By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Aeta leader Nelson Mallari seemed to have unending stories on the plight of indigenous peoples in Central Luzon.
“Mining, military reservation and dam constructions dislocate indigenous peoples in the region,” Mallari, chairman of the Central Luzon Aeta Association (CLAA) and secretary-general of Katribu party list, told Bulatlat in Filipino. CLAA’s members include Aeta with six sub-tribes, Dumagats, Ilongots and Agta in Pampanga, Tarlac, Aurora and Zambales.
“Places we consider sacred are now up for grabs by mining companies,” Mallari said. One of these corporations is the A3UNA.
The A3UNA reportedly began its exploration in Sitio Bucao, Barangay Porac, Botolan, Zambales. “Aetas now have to secure permit from the mayor or barangay captain to have access to their ancestral land,” Mallari said. “The situation has been reversed. We, owners of the land, are now the ones asking permission from outsiders.”
While the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral land has been recognized by international agreements and conventions including that of the United Nations, indigenous peoples in the Philippines are being driven away by mining, tourism and other so-called development projects.
Katribu’s Mallari denounces his tribe’s dispossession. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / bulatlat.com)
More than 70 mining firms are now operating in Zambales with applications for Mineral Production Sharing (MPSA), small-scale mining and regular small scale-mining. Among other mining corporations are DMCI Mining Corp, Arcman, BMCI, Eramin Pyramid, Hermosa Mines, Fil- Asia and Sino-Phil.
Geograce Resource Philippines in Masinloc and the NiHAO Mineral Resources International also operate in Botolan, covering more than 35,000 hectares of land for open-pit mining. Defensor is also linked with mining firms Aprolite in Iba and Golden Harvest Global Inc. Geograce is the company reportedly owned by Mike Defensor, the former executive and environment secretary of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In Tarlac, the ongoing construction of Balog-balog dam in San Jose town threatens to displace 500 Aeta families, particularly of Aberlen sub-tribe. In another town in Capas, structures are being built for a military reservation in Barangay Sta. Juliana, covering 60,000 hectares. The ancestral land of the Aberlen is now occupied by elements of the Philippine Army and Philippine Air Force.
Since Mount Pinatubo has been declared an international park, the Aeta living in nearby communities have restricted access to the mountain and its resources.
The plight of indigenous peoples in Southern Tagalog seems no different from those in Central Luzon. Antonio Calbayog of Bigkis at Lakas ng Katutubong Mamamayan sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik), a regional alliance of indigenous peoples in Southern Tagalog, also blamed mining and other development projects for their woes.
Balatik’s members include 12 ethnic groups in Palawan, seven in Mindoro and three in Rizal and Quezon.
In Mindoro alone, there are 99 applications for mining. Intex Resources, for one, covers 9,720 hectares of land for its nickel project in Victoria, Mindoro Oriental and in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental. Mangyan tribes live in these communities.
Meanwhile, the Agusan Petroleum and Mining Corp. has started its exploration on the 53,000 hectares of land in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental.