Mine-affected communities mine their experiences at opposing large-scale mining

By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
NORTHERN DISPATCH

BAGUED, Abra – “I am very glad to see many people here. It means that we are not the only ones fighting against corporate mining.” This is how Dominga Gaspar, member of the Barangay Council of Gambang, Bakun, Benguet, started her testimony at the Benguet, Abra, Mt. Province, Ilocos Sur (BAMPIS) Mining Summit held here last November 18.

Gaspar recalled how their community has staunchly opposed mining exploration starting from when the first mining application into their area was submitted. Community members said they held numerous activities, wrote opposition papers, manifestations and many more just to register their rejection of any large-scale mining activities in their area.

The village of Gambang hosted the Cordillera Day in 2009 where Gabriela Womens Partylist (GWP) Representative Luzviminda Ilagan attended and witnessed their strong opposition to the Exploration Application of RoyalCo Philippines Inc., said Gaspar as example.

She said they also trooped to the House of Representatives in Quezon City to be heard by Congressmen in the region in 2010. Also, they hosted the On-site Congressional Inquiry of the National Cultural Communities specifically on the violations to the Indigenous Peoples Rights by the RoyalCo, most especially with regard to the subdivision of their village into various ‘phases.’ They submitted their manifestations to concerned offices and government agencies.

But all these had not been enough, Gaspar said, because the RoyalCo is always changing its name until now. And it is still insisting on entering their domain.

“Our consent was fraudulently taken through the company’s divide and rule tactic that even the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) had not questioned.” Still, she said they remain “firm in their position and since several months ago, they have in fact been barricading all entry points to their village to block the entry of any mine equipment.”

Because of these, the company is now harassing the village people by submitting their names to the Provincial Director of the Police and accusing them of being members of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA).

Felix Dengaey of Lamag, Ilocos Sur, shared their experience, this time of how their ancestors had fought the entry of BCI since its first application. The biggest problem they have confronted to date was apparently the engineer hired by Newcrest to court their approval of mine exploration– he was a local and a relative.

Dengaey proudly reported that their elders had not been swayed by bribes offered by the company through this local engineer and relative. The basis of his community for refusing mining, he explained, was the experience of Benguet specifically their neighbor, the town of Mankayan.

They also noted that when a mining company applies for exploration or operation, truck loads of army troops inevitably follow. Dengaey said that while it is true that the military troops are telling them they will not meddle in their decision about whether to allow the mines or not, he said the troops are also persuading them to say yes.

For Ama Kawi of Sagada, Mt. Province, the communities that are not yet mined out and explored should strongly oppose these mining applications that cover almost the entire area of Cordillera.

“We do not need to experience the disaster that befell Mankayan before we say no,” he declared.

Rudy Reyes of Lacub, Abra said that in their town, mining companies, local government units (LGU) and the military are cooperating with each other to let the mine firm enter. The mining firm’s promised “development” has transformed the LGU into the protector of its interest against the community’s strong opposition. The LGUs and the mining firm are using goons and military to harass the villagers.

He noted that since Golden Lake filed an application for mining exploration, army troops have been deployed in almost all villages of Lacub, instilling fear among the residents.

Reyes added that there had been many documented and undocumented human rights violations as a result of militarization. Soldiers court girl-children and married women.Their community has also documented a rape case involving soldiers in Pacoc village. Because of all these, communities continue to call for the pull-out of the military from their villages.

Why fight corporate mining?

A delegate of the Philippine Independent Church asked the speakers about what there is in mining that people are often opposed to it? Albert Diego from Colalo, Mankayan replied that mining in Benguet particularly in their town has depleted their water sources, sunk their lands, polluted the rivers where they used to fish, and it continues to sink Poblacion, Mankayan. He expressed their community fear that they are in danger of being erased from the Philippine map altogether because of the continuing subsidence.

Mayor Jeremy Jesus Bueno III of Santa, Ilocos Sur, the catch basin of all mine wastes dumped into the Abra River, said they had been experiencing fish kills and coral bleaching since the 1970s. Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) was operating at the time.

As for magnetite mining (off shore mining) which their town experienced during the Marcos regime, it quickly depleted their land area. Their shoreline rose up to the mountain edge and narrowed. If the offshore mining companies operate in their town, he warned that the whole of Santa would be submerged and erased from the map just like what Diego fears for Mankayan in Benguet.

Lulu Gimenez of Apit TAKO said that if you mine the earth like for instance through large-scale mining, the earth is disturbed, making it prone to landslides. She reiterated how the collapse of several old tailing ponds had caused not only pollution in the river but thick silt covering vast rice fields near the river. This turned it very acidic and unproductive.

The delegates formed a network of organizations, individuals from BAMPIS municipalities and advocates to strengthen and coordinate efforts with regard to onshore and offshore mining and campaigning for human rights. They called their network the BAMPIS Mining Watch. Reposted by ()

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