With gold exploration already starting in their village, vegetable farmers in Bakun, Benguet moved to stop what they fear would be the destruction of their community.
BY LYN V. RAMO
Posted by Bulatlat.com
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet (247 kms. north of Manila) – Some 300 residents of Bakun town stopped the scheduled Nov. 18 signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between community elders and mining company Royalco Philippines, saying that they never consented to the mining application.
Aboard eight vegetable delivery trucks and private vehicles, residents of Gambang village in Bakun (336 kilometers north of Manila) trooped to the regional and provincial offices of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) on November 17 and 18. They asked for an indefinite suspension of the MOA signing, saying they could not allow mining to destroy their community.
“We are farmers, and tending vegetable gardens is our main livelihood,” said Marcelino Dati, a retired elementary school principal and a Gambang elder. “Madadael ti garden a kangrunaan a pagbiagan ti tao isu nga adu ti nang-reject iti aplikasyon ti Royalco,” (The vegetable gardens, our primary livelihood, would be destroyed, that’s why many rejected Royalco’s application) Dati told NCIP officials.
Royalco Philippines had applied for exploration of probable gold mining sites covering a total of 5,400 hectares in Gambang. A MOA between Royalco and community elders is required for the issuance of the community’s free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) – a requirement under the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) – to obtain the consensus of community members to be affected by a development project.
The Gambang folk held a picket at the NCIP offices at Kilometer 4, La Trinidad and later at the provincial capitol grounds. The protesters were mostly temperate vegetable farmers in a Gambang sub-village now referred to as Phase III of the mining exploration project applied for by Royalco.
NCIP regional Director Amador Batay-an said he would study the merits of the people’s complaints and had asked Atty. Manuel Severino Lumiqued, the FPIC team leader, not to push through with the MOA signing until the complaints have been tackled.
After the encounter with regional officials, Gambang residents also met Monday with Provincial NCIP Director Nora Ramos who assured them that the scheduled MOA signing would be postponed. The assurance was made despite announcements by Royalco’s community relations manager Dr. Lourdes Dulinen that it would push through. Ramos, however, personally ordered Royalco not to proceed with the scheduled signing because of the opposition.
Royalco had already started exploration activities in July, after the FPIC team of the NCIP granted a compliance certificate for Phase I on February 15. The Mines Geosciences Bureau (MGB) issued the exploration permit to Royalco on May 15, after receiving the said certificate on the same day.
The Gambang folk said that they had opposed the mining application from the start and criticized the FPIC team for lapses in the process that led to the granting of the said certificate.
Ramos claimed to have no knowledge of the compliance certificate, and appeared surprised that exploration activities have already started.
Gambang residents had criticized Royalco for inflicting on them divisive tactics to get the community’s approval of the mining project.
Royalco virtually subdivided Gambang into three communities in its proposed three-phased exploration project. Phase I, which covers 986 hectares, includes sitios (sub-villages) Gambang Proper, Lower Yugo, Tood and Tuwa-ok; Phase II (172 has.), sitios Mangga, Kil-ingan and Upper Yugo; and Phase III (1,400 has.), sitios Basig, Nametbet, Lebeng, Dosdosdecay, Le-in, Inga-an and a part of Cagam-es.
Royalco, they said, has succeeded in getting the consent for the lower portion, which it now refers to as Phase I. The mining company had already obtained core samples from six to seven drillings as deep as 490 meters from the surface.
The protesters questioned the selection and validation of community elders who would represent the different villages. They reiterated the position they had already submitted that the validated elders were misrepresenting the residents, and that many legitimate elders were not in the validation list made by the FPIC team.
“The whole barangay used to have only one set of elders,” said Danny, not his real name. He said almost 90 people composed the barangay elders before the place was subjected to the FPIC process. “Inikkatda dagiti saan nga immanamong iti kayat ti minas,” (They removed those who did not approve of the mining operations) he told the NCIP regional officials.
When asked by the NCIP hearing officer Atty. Brain Masweng about the identity of the person who removed the names from the list, one of the elders who presented the people’s position singled out Lumiqued, the FPIC team leader.
While residents said they did not understand how Gambang was divided into several sub-divisions for consent-taking purposes, Regional Director Batay-an said it was suggested by the validated elders.
Ramos, on the other hand, said she was surprised to learn that a project could be processed by phases.
In a separate interview at the opening of the Mining Safety Week at the Baguio Country Club on Nov. 20, MGB-Cordillera Regional Director Neoman dela Cruz said a mineral application may be divided into phases to give due respect to the decision of communities. It could be done under the Philippine laws like the 1995 Mining Act and IPRA.
“In the case of Gambang, some elders approved the exploration, while others rejected it,” dela Cruz told the press.
Royalco’s senior mining engineer Ruben Quitoriano said some elders in Gambang Proper, Yugo, Tood and Tuwaok reportedly agreed to the exploration in Phase I. Eleven of them are now receiving P2,000 ($40 at the Nov. 24 exchange rate of $1=P49.82) as monthly honorarium from Royalco, he added.
Upon hearing about the planned picket at the Royalco Office in Sinipsip, Buguias where the MOA signing would take place Nov. 18, another group of Gambang residents also barricaded the area to prevent protesters from entering the premises.
Some pro-mining elders also went to the NCIP on November 18 in an attempt to air their side.
Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Deputy Secretary-general Santos Mero, who was also present at the NCIP dialogue, said the MOA signing is being pushed to justify the previously issued mining permit resulting from the precondition certificate of compliance, despite opposition by legitimate elders and residents.
Fausto Maliones, a Gambang Proper resident and convener of the Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network (BMAAN), showed the NCIP top officials the result of a referendum in one of the villages affected by the proposed exploration where majority of the residents rejected the application. “Lumiqued believed the report of one elder who misrepresented his constituents. He should have validated the report,” he said.
Maliones also said the Phase I FPIC was flawed because only Gambang Proper was consulted but the exploration was approved to include three more sitios, namely Tood, Tuwaok and Yugo.
“Dapat ideklara ang FPIC para sa Phase I na iligal kasi ito ang pinagbasihan ng MGB sa pagbibigay ng permit,” (The Phase I FPIC should be declared illegal because it was the basis of the MGB in issuing the mining permit) Mero told Nordis in a separate interview.Northern Dispatch/Posted by Bulatlat.com