed men’s balls’ in defense of her homeland
By Kimberlie Ngabit-Quitasol
BONTOC, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE–Today, May 31, Petra “Ina Tannao” Macliing, a pioneering indigenous woman leader who stood against corporate greed, development agression and martial law was laid to rest in her beloved Mainit village in Bontoc, Mountain Province.
She is far from being “weak and meek”—as President Rodrgio Duterte said women are. She is not just an indigenous woman leader but a fierce warrior.
In the 1970s, women from Mainit village bared their breasts as they confronted engineers of a mining company that intended to operate in their ancestral land. Baring breasts among the Bontoc are believed to hex unwanted strangers in their communities. The engineers left.
The leader of the warrior women was Ina Tannao who passed on last May 25, 90 years old at the time of her passing.
This story about Ina Tannao and the Mainit women is a tale retold in gatherings of women activists to illustrate the lengths Cordillera women will go to protect their homeland from aggressors.
Ina Chamgay Tay-ug was with Ina Tannao when the women drove away the mining engineers. She vividly remembers that day but struggles now to remember the date.
“Tannao gathered us women that day. She told us we will be the ones to stop [the mine] from destroying our mountain,” she related.
Ina Chamgay said the women climbed the mountain where the engineers were drilling, and “stripped naked like Tannao told us.”
“We dared them to harm the womb from where they came,” she said.
After driving the engineers away, the Mainit women raided their camp, took all of their supplies to the town center and left these there to rot. “We did not eat their food. We just wanted them to leave,” Ina Chamgay said.
The Mainit women’s chants are still being shouted in political gatherings today: “Uray maid armas mi/ armas mi nan ima mi / estawes, esta-gawis/ ikmer mi snan fitfitli, fitfitlin na raraki/ estawes, esta-gawis!” (We may not be armed/ but our hands are our weapons/ We use our bare hands to squeeze balls, the balls of men.)
Despite having similar names, Ina Tannao is not related to Cordillera hero Macli-ing Dulag, the Butbut tribe pangat (leader) in Kalinga who was assassinated in 1980 for opposing the Chico River Dam project of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. But like Dulag, Ina Tannao also actively opposed the World Bank-funded Chico Dam project and fought the entry of mining ventures in her province.
Ina Tannao did not confine herself solely to the concerns of her village. She attended bodong (peace pact) conferences where the pangats from the Bontoc and Kalinga villages discussed the impact of the Chico river projects, Joanna Cariño said, founder of the activist group Cordillera Peoples Alliance. These conferences unified the Cordillera against the dam project, corporate logging in Abra province and Marcos’s Martial Law.
From 1981 to 1983, Ina Tannao helped form the Cordillera Bodong Association and became the only female pangat. Ina Tannao also helped form the Kalinga-Bontoc Peace Pact Holders Association in 1979, a federation of tribal leaders and peace pact holders.
Ina Tannao lost her husband early and was left to raise eight children. Her only son died at a very young age.
She earned a living on the farm or by tending to a sari-sari store in order to put her seven daughters through college.
Lawyer Franscesca Macliing-Claver, her youngest child, said she was three months old when her father died. “She was the only parent I have known,” she said.
Ina Tannao once told her children a story about a couple who offered to adopt their youngest sibling, Claver said. “I was that baby. The couple came with baby clothes and feeding bottles, ready to fetch me. But my mother refused to give me up,” she said. “My sisters used to tease me that I was destined to have a different surname.”
Georgia Velasco of the Cordillera Elders Alliance (CEA) said she met Mother Petra in early 1980s when the older woman encouraged her peers to take adult literacy classes. “She valued education and learning and never stopped learning and sharing what she learned to others,” even though Mother Petra never attended college, Velasco said.
Ina Tannao helped organize her fellow literacy students into a farmers organization. At the age of 70, she helped form the Cordillera Elders Alliance in 2006. She traveled to the Cordillera provinces to speak to fellow elders about their continuing struggle for social justice.
“If she did not suffer from dementia and was still alive today, she would have opposed the misogyny of President Duterte,” Cariño said.
Macliing’s contributions to social transformation is recognized by local and international bodies.
On May 29, Sagada officials headed by Mayor James Pooten personally handed to the Macling family a council resolution honoring Mother Petra. The resolution recognized her leadership in the Cordillera people’s struggle against the Chico River dams, Cellophil logging, entry of mining in her Mainit village and against Marcos’s dictatorship. “Let her noble accomplishments serve as an inspiration to the present and coming generation,” the resolution read.
In 2009, Macliing was honored as among nine awardees for outstanding rural women of the world of the Women’s World Summit Foundation’s Laureate Prize for Rural Women. She was recognized for her pioneering work and invaluable contribution to the Cordillera people’s struggle for indigenous people’s rights to their land and to self determination. The WWSF Laureate Award honors creative and courageous women for their contribution in improving the quality of life in rural communities, for protecting the environment, transmitting knowledge and standing up for human rights and peace.
In 2012, Macliing was one of the six Filipino women awarded by the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition during the 5th International Day of Rural Women for advancing and promoting indigenous peoples rights and civil rights; for combating violence against women and for seeking better treatment of the rural poor, political prisoners, farmers and children.
Current CPA chair Windel Bolinget said that while they mourn Ina Tannao’s passing they celebrate her life, “a life well lived”. He said that she set a shining example for the younger generation to follow.
Bolinget challenged everyone to follow Ina Tannao’s example in defending the Cordillera homeland from development agression and continue her work for social justice and national freedom.
“For there is no greater tribute to Ina Tannao but to continue what she has started in the defense of the Cordillera homeland, advancing the right to self-determination and genuine autonomy,” Bolinget said. #