‘Happiness is…closure of destructive mines’ – nat’l minorities tell DENR head

Bruno Bautista, member of Save Quirino Movement in Ilocos Sur talks about the destruction brought by the 80-year-old mining operations of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company at the dialogue with DENR Secretary Gina Lopez at the Kampuhan in UP Diliman (Photo by Chester Higuit/Philippine Collegian)
Bruno Bautista, member of Save Quirino Movement in Ilocos Sur talks about the destruction brought by the 80-year-old mining operations of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company at the dialogue with DENR Secretary Gina Lopez at the Kampuhan in UP Diliman (Photo by Chester Higuit/Philippine Collegian)
In a dialogue, indigenous peoples and Moro asked Environment Secretary Gina Lopez to shut down destructive large-scale mining.

By DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat

MANILA – Bruno Bautista, a peasant from Bago tribe in Quirino, Ilocos Sur, grew up to the changing colors of their farms and river, from deep brown and clear blue, to red-orange, every time mine tailings are dumped into the Abra River by the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC).

“In the summer, when Lepanto dumps its waste, we children were so happy because the fish in the river were so easy to catch, as they gasp for air on the water surface,” he told Bulatlat. He said as children, they ate the contaminated fish not knowing they were slowly getting poisoned.

Bautista spent his childhood in Patungcaleo village at the time before LCMC built a dam for mine tailings, which went straight to the water ways and the rice fields. Now 58 and a member of Save Quirino Movement (SQM), he is among the restive indigenous peoples in Northern Luzon calling for an end to LCMC’s 80-year-old operations. Last week, the worst flooding in Quirino came when LCMC reportedly timed opening its tailings dam at the height of the swelling of Abra River during Typhoon Lawin.

LCMC is just one of the destructive, large-scale mining companies whose operations wish to be stopped by indigenous peoples (IPs). In a dialogue with Secretary Gina Lopez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Denr) on Oct. 24, Bautista and other leaders said it would make people happy if these mining operations are permanently shut down.

“The clamor of the people, specially from Quirino, Cervantes, downstream along Abra River: put a stop to Lepanto mining. Don’t let it further ruin Abra River. Have mercy on our children and grandchildren,” Bautista appealed to Lopez.

The dialogue between Lopez and leaders of the Kilusan ng Moro at Katutubong Mamamayang Pilipino para sa Sariling Pagpapasya (Sandugo) was held at the Kampuhan at the Campus Maintenance Office (CMO) grounds at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City.

Need for DENR concrete action to stop big mining

In the dialogue, indigenous leaders thanked Lopez for heeding their calls and issuing a recommendation in September to suspend LCMC and 19 other companies. In July, Lopez already suspended 10 other companies. However, the DENR head has yet to issue an actual suspension order on the 20 firms.

Rice fields along Abra River in Quirino town, Ilocos Sur in the aftermath of Typhoon Lawin (Photo by Ramon Balaneg/Northern Dispatch)
Rice fields along Abra River in Quirino town, Ilocos Sur in the aftermath of Typhoon Lawin (Photo by Ramon Balaneg/Northern Dispatch)

Bautista described how “hellish water” came rushing with mine tailings from the overflowing Abra River to the downstream communities during the typhoon on Oct. 19. “It destroyed ready-for-harvest rice farms, rolled with soil, rocks, and carried away carabaos, cows, thresher,” he said.

He and other indigenous leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Save Mankayan Movement and SQM submitted to the DENR various written protest letters against LCMC by people’s organizations and local government units from the mining-affected provinces of Benguet, Abra, Ilocos Sur and Mountain Province, issued from 1999 up to the present.

These include petitions and resolutions from village and municipal councils, indigenous cultural communities, the Abra provincial council, the Association of Mayors in Ilocos sur and the Association of Barangay Captains in Cervantes. They also opposed LCMC’s expansion through an application for financial or technical assistance agreement (FTAA) for Far Southeast Gold Resources Inc. (FSGRI), a joint venture company between LCMC and Gold Fields, a South African company.

In response, Lopez said: “If the IPs don’t want it, Lepanto can’t continue.”

“All the decisions by DENR is for the welfare of the Filipino people,” Lopez said in Filipino. Lopez said she is also putting a moratorium on all new mining applications. “No new mining, don’t you worry about it.”

Sandugo leaders also called for the permanent closure of mining companies, such as OceanaGold in Nueva Vizcaya, Saguittarius Mining Inc. (SMI) in Tampakan, South Cotabato, Intex Mining in Mindoro.

Cristina Lantao of the Compostela Farmers’ Association (CFA) told Lopez of the continued incursions of Agusan Petroleum Corporation in the Lumád ancestral lands in Compostela Valley province in spite of the expiration of its exploration permit. This was opposed by Lumád communities which put up barricades. In seeming retaliation, CFA secretary general Jimmy Saypan was killed, while Bello Tindasan, the chairman, remains in hiding after his house was strafed last year.

Later, Lopez called up Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Bisaya to relay the complaints of human rights violations.

See related story: Indigenous peoples boo PH Armed Forces chief in ‘phone dialogue’

Asserting the right to self-determination

In the dialogue, Lopez interspersed her speech, asking the crowd in Filipino: “Are you happy?… Is that okay?”

She said that her agency hoped to help increase the happiness index by improving the lives of the people. Lopez also briefly discussed the “enhanced” National Greening Program (NGP), which will give funds to indigenous communities for the reforestation program. Groups had criticized the NGP for displacing indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands, funds misuse and planting of inappropriate trees. Lopez insisted these have been changed.

Lopez was accompanied in the dialogue by DENR officials, including undersecretaries Boy Montejo, the field operations chief, and June Rodriguez, the head of the IP desk.

DENR Secretary Gina Lopez in the dialogue at the Kampuhan in UP Diliman on Oct. 24. (Contributed photo)
DENR Secretary Gina Lopez in the dialogue at the Kampuhan in UP Diliman on Oct. 24. (Contributed photo)

Minda Dalinan of Kaluhhamin reiterated the demand of the national minorities led by Sandugo: stop destructive logging, mining, plantations and energy projects in the ancestral lands, pull out soldiers and stop the attacks on the communities and schools, and dismantle AFP-backed paramilitary groups.

“We have our indigenous knowledge in taking care of the environment,” Dalinan said as she asserted that whatever program or project government will implement should respect their right to self-determination.

Lopez responded that the agency will only provide options, but it is the people who will decide what project to pursue. “Carry on with standing up for your rights, with love in your heart,” she said. ()

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