Rise of a Tribal Leader
Born in 1935, Ama Lumbaya was a Butbut tribal leader from Ngibat in Tinglayan, Kalinga who grew up in the Cordillera hinterlands. He had little formal education, but was steeped in the customs and traditions of his people. He was a farmer who was committed to his community where he was known as quiet and unassuming.
In the 1960s, Ama Lumbaya began to emerge as a leader after he was elected teniente del baryo, or barangay captain. He helped forge a peace treaty and end years of conflict between his tribe, the Butbut, and the Naneng tribe.
When peace could not be achieved, Ama Lumbaya was prepared to lead his tribe to war. That’s what happened in the 1970s when a conflict erupted over how to respond to the arrival of a mining company in their area. The Tulgao welcomed the mining operation, while the Butbut opposed it.
The Fight Against Dictatorship
Ama Lumbaya and communities in the Mountain Province and the Kalinga confronted a bigger challenge in the 1970s when the Marcos regime unveiled the Chico River Dam Project. Funded by the World Bank, the project called for the construction a series of dams along the Chico river. It would obliterate villages, burial grounds, and ricefields. The tribes resisted.
Lumbaya and another respected triba leader, Macli-ing Dulag, launched a campaign to prevent teams from the National Power Corporation (NPC) from conducting surveys on their land. They later traveled to Manila to explain their objections to the project Marcos and other agencies. They were ignored by the regime. Instead, the dictatorship sought to undermine the tribal leaders by organizing community meetings where they sought to convince residents to allow the NPC to proceed with the surveys.
Lumbaya and other tribal leaders kept on fighting back. In early 1975, the first bodong, or peace pact, was forged against the Chico River Dam project. This led to the Vochong, or a bodong among the Kalingas and Pechen among the Bontoks, during a May 1975 conference held at the St. Bridget’s School in Quezon City. The historic gathering was attended by 165 peace pact holders and tribal leaders of Bontoc and Kalinga as well as Church-based support groups.
The conference led to the adoption of the Anti-Dam Pagta ti Bodong, or Laws of the Peace Pact, and led to a multilateral agreement against a common external threat. Lumbaya, Macliing and other tribal leaders were instrumental in the consolidation of the resistance to the dams.
Like other Cordillera leaders, Lumbaya became a target of bribes and then threats.
When PANAMIN, or the Presidential Assistance on National Minorities, came to Kalinga in 1975, then Secretary Manda Elizalde summoned him to Lubuagan where he tried to buy him off. He failed. When Elizalde and his men then resorted threats, Lumbaya remained unfazed.
In the end, they had to let him go back home to Ngibat. On another occasion, Elizalde and his men went to Ngibat, summoned Lumbaya and offered him money. In response, Lumbaya said the money should be given to the community so they can decide what to do with the money. Knowing the community would reject any proposal to push through with the project, Elizalde and his team left.
Opposition to the dam continued to grow. Lumbaya and other leaders continued organizing, eventually reaching out to the New People’s Army which had begun organizing in the Kalinga.
The Marcos regime responded to the opposition to the dam project by launching a militarization campaign, deploying more units of the Philippine Constabulary and the Civilian Home Defense Force. In 1976, the military cracked down on the opposition. Tribal leaders, including Ama Lumbaya, and other tribe members, some as young as 12-year old boys, were arrested and brought to the army’s provincial headquarters in Bulanao, Tabuk, Kalinga. Later, 50 arrested leaders, including Lumbaya, were transferred to Camp Olivas in Pampanga. They were released a few months later.
Circumstance of Death
Lumbaya remained active in the campaign against the dam project. By 1978, he had become a target of the military which also launched raids in Bugnay, Ngibat, and Butbut. The respected leader, Maci-ing Dulag, was killed in this campaign.
With peaceful options for opposing the Chico River Dam Project severely limited, Lumbaya joined the New People’s Army in 1980. Four years later, in 1984, he became ill with pneumonia after surviving a massive military operation. With no access to medical care, he succumbed after a month-long illness. He was buried near where he died. A year later, he was given proper burial in his native Ngibat. He was 50 years old. Lumbaya was survived by his wife Agsing and three children.
Ama Lumbaya and the community
On April 24, 2017, steel markers bearing the portraits of Lumbaya, Macli-ing Dulag and Pedro Dungoc were installed along the road in Bugnay in honor of the heroes of the fight against the Chico River Dam Project.