Cagayan de Oro update 2: Responses from archaeological team and city

There’s another side to Cagayan de Oro story, it seems. In another story about the Huluga Open Site, the archaeology team from the University of the Philippines who investigated the site in 2004 was criticised for producing a “mock report” when Cagayan de Oro City commissioned an investigation into the site. Published here is the offending article from the Philippine Inquirer, and responses by the University of the Philippines Archeology Studies Program and the Cagayan De Oro Historical and Cultural Commission.

16 August 2007 (From the Cagayan de Oro City Information Office and The Inquirer) – There’s another side to Cagayan de Oro story, it seems. In another story about the Huluga Open Site, the archaeology team from the University of the Philippines who investigated the site in 2004 was criticised for producing a “mock report” when Cagayan de Oro City commissioned an investigation into the site. Published here is the offending article from the Philippine Inquirer, and responses by the University of the Philippines Archeology Studies Program and the Cagayan De Oro Historical and Cultural Commission.

Cagayan de Oro’s lost treasure

Statement of the Members of the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program, Cagayan de Oro Project

Statement of the Members of the Historical and Cultural Commission Cagayan de Oro City


Cagayan de Oro’s lost treasure
By Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez

Folklore says it was the Spanish conquerors that appended the word “de Oro” to the old name Kagay-an in recognition of gold finds in the land by the conquistadores.

To this day, many old residents of the now highly urbanized city still believe that gold can be found in the recesses of earth along the hilly grounds surrounding Cagayan de Oro. One site is the promontory in Taguanao in Indahag village, 8 kilometers from the city center.

Indeed, stories of gold drove many to scrape the surface of Taguanao. Among the few who did find a treasure were archeologists and anthropologists who, after an extensive study of the site, declared it to be a significant archeological discovery.

There at the caves now known as Huluga were found artifacts and fossils dating back to 377 AD. These were soon brought to the National Museum and the Museo de Oro and recognized as historical treasures.

Huluga Caves

It was in 1975 when the National Museum sent experts to Cagayan de Oro to investigate reports that prehistoric fossils and artifacts had been found in a hill near Cagayan river. The team, led by anthropologist Erlinda Burton, member of the Historical Commission, found the report to be true and initiated a comprehensive archeological study of the site.

Among the significant finds was a female skull found inside the Huluga cave which dated back to prehistoric times. The cave used to be a burial site of prehistoric inhabitants that settled on the hill. Other finds such as boat-shaped coffins, broken pieces of earthenware, stone and metal tools, give evidence of cultural practices.

The Huluga caves and open site soon became famous among scientists and enthusiasts. What captured their interest were the shards of obsidian glass found on the surface of Huluga. Studies reveal that the obsidian glass is a material spewed by volcanoes 2,000 years ago which were harnessed by Stone Age people to be used as knives. The only known origin of this material was Japan.

A whale harpoon tip dug from Huluga open site also baffled archeologists, who hypothesized that the Irrawady dolphin may have inhabited the rivers of Cagayan a long time ago. Now near extinction, the Irrawady dolphins can still be found in some parts of Asia, most of them in Indonesia.

“This could be evidence that trading happened ages before Spain landed in the Philippines,” says Elson Elizaga, a member of the Heritage Conservation Advocates now fighting for the preservation of the site.

“The fossils and artifacts could tell us so much of our origins and how our ancestors lived. Many First World countries spend a great deal of effort and money to preserve such historical sites because they appreciate its significance,” adds Elizaga, lamenting that the country does not give enough importance to its ancient past.

The recognition of the National Museum of the site as ‘invaluable Philippine heritage’ was not enough to have the whole area preserved. It had to be the local government, in agreement with the landowners who have legitimate titles to the land that should declare the area a preserved historical site.

In 1999, a proposal to construct a road that will cut through the Huluga open site caused an uproar among historians and anthropologists. The P600-million project was a priority of then mayor Vicente Emano.

Concerned about the possible destruction of a major archeological site, anthropologist Dr. Antonio Montalvan, then a member of the city’s historical and cultural commission, alerted city councilors of the plan. A team composed of Burton, the city engineer, planning officer and tourism officer was immediately organized to survey Huluga.

The team recommended the diversion of the road-and-bridge project to protect Huluga. Emano assured them that ‘no historical or archeological site will be destroyed as we implement the infrastructure project.’

Burton, Montalvan and a team of experts identified the places in Taguanao that should be protected.

Two years later, the contractor, UKC Builders, began cutting right through the hill, demolishing the middle part of Huluga open site.

The Heritage Conservation Advocates founded by Burton, Montalvan and Elizaga, released a manifesto of protest and openly criticized Emano. They also filed a case with the local Environmental Management Board against Emano and the UKC Builders for failing to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment and an Archeological Impact Assessment on the site. They won the case and the EMB slapped Emano with a P50,000 fine.

Still, construction of the road and bridge continued. It was inaugurated in September 2006.

There are claims that the same hunger for gold that gripped the Spanish conquerors in the olden times may have caught up with the present-day gold hunters in the area who have, in the process, destroyed one of the city’s treasures.

Mock report

A former National Museum staff and Emano’s appointee in the city tourism office named Wilson Cabaluna began excavating at the foot of the hill where Dr. Burton discovered a midden (an ancient garbage dump indicating human settlement, that usually contains animal bones, shells and kitchen refuse). The year was 2006, when the Pelaez bridge was nearly finished and Dr. Burton’s group was trying to preserve the remaining part of the Huluga open site. Cabaluna believed there was gold and precious pottery in the hill’s belly and began digging it without care of the fossils and artifacts that could be found in the midden. His family did not confirm what they found. Cabaluna has since transferred residence and could not be located.

The City Hall did make efforts to have the site investigated. In November 2004, three excavation sites were studied by a team from the University of the Philippines-Archeological Studies Program (ASP) under the city historical and cultural commission (HCA).

The HCA calls the ASP report a mock report. Elizaga says members of the ASP team should themselves be investigated for bungling an important scientific study.

End of Cagayan’s heritage

Last August 8, the Inquirer found the remaining Huluga promontory half-bulldozed. The UKC Builders began quarry operations two weeks ago in the hill ten meters from the midden. The original caves are now part of Lawndale Spring Resort and the open site is replaced by a concrete road.

Cagayan de Oro Mayor Constantino Jaraula has promised to investigate the matter.

Former mayor and now vice mayor Emano was repeatedly asked to comment but remained unavailable as of this writing.

After years of fighting for Huluga, Montalvan’s anger is now replaced by sorrow. “That’s the end of pre-historic Cagayan. It’s a pity. We have destroyed an important heritage site,” he said.

Statement of the Members of the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program
Cagayan de Oro Project

August 14, 2007

We write in response to the specific statement in the Philippine Daily Inquirer article entitled “Cagayan de Oro’s Lost Treasure” (PDI August 12, 2007 p. A17). It was stated by the writer, Ma. Cecilia Rodriguez, that the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) called our archeological report a “mock report”.

The UP-ASP team was invited by the Historical Commission of the city of Cagayan de Oro, (CdeO) to help improve our basic knowledge of CdeO’s early history. We reviewed the literature, followed protocol, secured the proper authorization from the National Museum of the Philippines, and conducted our research work from October to November, 2004. A reinvestigation of the Huluga site was done, as well as new site surveys. At Huluga, we were interested to know if systematic investigation of the archaeological site can support the idea that there was a dense, permanent settlement on the hill top of Huluga that could represent the remains of the earliest site of Cagayan de Oro settlement. Unfortunately our systematic excavation could only tell us that there was human habitation, but it was not likely that the hill top was ever extensively populated for any period of time. On the other hand, through the surveys we conducted, we were able to find denser archaeological deposits just north of Huluga along the Cagayan de Oro River. These sites can also be candidates for the location of the old settlement of Cagayan de Oro, for they also fit the description of the landscape written in early Spanish accounts. In the course of our study, we also recovered stone tools that belong to a very old technological tradition. If more examples of these tools are found in their original context, they can tell us that humans, and most likely pre-modern humans (i.e..Homo Crecus), were present in the Cagayan de Oro landscape. This can possibly push the history and heritage concern of the region by tens of thousands of years.

All of these findings are detailed in our site report and in a special edition of our peer-reviewed archaeological journal, Hukay (Volume 7, 2005). The site report contains the complete account of our methods, data, illustration, interpretations, limitations and the future prospects for the study of CdeO’s early history. We cannot understand, therefore, the statement coming from a member of the HCA that calls our report “mock” and that “the ASP team should themselves be investigated for bungling an important scientific study”. We wonder how the members of the HCA, specially Elson Elizaga can tell a mock report from a real one, when they have not done analysis of archaeological raw data or written an archaeological report at all. The most that a member of HCA has done is a very preliminary report on an excavation of the site way back in 1975. This, despite the fact that excavation have been conducted by certain HCA members as late as 2004, without securing authorization from the National Museum and without a properly disseminated site report. We will be more than happy to read a report, of any sort, that gives us an idea of the archaeological context/merit of all the artifacts and investigation that they have done (and proudly placed on the web) at the Huluga site all these years. In fact, ethics that practitioners of archaeology should write and share reports, or they are no better than your average treasure hunter.

The way we see it, the damage that our scientific report can only have done is on the spirit of the HCA members who are holding uncritical belief in a self-proclaimed truth that the Huluga hillside is the location for the earliest settlement linked to present Cagayan de Oro. We see the value of this archaeological site within the fundament fact that it is a known heritage site of Filipinos and not because of the claim that it is the “oldest” or the “original”. We therefore will not blindly accept a belief for settlement origin when the archaeological evidence does not support it.

There is so much to learn about our collective past in the Cagayan de Oro landscape. Much more study is needed; the potentials are really looking good. We fully support and join the appeal to all institutions in the position to stop the continuing destruction through quarrying of the Huluga site. We also show our solidarity to those sensitive to the heritage of Cagayan de Oro that were maligned by the HCA, and support any effort to end the HCA’s selective and arrogant claims as protectors of Cagayan de Oro’s Heritage and of our collective heritage. We are concerned that such an important issue such as heritage protection is being hijacked by a narrow-thinking group. Their outright dismissal, rather than engagement, of a new data seems to miss the fact that diverse interest can cover under a heritage protection position. We are also of the mind that as more data and knowledge are put to light through sustained study of the Cagayan de Oro past, reality will definitely be more exciting than fiction.

UP-Archaeological Studies Program

Victor Paz PhD.
Lee Anthony Neri, Msc.
Jun G. Cayron, MA.
Anna Jane Carlos, Graduate student
Michelle Eusebio, Graduate student
Vito Paolo Hernandez, Graduate student
Andrea Malaya M. Ragrario, Graduate student
Emil Charles Robles, Graduate student

Statement of the Members of theHistorical and Cultural Commission
Cagayan de Oro City

We, the members of the Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission deplore the biased and questionable article written by a Ma. Cecilia L. Rodriguez entitle “Cagayan de Oro’s Lost Treasure” that appeared in the Phil. Inquirer, Augu. 12, 2007 issue.

We condemn the quarrying by the Dahino family in their land in Huluga, sitio Taguanao for we believe that their land is part of the cultural treasures of our city.

We condemn the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA) for their high-handed and bullying tactics in handling sensitive heritage issues. They only want to divide and confuse Kagay-anons instead of helping to promote our culture.

We condemn the seemingly endless and vicious “Emano bashing” over the Huluga issue for we see this as having strong political undertones. In 2004, then Mayor Vicente Emano funded the archaeological exploration and excavation of the Huluga open site to find out once and for all if the place was the ancient settlement of the city as claimed by Dr. Burton and her HCA group. The archaeological findings showed that Huluga is a habitational place and not a settlement site of ancient Kagay-anons. But still, this place should be protected from quarrying and the like. What is HCA’s part in the protection of the area aside from maligning and bashing individuals and conjuring tales to support their stand?

We condemn the malicious and libelous portrayal of Wilson Cabaluna as some kind of a treasure hunter who after digging for gold and pottery in Huluga left and could not be located. Mr. Cabaluna is an employee of good standing in the city government since 1981 under then Mayor Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and is a resident of Taguanao since the 1950s.

We condemn the claim of Elizaga that the UP-ASP has given a mock report about Huluga and should be investigated for bungling in their work. The team of archaeologists from UP-ASP has been working closely with the National Museum around the country for years. They are highly respected among their peers worldwide and are known for their professionalism and academic integrity.

The article clearly shows that Ms. Rodriguez never bothered to research on the findings of the team of archaeologists from the University of the Philippines in Huluga. Instead, she heavily relied on the highly improbable and fantastic theory about the obsidian source and the Irawaddy dolphin yarn of Elso Elizaga of the HCA. This is an example of irresponsible journalist at its “best”.

Like Antonio Montalvan of the HCA, we are not angry anymore but sorrowful over the fact that there are indeed individuals with high academic titles who are consistent in their yarns and half truths just to support a claim that has been scientifically proven to be untrue.

From the:

CAGAYAN DE ORO HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL COMMISSION
Ramon P. Chaves – Chair
Members:
Sandy R. Bass
Thaddeus A. Bautista
Paulita R. Roa

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

4 thoughts on “Cagayan de Oro update 2: Responses from archaeological team and city”

  1. The only losers in this squabble are the Filipino people, specifically the Kagay-anons. I say, let wounded pride and hurt ego give way to a higher goal, i.e., a comprehensive, unbiased understanding of Cagayan’s past. Never mind who should take credit for which discovery. The truth is far too important to be under the wings of one person or group.

    By all means, challenge each other’s findings (obtained systematically and legally), bash yourselves with proofs and counterproofs in academic journals and conferences, but spare everyone else the intrigue and the behind the scenes drama (who got support, funding, etc.). Archaeology is not show business nor politics.

    Let this turf war be over.

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