Women's Front: Resisting large mining in Conner: A struggle for land, life and resources

By INNABUYOG-GABRIELA

This is the paper presented by Rupina Batiel-Moyaen, Chairperson of the Save the Apayao Peoples Organization (SAPO) and Vernie Yocogan-Diano of Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center (CWEARC) during the National Conference of EEDTFIP towards formulating alternatives that advance indigenous peoples’ rights and food security. The conference took place on March 29-30, 2008 at Quezon City. — Ed.

Conner is one of the municipalities of the province of Apayao, in the Cordillera Region. The town is the homeland of the Isnegs and Kalingas – the indigenous peoples of Apayao.

Conner is named after American Governor Norman Conner, who, during the Japanese-American war, died in the place.

The terrain of the area is rugged. The mountains and hills, plains and riverbeds used to be thickly forested. Wildlife abound in the forested plains and mountains. It was a land of promise not just to Isnegs and Kalingas but also to other indigenous peoples of the Cordillera who came and settled for survival. The migrants intermingled with the Isnegs and Kalingas very harmoniously until large-scale logging, and eventually mining, activities came in.

The entry of commercial logging

From 1975 to 1985, three Chinese logging concessionaires logged the mountains of Conner. In the process of building roads for the logging trucks, fertile agricultural lands were bulldozed, along with, fruit trees and crops.

Logging company workers came from other parts of the Philippines as the people of Conner rejected the employment offered by logging operations. This situation caused animosity between the local communities and the migrant workers. There were people who were given incentives for spying and harassing people who resisted the logging activities. Some of the local people who opposed the intrusion of logging roads into their farmlands were even killed, others went missing.

Crimes became prevalent. Store-owners were held-up day and night. Residents were displaced by logging operations. The conflict forced some families to leave for fear of robbery or death by unidentified armed men strongly believed to be agents of logging companies. These fleeing families sought refuge to other parts of the Cordillera.

Then Militarization…

In 1985, government troops were sent to Conner, which worsened the human rights situation. Militarization in the place went on until 1995. The condition resulted in the killing of local leaders by para-military troops. Harassment of people’s organizations intensified. It was a normal practice for the military to summon leaders, including Tina Moyaen, the co-writer, for interrogation in their barracks, forcing these leaders to admit they were members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

The people were traumatized with the torturing interrogation and the spate of killings that were happening. Check-points installed, the mobility of the people were closely guarded and controlled that it was very difficult to seek outside help. There were also occasions of bombings which led to an exodus of men, women and children to safer grounds. One mother nursing her new-born baby was hit dead. Children suffered the most in that horrible time.

Indeed, that period was a nightmare. It took years for the people to return to normal life after the heavy militarization.

The Entry of Mining

In the course of recovery, the people of Conner are again facing another nightmare. The passage of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 facilitated the entry of mining corporations to the municipality. Almost 81% of Conner’s land area is applied by mining corporations thus leaving only 19% for agriculture.

The Cordillera Exploration, a subsidiary of British-owned Anglo American Co. and the Australian-owned Copperfield Co., applied for gold and copper exploration. The applications has the strong support of national government agencies like the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), an agency supposedly created to protect the rights and interest of indigenous peoples. Instead, they served as mouthpiece of the mining corporations. Mines and Geo-Sciences Board (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) also did the same. This agency has even reiterated that mining corporations employ modern technology that does not destroy the environment and natural resources.

The local government units (prior to the 2007 national elections), composed of the provincial and municipal officials, committed the gravest treachery on the people by holding on to their pro-mining position and completely disregarding the majority voice of rejecting the entry of mining corporations. Local government officials along with line agencies held series of false consultations in 2005 to convince the people of Conner that mining is good for the community. They sold the thought that roads will be built by the mining corporations which is of great benefit to the people. They sold the companies’ promises of scholarships for the youth, employment for the unemployed, and a yearly financial assistance of P100,000.00 (US$2,000.00) for the affected villages.

This scenario challenged the people to act, with the active involvement of women. A community forum on mining was conducted on July 2005, which led to the formation of the Save Apayao People’s Organization (SAPO).

The organization campaigned against the proposed mining exploration and operation, from village to village. It launched dialogs between communities and local local officials. It developed educational materials on mining which were discussed in several communities. It also conducted a signature campaign, where 20 out of 21 communities in the municipality overwhelmingly voted against mining!

In one occasion, in the first semester of 2006, SAPO registered the Conner people’s protest before the municipal council, which ignored it. Instead, municipal officials appeared in favor of the entry of mining companies when they tagged the protesters as “anti-development” and “backward”.

The municipal council denied SAPO representatives an audience. Worse, then municipal mayor Manuel Betat lied by saying that only two communities reject mining. He threatened those who are against mining telling them to leave Conner. He said the mining projects would pursue against all odds.

Harassment intensified in 2006. This was also the time that cases of extra-judicial killings intensified at a national scale. The first semester of 2006 saw the killing of Marcus Bangit and Alyce Omengan-Claver and the frustrated murder of Dr. Constancio Claver, all active members of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA). The local officials of Conner warned the people to stop opposing the mining projects or else, they turn out to be the next victims of political killing.

SAPO Chairperson Tina Moyaen, stayed inside her house for a month in August 2006 due to threats. Unidentified motorcycle-riding men hover her house and her parents’ dwelling at night time. Her child stopped attending nursery school because of this.

The threats and harassments somehow affected community movement, both as a person and an organization. Despite this situation, SAPO persisted with its information campaign on the adverse effects of mining. Representatives of mining companies, local officials, NCIP and DENR appeared hell-bent to get the people’s consent to the mining project.

The people’s persistent campaign against the entry of mining in Conner resulted in an overwhelming rejection in July 2006 during a referendum on a specific mining application affecting four villages. The only village that voted for mining was the community of the former mayor. His village voted in favor of mining due to alleged intimidation.

This struggle enabled the people of Conner through their organization, SAPO, to seek the support of other people’s organizations and anti-mining advocate groups. They brought their issue to the attention of the CPA and the Innabuyog, the regional alliance of indigenous women’s organizations in the Cordillera. Other NGOs came to support like the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center. Visits to mine-affected areas like Mankayan and Itogon in Benguet helped the people of Conner to visualize the actual damage of corporate and large mining.

Aside from the local actions and regional support, the mining struggle in Conner was also brought to other fora and events at the national and international level. They participated in the national mining conference of indigenous peoples in March 2006. Tina Moyaen shared the Conner mining situation and their experience of resistance in a forum on women and mining organized by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)in Loei, Thailand in November 2006 and took part in the mining fact-finding mission in Mongolia last August 2007. She was able to attend the Annual General meeting of stockholders of Anglo-American in London in April 2007 and used that visit to meet with advocate and support groups in London.

Presently, Conner is already deployed with two battalions of soldiers belonging to the 21st and 77th IB-Phil. Army. There is no other reason for this militarization but to ensure the security for the mining project and sow terror to the people who are opposing the mining project.

Resolved to Resist

SAPO commits to continue on with the struggle against corporate and large mining in Conner. They will continue to lobby and register their position to local government bodies in Apayao as well as share their stories to important opportunities to generate support to their struggle. They also extend their solidarity to other organizations and communities who are defending their land, resources and rights by resisting mining. They also support national efforts for the scrapping of the Phil. Mining Act of 2005 and in the crafting of a mining alternative that is oriented for people’s needs and not for corporate greed, interest and profit.

As SAPO leaders and members state it, “We have to continue with our struggle because we know that the government is hell-bent in pushing the revitalization of the mining industry in the Philippines. Under the Arroyo regime, the way to recover from the national economic crisis is through the mining industry and Conner through the application of Anglo-American is one of the 24 national mining priority areas. We know we will be facing harsher conditions but we cannot just close our eyes, shut our ears and do nothing. We will defend our land and resources for our children and for the future generations. We learned many lessons in our struggle. We realized that we have to link with the broader public for strength and support. We also realized that it takes courage, sacrifice and patience amidst fear to do the right thing for the people”.

Actions for policy alternatives will therefore be in the context of the following calls and demands: immediate scrapping of the Phil. Mining Act of 1995; cancellation of all existing Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA), Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and other mineral agreements; cessation of all large-scale mining operations and all other destructive and extractive industries; moratorium on the processing of all pending mining applications until such time an Alternative Mining Act is passed which respects the rights of the communities; for government to uphold and respect the rights of indigenous peoples and communities to life and to their ancestral domains; for government to put an end to militarization and all human rights violations committed and to punish the perpetrators of these heinous crimes; respect and observe the right of indigenous peoples to free prior and informed consent and to stop all forms of manipulation and subversion perpetuated against the exercise of this right. The passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of IPs should serve as an additional tool to pressure the national and local governments of their role in ensuring the respect of IP rights when implementing development projects. The Declaration should also be invoked to corporations wanting to operate in indigenous lands and territories. #

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