Chico River and the Beauty of Kalinga That Could Have Been Damm(n)ed

Cagayan River has quite a few major tributaries since it is located between two, large mountain ranges. One of those rivers is the Chico River in the Cordillera Mountains located southwest of Tuguegarao City. This river system is 175 kms long with tributaries as far as Ifugao and Benguet down south. The route I am planning to take going to Bontoc happens to go side by side with the Chico so it’s only fitting that I start this chapter of my North Luzon Loop with its very interesting story. You are going to see a lot of the Chico in the next few posts so pay attention.


Still not interested? How about if I throw in the name you’ve read so often as I explored the Ilocos Region? That’s right, Marcos is tied up even with this remote river up in the mountains.

After Buntun Bridge in Tuguegarao, I made a left for Tabuk City. Between the vast plains of Enrile, Santa Maria and Rizal is a mountain range. The part where the road crosses the mountain is called Kabuluan Forest.


Although, it didn’t look like a forest at all.


Barren soil, some patches of grass, very few trees, cemented roads, and power lines.


But it was certainly a mountain range. We don’t need a satellite view to see that..

Fifty kilometers after Tuguegarao, I arrived at the capital of Kalinga Province – Tabuk City. The roads before the city proper were much better than the one’s inside the city. I refueled here but didn’t stay long.


just some of the other road users that made the travel a little more exciting.


Approaching Tabuk City (left); city proper is under extensive road maintenance (right).


I was planning to say in Sagada for the night and aside from being told three times along the way that I cannot make it, I was optimistic. I lost all hope when I came upon a Kilometer Marker board that doesn’t even see the need to include Sagada or Bontoc in the list.


Hey! How far is Sagada from here?

Just 3 kilometers from Tabuk proper is the US-Phil Friendship Bridge which is also known as the Antonio Canao Bridge in honor of the first Kalinga native Congressman.


Beside it is the old Pasunglao Bridge.


Another Kilometer Marker without any Bontoc or Sagada in it.

Really no luck! Bontoc is not yet within range and it is already four in the afternoon. At least I know I need to make the left turn. Right turn to Pinukpuk or Abbut would have ended me even deeper into the mountains. I’ll take that right turn next time.

Not long afterwards, something caught my eye and I pulled a quick U-turn. It is the Chico Diversion Dam. At that time, I was just intrigued by the structure. Little did I know that its story makes it even more important and historical. Here’s a summary of that story:


In 1973, the Philippine Matial Law government announced the Chico Dam Project that called for the construction of five dams: four large impoundments to generate power and a smaller irrigation dam. Four dams to supply energy demands and one dam to divert portion of the river to agricultural lands. It would increase the power available to Luzon by 50 percent. With benefits like that, who would protest?


How about 90,000 Igorots? The dams would submerge sixteen Igorot villages and thousands of hectares of rice terraces in Bontoc and Kalinga. The Igorots or “people of the mountains” is linked with the land, the terraces, their burial grounds and their sacred groves so they are not willing to abandon their way of life. They are also aware of the residents in Pantabangan, Binga, and Ambuklao dams still waiting for the promised compensation for their destroyed property.

A typical sight in the remote regions in the Philippines.

A typical sight in the remote regions in the Philippines.

It would cost over US $1M (during 1983 prices) and without a detailed economic cost-benefit evaluation, the government secured funding from the World Bank and signed a contract with Lahmeyer International to design the dams.


In February 1974, National Power Corporation (NPC) survey crews arrived in Bontoc. When the residents’ peaceful appeals to halt the Chico project failed, they began harassing the NPC teams and eventually escalated to attacks that forced NPC to complete the survey from the air.


NPC then shifted its attention to Kalinga-Apayao. This time, they have bodyguards – the Philippine Constabulary (PC). Kalinga delegations went to Manila to appeal to Marcos but failed. Like in Bontoc, the villagers in Kalinga also resorted to harassment. Being traditional warriors, they have low tolerance for abuse and insult.


A few months later, the Marcos changed tactics. In Kalinga, NPC pulled out and was replaced by Presidential Assistant on National Minorities (PANAMIN). PANAMIN tricked and bribed some of the villages to act as their representative in future dam negotiations. It divided Kalinga, and Bontoc criticized the Kalingans for giving PANAMIN so much power and authority. PANAMIN also arranged a meeting between Kalinga representatives and Marcos and they were tricked into signing a blank sheet of paper that became signed statements consenting to the construction of the dam. It didn’t stop there. PANAMIN revived feuds between traditional enemies among the villages and armed them with rifles that resulted in numerous casualties. Once they have divided the Igorots, 700 PC were deployed to the dam site to support the 150-man Provincial force. PANAMIN’s work is done and they moved out August 1978.


Overpowered, Bontoc and Kalinga gradually responded to the help offered by the New People’s Army (NPA). The villages established local militia units trained by the NPA and for the next three years, the Chico Project is on a standstill.


Credits to the owner and The Ecologist.

By 1980, the Chico Valley had become a war zone. The NPA and village militia staged periodic attacks on the PC and NPC. The military retaliated with arrests and assassinations of suspected NPA members and supporters. Macliing Dulag, a Kalinga tribal leader is one of them. His death anniversary is commemorated as Cordillera Day held every July 15. On a meeting with PANAMIN Head Manuel Elizalde, Macliing was offered a thick envelope. He replied: “This envelope can contain only one of two things – a letter or money. If it is a letter, I do not know how to read. And if it its money, I do not have anything to sell. So take your envelope and go.”


Credits to the owner and The Ecologist.

Macliing’s death intensified the resistance and the government was forced to abandon the Chico Project – at least 4 out of 5 it. Only this 900-meter diversion dam was realized. It was completed in 1983 and currently services 11,000 hectares of rice fields of the Cordillera Region.



I wanted to share this story because it is another example of how resilient Filipinos are and how it won’t tolerate oppression. It also shows how we value our culture over potential growth and development. Whether these things are good or bad is up to you. If you want to read more in detail about this story read “Dam the Chico” by Charles Drucker in The Ecologist Vol 15 No 4 May 1985. Credits to them.

I’m going to get back on the road and enjoy the reward the Igorots fought for.

Rewards like this!

Rewards like this!

See the rest of the picture above on a sweeping panorama shot of a pizza-shaped small plateau on the next post..

About Dom de la Torre

The rider is a 20-something Filipino that rides a Honda Wave 125cc underbone. He knows little about motorcycles yet loves the experience going places on two wheels. Rider Ako is a motorcycle-slash-travel blog. The rider not only shares to you travel destinations and what to see there but also the experience of getting there. You will read about the thrills and adventure when he rides solo, the romance of riding in tandem, the camaraderie riding with a group, the excitement participating in events, and anything that he thinks you might find interesting.When he's broke and the fuel's empty, he will share stories about motorcycling how he sees it through his helmet visor.
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8 Responses to Chico River and the Beauty of Kalinga That Could Have Been Damm(n)ed

  1. nomad says:

    Hey, what happened to your next post? I was hooked reading about your adventures and would like to read more!
    You have a unique blog…very informative and entertaining..

    • Thanks for subscribing, Nomad.. We have to thank my ISP (Globe) for the low post count on my blog the past 3 months. Writing a blog post on an internet cafe with dozens of DOTA players taunting each other is not really ideal. :p

      • nomad says:

        I hope you’ll continue posting. I was in Pagudpud during the weekend when I saw your blog, which led me to Bacarra Bell Tower (not on our original IT) and the dancing fountain lights in Vigan (wouldn’t have known about it if I didn’t read your blog).

  2. Salamat sa blog mo tungkol sa Chico River Project, sa kasaysayan ng pagkilos ng Kaigorotan at pamayanan laban dito, sa kabayanihan ni Apo Macli-ing Dulag!

  3. Thank you for the story of the Chico River Dam Project. Fascinating and heartbreaking.

  4. Commenting again so I can subscribe

  5. Aika says:

    I’m currently doing a presentation on this.
    This is very helpful. There is not much literature online which puts concisely what happened.

  6. Utterly beautiful Pictures. It is like i have stood on every spot where you shot them. So vivid, and to think that had Macli-ing not died to defend his beloved Chico, that heritage of hamlets and fields will have been all under water now!

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