Infra project ‘desecrates’ Cagayan de Oro prehistoric site; Senate inquiry sought

- Bong Fabe -
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — Senate Majority Leader Loren Legarda has filed a resolution seeking an immediate Senate investigation into the reported destruction of the prehistoric Huluga site in Barangay Indahag here due to the city government’s ongoing road and bridge construction project in the area.

In Senate Resolution 656, Legarda urged the Senate committees on education, arts and culture and the environment and natural resources to conduct the investigation.

"(The) Huluga open site and caves in Cagayan de Oro City (are among) the remaining treasures of our heritage. We hope that whatever development initiatives are being undertaken in the city, all the stakeholders will take into consideration the preservation of the cultural importance of this prehistoric site," she said.

The city government has reportedly refused to stop the project despite repeated appeals and protests by a multisectoral group campaigning for the preservation and promotion of historical and archaeological sites.
EMB Directive
But with the cease-and-desist order issued by the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Region 10 last Monday, city officials cannot do anything but to follow the order.

The EMB-Region 10 also ordered City Hall to pay P50 million in damages and organize two teams to ensure the preservation and protection of the Huluga site and conduct salvage archaeology in the area.

It also directed City Hall to put signs in the area to make people aware about the site’s importance.

The National Museum recently called for a rescue archaeological excavation at the Huluga site after a survey showed that the city government’s ongoing road and bridge construction project has desecrated the open site of the famed Huluga Caves, which have yielded artifacts dating back to 370 AD.

The National Museum also sought the construction of an on-site museum and the posting of signs to inform the public about the importance of the Huluga Heritage Site to prevent its further desecration since the infrastructure project will soon open it to traffic.
Prehistoric Dwellers
Prehistoric inhabitants lived on the Huluga Caves’ open site, with an area of about two hectares, and used the caves as burial grounds.

Dr. Erlinda Burton, resident archaeologist of Xavier University, said the open site was occupied in the early part of the Neolithic period between 5000 and 1000 B up to the Metal Age and between 500 B and 500 A.D.

Sheldon Clyde Jago-on, a National Museum archaeologist who surveyed the area upon the invitation of the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA), said, "The promontory or the hill where (several) artifacts were found was ripped apart due to the construction of the road."

"The city government could not come out clean with this. It should be understood that there were lapses in the process that paved the way for the desecration of the open site," Jago-on said.

The National Museum, which undertook archaeological activities in the area in 1970-1971, uncovered human skeletal remains, fragments of which were sent to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California.
377 A.D. Man
Using the racemization dating technique, the US institution found the remains to belong to a man who lived in 377 A.D.

Aside from the skeletal remains, other artifacts found in the Huluga site were a boat-shaped coffin, broken pieces of earthenware, stone and metal tools, wild boar tusks and a female skull dating back to 377 A.D.

Local historians undertook surface scans from March 4, 2001 to May 11, 2001, yielding prehistoric potsherds and volcanic obsidian flakes or stone tools.

The Heritage Conservation Advocates protested when it found out that the infrastructure project, supposedly designed to decongest traffic in the city proper, had demolished a huge portion of the open site and that the road being constructed had cut the site open.

The group claimed that the construction project has no environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It alleged that the city government violated Republic Act 4846, or the Cultural Properties Preservation and Protection Act, and Presidential Decree 105, which makes it unlawful to change the features of existing historical landmarks.

The city government, it added, failed to conduct archaeological impact assessment, survey the site’s surface for artifacts and salvage materials discovered during the road construction.
Emano’s Denial
But Mayor Vicente Emano, in many radio interviews, has repeatedly denied destroying the Huluga open site.

He instead pointed an accusing finger at the convention center which is being constructed near the area.

The National Museum attested that the city government did not commission any archaeological reconnaissance team prior to the road and bridge construction project.

Worse, the construction was done after the city council, whose members all belong to Emano’s Padayon Pilipino party, passed a law declaring the Huluga site as a heritage site.

Following HCA’s lead, several conservation groups like the Archaeological Studies Program of the University of the Philippines, Katipunan Arkeologist ng Pilipinas Inc., Butuan City Historical and Foundation Inc. and even the Archaeological Legacy Institute in the United States made an audio report on Huluga "to help spread the word worldwide."

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