BY ACE ALEGRE
Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 29, August 26-September 1, 2007
TUBA, Benguet – Philex’s open-pit mines in a 98-hectare gold-rich area in Barangay (village) Camp 3 here are being operated illegally, a government lawyer has disclosed.
Although the gold and copper mining firm obtained a special mines permit earlier this year from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), then headed by former Sec. Angelo Reyes, it cannot suffice to what the mining law requires – a free and prior informed consent (FPIC) from the host community.
National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)-Cordillera director Amador Batay-an, a lawyer, said Philex has not obtained the nod of the community in its operations. This, he said, is the reason he has asked them to “convince the people.”
Philex claims its continuing operations are legal because of the special permit they obtained while waiting for the approval of its application for a mineral production-sharing agreement (MPSA) docketed in the DENR’s Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) as APSA 102.
But granting it had been permitted January this year by then Reyes’ “special consideration” for them, the then environment secretary included among his conditions the acquisition of FPIC from the host communities, and the endorsement from the barangay or province one month from its issuance.
Seven months have passed, but the host community has not thumbed up Philex operations yet. In fact, villagers alarmed by the alleged ill effects of the open pit mines to their environment, water sources and livelihood, have been pitching pickets at the entrances of the mines to demonstrate their opposition.
The indigenous communities Barangays Camp 3 and Ampucao’s indigenous communities in Tuba here are petitioning the Mines and Sciences Bureau to revoke Philex’s special permit.
They are also questioning an endorsement by Barangay Camp 3 officials insisting that no consultations were made.
Batay-an said that the ball now really rests on the hands of Philex to convince the people of their operations. “NCIP will only facilitate and document FPIC processes,” he said.
The NCIP official insists that Philex should get an FPIC because “that is the law and they (the mining firm) are aware of it.”
Batay-an said that he had advised Philex management to suspend its open pit mines at the area for the meantime, while it has yet to obtain the needed FPIC.
Philex however is still operating. In fact, the barangay residents’ picket at the entrance to its mining site was demolished recently as the firm insisted on its operations’ “legality.”
Residents vowed to file a motion for a temporary restraining order against the firm’s operations.
The NCIP, Batay-an admitted, “(does) not have the necessary powers to compel Philex to stop operations.” He said though that as far as the Mining Act of 1995 is concerned, a special permit cannot substitute for an FPIC.
Residents in affected villages have noted a “drastic depletion” of their water resources, aside from previous damage to properties within the mining area.
Philex officials cannot be contacted as of this writing. They have earlier claimed they are working to get the FPIC. (Bulatlat.com)