By OLGA LAUZON
BAGUIO CITY — In a press conference last March 3 given by the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) as part of their continuing campaign against the Mining Act of 1995 and destructive mining, and in support of Gina Lopez’s move to close erring corporate mines.
Santos Mero, deputy secretary general of the CPA, reiterated the need to scrap the existing Mining Act of 1995. He said that the act abetted the crimes against the environment and the people committed by large-scale mining corporations. Furthermore, the act only legalized the suffering of the region’s indigenous peoples – from militarized communities, plundered land resources, to disrespect of life and violations to the right to self-determination.
Mero also applauded the efforts of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Gina Lopez to terminate the operations of big mines. He called for support to the People’s Mining Bill to reorient the country’s mining framework into one that supports the people.
Speakers from different mining communities also emphasized the devastating environmental effects of large scale-mining in their respective areas. Jose Sapino of the Pacdal Neigborhood’s Organization in Mankayan recounted how Lepanto Mines gravely damaged their barangay.
He added that because of the huge tunnels and mine tailings left behind by the mining operation, their water source has been depleted. Their primary livelihood was agriculture but since their water source has been compromised, they can no longer farm throughout the year. They have to wait for the rainy season to be able to plant. As a result, they resorted to small-scale mining to make ends meet.
Because Lepanto Mines denied that their operations caused the damages, the community has taken the legal course to make the company accountable.
Franklin Almoza, Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative for Itogon, on the other hand emphasized the sustainability and safeness of small-scale mining. He said that through traditional and indigenous mining practices, communities can still benefit from mining without disrespecting and damaging the environment.
“We must preserve and protect the environment for it to also protect us. Ngayon yung DENR ay department na talaga ng environment. Dati kasi nawala yung respeto namin sa deparment [DENR]. Ibalik na natin ang nawalang practice ng pag-aalaga sa environment.” He added.
The labor sector also expressed their support for the closing of corporate mining operations in the region. A recent report from Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) – Cordillera stated that 1,600 out of 2,000 workers in the Lepanto Mining Corporation are contractual. The provisional period for their employment is always prolonged in order to avoid the regularization of employees. In Benguet Corp on the other hand, only 40 out of 6,000 employers are regular.
According to KMU – Cordillera Regional Coordinator Vicente Dilem, miners are not properly compensated and their working conditions are often perilous.
“Talagang hindi katanggap-tanggap yung mga ginagawa nila sa mga empleyado. Wala na nga silang planong i-regularize ang mga trabahador nila, mababa pa and sweldo. Ang isa pang masaklap ay walang safety procedures na ipinapa-seminar sa mga workers nila. Kung may ma-aksidente, fatal o hindi, walang nairereport.”
Dilem said that it is only proper to cease the operations of large companies like Philex, Lepanto Mining Corp., and Benguet Corp., because historically they did not make any substantial contribution to the development of the workers and the communities that host their operations. # nordis.net