By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Members and convenors of the Benguet Mining Action Alert Network (BMAAN) vowed to further safeguard their homeland from the entry of big mining companies and other development aggression projects.
The BMAAN is composed of indigenous peoples, peasants, church workers, industrial workers, officials from the local government units of the 12 municipalities of Benguet namely, Kibungan, Atok, Bakun, Mankayan, Buguias, Kapangan, Itogon, Tuba, La Trinidad, Tublay, Bokod and Kabayan.
There are convenors from different organizations and alliances like the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, representatives for the mine workers, the Benguet Youth, Alyansa Dagiti Pesante Iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit-Tako), Mankayan, Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo (Maquitacdeg), Bantay ken Kinabaknang ti Umuli a Nagtaudan-Aywanan (Bakun Aywanan) among others.
In the observation of its anniversary since its establishment on August 14, 2009, BMAAN convenors met to discuss the updates on the mining industry here and abroad.
According to CPA Deputy Secretary General Santos Mero, the experience of the indigenous peoples around the world against mining is significant. Mero said it can be noted that the big mining corporations are never in good relations with the IPs in the areas where they are present or planning to operate.
Mero said that in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, it seems that the cries of the people especially the indigenous communities are yet to be heard. He reminded the convenors that Aquino in his speech during his inauguration months ago did not mention anything about the preservation of the environment and the respect of IP rights.
Mero explained that a month after Aquino sat in Malacañang, the President met with the officials of the Philippine Chamber on Mining, appointed Ramon Paje who served as Presidential Assistant to the Mining Executive Director on Mining Development Coucil as the new Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and even interfering in the staunch position of the LGU of South Cotabato against the entry of open-pit mining.
It seems that the policy on the revitalization of mining through Executive Order 270 under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is being continued by Aquino. During the term of Arroyo, there were 23 mining applications and operations throughout the country that rose to 63 in 2007. Five of these are in the Cordillera, mostly in the province of Benguet.
According to Mero, there is renewed filing of mining applications in this administration. It should be noted that big business tycoons like Lucio Tan, San Miguel Corporation and Eduardo Cojuangco who previously were not interested in mining, are now collaboating with mining companies.
There is also an expansion of magnetite mining especially in the provinces of Ilocos Sur and Norte, Cagayan and Isabela. There is also an increase in coal mining contracts.
Here in the Cordillera, Mero shared, there are 215 approved and pending mining and exploration applications. In these applications, the rights of the IPs on Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) are at stake.
“Mabigla laengen dagiti umili ta adda gayam naaproban nga aplikasyon ti minas idiay ayan da,” (The people are caught unaware that there are already approved mining applications in their area) said Mero.
Mero said that in places where there are mining applications and when there are strong opposition, troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are being poured in.
“Kumarkaro ti militarisasyon ken umad-adu dagiti panaglabsing kadagiti karbengan a pangtao.” (Militarization escalates and more human rights violations are committed.)
Bakun-Aywanan Secretary General Ernesto Soliben said troops from the 503rd Brigade of the Philippine Arrny were deployed in the areas of Bakun.
The said brigade is operating in Abra and parts of Benguet and Mountain Province.
BMAAN spokesperson Engineer Vergel Aniceto declared that opposition of the IPs grows stronger.
He said the Bakun folks are consolidating their ranks in their opposition against the entry of a mining company from Brazil owned by Vale through Royalco Mining Company.
He said the Commission on Human Rights found that there are violations against the FPIC rights of the community of Gambang, Bakun. FPIC is facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to get the consensus of the community affected by the entry of a mining exploration.
Aniceto also noted the strong position of the Save the Apayao Peoples Organization (SAPO) against Oceana Gold Mining Corporation. Aniceto said the people of Kibungan and Bakun are on guard against the entry of Solfotara Mining Company.
BMAAN will continue its campaign against destructive mining operations and development aggressions, Aniceto said. To achieve this, the organization will consolidate its forces through a massive information and education campaign.
Aniceto said BMAAN will continue organizing the people of Benguet.
Aniceto added that the network will study the utilization of the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in their campaign. # nordis.net