What made the event intriguing, however, was the relatively quick response of the local government. News of the finding reached Mayor Elsie Lucille Perret on the Saturday, the fifth, and the next day, she went to the area and gave order to protect the site.
On the 13th, soldiers from the 66th Infantry Battalion started guarding the cave.
On the 15th, a team from the National Museum arrived. Their plane tickets were paid by Governor Miguel Dominguez, and their food and accommodation by the municipal government.
That day, the municipal council "unanimously passed Resolution 2008-048 which declared the newly found cave in Sitio Sagel an archeological site."
Five days later, the team from the National Museum made a press release through the Sarangani Information Office. The article stated that the cave was a prehistoric burial ground and should be conserved and protected.
This series of heritage conservation efforts is commendable. It is slow when compared to the response in advanced countries, where the police or the military would have secured a similar area in a few hours. But it is quick compared to what happened in Cagayan de Oro. I wrote about this in previous articles, so this is a broken record:
On August 5, 2003, Xavier University archaeologist Dr. Erlinda Burton discovered an archaeological garbage mound in Huluga. It contained small animal bones and pottery sherds. That day, two other archaeologists witnessed the finding and even retrieved some fossils. They were members of the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program (UP-ASP).
Burton requested a permit to excavate from the National Museum. She also asked the landowner and city tourism employee Wilson Cabaluna to protect the area.
But the National Museum replied only after three months and didn't grant Burton permission. Cabaluna also destroyed the site by digging there.
Burton and other members of the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) also asked help from the National Museum and the Army’s 4th Infantry Division to guard the site, but nothing happened.
A year later, a UP-ASP team made a whitewash report that partly said that this ancient trash site doesn't exist, and that Huluga is just a "camp-like" area despite the large amount of fossils and artifacts there. They had no recommendation for its preservation.
Today, five years later, the entire Huluga area remains exposed to exploitation and destruction. Priceless scientific and cultural information that's supposed to tell us who we were before the name "Filipino" was rammed down our throats are lost.
Why is a third-class municipality capable of decisive action for our heritage? Is it because, unlike the city of Cagayan de Oro, it doesn't have a historical and cultural commission? Is it because the mayor is chief?
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Elson T. Elizaga is a writer, photographer, and secretary of the Heritage Conservation Advocates in Cagayan de Oro City. Send comments to [email protected])