Cordillera Community in Belgium (Cordi-Bel)
Read by Susan Kilakil
The story of how the idea of gathering the Cordillerans in Europe came about is like a story of a man attracted to a woman but because of lack of resources, he cannot have enough courage and is thereby always holding back his intention of inviting that woman for a date. But as always, a solution is found.
The United Nations (UN) declaration of August 9 as the International Day of Indigenous Peoples in 1993 brought Igorots in the Netherlands and Belgium to celebrate the day with other indigenous peoples and advocates here in Europe. Since 1994, when the Decade of the Indigenous Peoples was declared by the UN, these Igorots used the occasion to make known their struggles and aspirations in the Cordillera. They were supported by advocate groups like the NCIV (Netherlands Center for Indigenous Peoples), EAIP (European Alliance with Indigenous Peoples) and the KWIA (Support Group for Indigenous Peoples) and solidarity organizations.
The Beginning of the Idea
In early 1995, individual Igorots from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg started to share ideas for the coming together of Cordillerans in the BeNeLux (Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg). However, due to personal preoccupation, distance and problem of coordination, this idea did not materialize. Meanwhile, Brussels, being the headquarters of the European Union and other international institutions, a regular and continuous flow of Filipinos (non-government and government delegates) visited the city. The Igorot families in Belgium hosted some of these visitors, providing an opportunity to gather for sharing with them. The frequency of coming together of Igorots in Belgium created the condition for the formation of the Cordi-Bel (Cordillera Community in Belgium) much ahead of the BeNeLux plan.
From the Igorot Quarterly, we read that Igorot organizations or groups exist in different countries of the European Union (like the IGO-France, Igorot-UK, Igorot Organization of Austria, Cordi-Bel and in non-EU member states like BIBAK Switzerland. We found out that Cordillerans were in almost all countries in Europe and a number of them are in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
The Push Factor
Meanwhile, through Cordi-Bel, we started to actively take part in the migrants’ struggle for the protection of our rights and welfare and in upholding our dignity. Together with the other Filipino organizations, we tried to do something about our common problems such as: problem of legalization, long working hours, low pay, discrimination, abuse, de-skilling, separation from family/loved ones, cultural adjustment, excessive collections of fees and in some cases, government neglect. We too tried to respond to the call of our fellow Igorots back home for the defense of land, life and resources. In spite of our long absence from home, we continued to be one with the Cordillerans and the Filipino people.
We were also inspired to know that in other global regions, the Cordillera migrants/immigrants are organizing themselves and are actively taking part in mobilizations for migrant rights and welfare. They take part in cultural activities to show the richness of our culture. They promote mutual help and activities to support projects in the Cordillera and to respond to emergencies.
Thus, the idea of an assembly of Cordillera People in Europe started to shape. In one of our preparatory meetings, The Rev. Cesar Taguba of the Ecumenical Ministry for Filipinos Abroad (EMFA), who have had the chance to visit Filipino communities in Europe, said:
“The Cordillera region is one of the poorest and neglected regions in the Philippines, notwithstanding the exploitation of its abundant mineral, energy and forest resources. Thus, it is safe to conclude that it is one of the regions with the highest number of uprooted peoples. There are people from the Cordillera in almost all the major labor-receiving countries in Europe, Asia-Pacific and North America.” He concluded that “Therefore, there is an urgent need to bring together all the initiatives of Cordillera people in Europe to achieve impact and further empowerment. Thus, it is necessary, advantageous and possible for us to have a Europe wide voice and platform.”
The Birth of the Idea
There were four factors that encouraged the idea of pushing for an Assembly of Cordillera People in Europe (ACPE), which was held in Gent, Belgium from 19-21 April 2002:
· First, there was the positive response from those who were contacted to attend and to be member of the Preparatory Committee.
· Second, the success of the first Cordillera Day celebration in Gent in 2001 made a breakthrough.
· Third, the support and solidarity of groups and sympathetic institutions like the NCOS (National Centre for Development Cooperation but now simply called. 11.11.11) and the Government of East Flanders in Belgium.
· Fourth, the timely Igorot International Consultation-4 (IIC-4) in London on June 28–30, 2002 woke us up to have a European delegation.
Moreover, with the Schengen agreement, it was easy for participants to come to Belgium. All these favorable factors gave Cordi-Bel the confidence to host the first ACPE, parallel to the holding of the second Cordillera Day in Belgium.
Conclusion and Remark
Guided by the principle of self-reliance and democratic decision-making, we held three preparatory meetings, conscious that the ACPE complements other initiatives like the IIC. We agreed on the theme, “Strengthening the Cordillera Community in Europe and Fostering Solidarity with the Cordillera People's Aspiration for Land, Life and Self-Determination.”
What happened in the assembly in Gent is documented in the ACPE proceedings.
The ACPE in Gent and now our coming together here in Vienna is a testimony of our desire to strengthen our unity for empowerment as migrants and immigrants, as concerned Cordillerans and for some, citizens in Europe. We congratulate IGO-Austria and all others for their labor of love, which brought us here.
May Kabunian bless and sustain our initiative to work together towards the fulfillment of our aspirations and vision as a Cordillera community in Europe.