Open-Pit Mining Destroyed Village in Zambales

It was as if a giant used a shovel to gouge the face of the mountain in Barangay Buhawen, San Marcelino, Zambales. Below the towering rocky façade, reddish-black liquid formed a pool of poison. This is the legacy of open pit mining 15 years ago. And now mining companies are about to come back with the signing of a new memorandum of agreement in line with the Arroyo government’s aggressive promotion of investments in mining operations.

BY ABNER BOLOS
Gitnang Luzon News Service
Posted by Bulatlat.com

San Marcelino, ZAMBALES — It was as if a giant used a shovel to gouge the face of the mountain in Barangay Buhawen, San Marcelino, Zambales. Below the towering rocky façade, reddish-black liquid formed a pool of poison.

It has been 15 years since the Benguet Mining Corporation ceased open pit mining operations in this village, but its legacy of destruction remains.

Apo Kutis, 63, a full-bloodied Aeta recalls that this was once a lush hunting ground with its streams teeming with fish and where his family grew rice, root crops and vegetables. In 1965, he was asked to vacate his “gasak” (farm) to make way for the mining exploration.

Unlettered and helpless, he reluctantly obliged. He moved his family near the village center and cleared another portion of the mountain to farm. Sometime in 1980, bulldozers arrived in his farm and began tearing away his plots of sweet potatoes and vegetables.

This time, he could not contain his rage. “Hinabol nya ng itak yung nagbu-bulldozer,” (He chased the bulldozer operator with a long knife) his son, Romy Pulagay, 42, told GLNS.

“Noon lamang nila ako kinausap ng mabuti at pinangakuan ng trabaho pati para sa aking mga anak,” (It was only then that they talked to me properly and promised jobs for me and my children.) Apo Kutis recounted. He left his gasak for the second time and settled higher up the mountain.

The mine is popularly known here as Dizon Mines, named after the powerful family who actually managed the open-pit mining concession.

Leveled and poisoned

Residents estimate that at least 500 has. of the mountain was leveled by the mining company in three sitios (sub-village) of Buhawen—Naban, Tikis and Sayasay. What was left is a hellish landscape of rock and desert. Chemicals used to extract gold, silver, copper and chromite have poisoned all nearby rivers and water sources.

Before the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991, the company constructed a huge dike separating the mining site and the village center. But not to protect the village, residents say.

“Yung tubig mula sa mina, kahit may lason na ay mayroon pa ring ginto, kaya naiipon ito sa gilid ng dam para makuha pa rin ng kumpanya,” (Run-off water from the mine even if already contaminated, contains traces of gold that settles at the dam’s edge and which the company intends to collect later.) Peping Pulagay, 40, the village chieftain told GLNS.

“Lawa”

Lahar from the Pinatubo eruption covered the Kakilingan River and submerged the village center of Buhawen and portions of the adjoining villages of Aglao, Pili and San Clemente.

A lake covering some 1,000 hectares now stands in what used to be a prosperous farming community. A lone church spire protrudes above the water. The dike separates the mining site from the lake. The company stopped full-scale operation after the Pinatubo eruption but maintained a skeletal force from its peak of 2,000 workers, residents say.

“Ang lawa ay nalason din dahil tumatagas dyan ang tubig mula sa mina. Hindi naiinom kahit ng mga hayop ang tubig,” (The lake was also poisoned because water from the mining site seeps into it. Even animals do not drink from the lake.) Peping said.

He recalled an incident when three people died when the drums that the company used as posts for a makeshift bridge leaked and contaminated the lake. “Puting likido na lason pala ang laman ng mga drum. Namatay sa lason yung tatlong sumisid sa tubig,” (The drums contained a white poisonous liquid. The three people who dove in the water died of the poison.) Peping said.

“Mula noon, lalo nang nalason ang lawa,” (The lake was all the more poisoned since then.) he said.

Against mining

Apu Kutis said that if he had his way, no mining company will operate in land that they regard as their own or part of their ancestral domain.

“Walang ibinigay na mabuti sa amin ang mina. Sinira nila ang aming kabundukan. Hindi nila tinupad ang kanilang mga pangako,” (We did not benefit from the mine. They destroyed our mountain. They did not fulfill their promises) he said.

He said he was able to work in the mine as a water tender but none of his six children was given a job as promised by the company.

The Aeta’s worst fear is that mining operations will resume. Peping said that last September, village elders were called to a meeting by local government officials and company representatives and told that the company plans to resume operations.

“Kailangan naming magkaisa at tutulan ang plano nila. Wala nang matitira sa amin kung sisirain pa ang kabundukan,” (We need to unite and oppose the plan. Nothing will be left to us if they will continue to destroy the mountain and forests.), Peping said.

Christmas gift-giving

Last December 16, some 300 Aeta families in Barangay Camias, Porac, Pampanga gathered at the multi-purpose hall built on a hill to welcome Christmas gift-giving and medical mission organized by the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP or Association of Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines) and the Central Luzon Aeta Association (CLAA).

Faculty and students of Sienna College and the University of the Philippines brought relief goods and Christmas gifts for the Aeta children and their families.

But behind the happy faces are stories that forebode the tragedy wrought by the mining firm in Zambales.

Benny Capuno, 37, a protestant pastor and village resident told GLNS that two mining companies also owned by the Dizon family intends to operate open pit mining covering some 1,118.5 has. in Porac and Floridablanca, Pampanga.

Pisumpan

The first one called Pisumpan Mining by residents will cover 405 has. in Sitios Lilip, Tapi and Kuyukot in Barangay Camias, Porac at the foot of Mt. Negron.

The second one covers 713.5 has., lying between Barangays Sapang Uwak and Inararo, Floridablanca, according to Capuno.

Capuno said that aside from the total environmental damage on the mining sites, two major river systems in Pampanga—the Porac-Gumain River and the Mancatian River—will be polluted once the mines operate.

Rosendo Irubin, 47, an Aeta resident said drilling explorations have started since the late 1970s covering the Pisumpan area. He said that red dust that came from exploration sites seeped into the streams and killed the fishes.

Resistance

Capuno said affected Aeta communities have voted last year to oppose the mining operations but a series of events appears to favor the mine proponents.

His brother and former village chairperson, Bienvenido Capuno was gunned down allegedly by soldiers on Sept. 16, 2005. The slain village official led in the protests against the mining company.

“Yung pumalit sa kanya ay baka natakot na. Hindi na siya tumitindig laban sa mina,” (The person who replaced my brother as village chairperson may have succumbed to fear. He does not oppose the mine anymore.) Capuno said.

He said the current village head has signed a memorandum of agreement with local government officials approving the mining operations in Barangay Camias.

“Kailangan namin muling magsalita at ipahayag ang aming pagtutol kahit na may pinirmahan ng MOA,” (We need to speak out again and voice our opposition even if a MOA has already been signed.

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