By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
BANGUED, Abra — “Permi ti ragsak ko a mangkita iti kina-adu tayo tatta. Haan lang gayam nga dakami ti sumupsupyat iti minas nu di ket adu tayo,” (I am very glad to see many people here. It means that we are not the only ones fighting against corporate mining).
The opening statement of Dominga Gaspar, member of the Barangay Council of Gambang, Bakun, Benguet in her testimony here during the Benguet, Abra, Mt. Province, Ilocos Sur (BAMPIS) Mining Summit on November 18.
She shared how their community staunchedly opposed mining exploration since the first application was attempted in their place. Members of the community she said had a lot of activities, opposition papers, manifestations, and others just to register that they did not want any large scale mining activities in their place.
Barangay Gambang she further said hosted the Cordillera Day in 2009 where Gabriela Womens Partylist (GWP) representative, Luzviminda Ilagan attended and witnessed their stong opposition to the Exploration Application of RoyalCo Philippines Inc.
Also, they trooped to the House of Representatives in Quezon City to be heared by the Congressmen from the region in 2010. Moreover, 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 on the subdivision of the barangay into several phases. They submitted their manifestations to all concerned offices and government agencies.
All these she said were not enough. The afore mentioned company she added that is always changing its name until now is still insisting to enter into their domain. Their consent was according to her, fraudulently taken because of the company’s divide and rule tactic that even the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) did not question. However, she said, they remain firm in their position and since several months ago they barricaded all entry points to their barangay to prevent the entry of any mine equipment until now.
Because of these, the company has been harrasing them by submitting their names to the Provincial Director of the Police saying they are members of the New Peoples Army (NPA).
On the other hand, Felix Dengaey of Lamag, Ilocos Sur shared how their ancestors since the application of BCI had fought against its entry. Their biggest problem they have yet confronted was when the engineer of Newcrest who was hired to court them for their consent to the mine exploration was their townmate and relative.
However, he is proud that their elders were not swept by the bribes offered by the company through this engineer townmate and relative. The basis of his community to refuse mining, according to him, was the experience of Benguet specifically their neighbor, the town of Mankayan.
They also observed that when a mining company applies for exploration or operation, truck loads of army troops follow. Dengaey said, it is true that the elements of the military are telling them that they will not meddle with their decision whether to allow the mines or not. However, he said, they are also the ones persuading them to say yes.
Meanwhile, Ama Kawi of Sagada, Mt. Province challenged the communities that are not yet mined out and explored to strongly oppose these mining applications that has covered almost all of Cordillera.
“Haan tayon nga masapul nga padasen ti napasamak ijay Mankayan nga nalawag met nga didigra sakbay tayo nga kontraen,” (We do not need to experience the disaster that has befallen Mankayan before we say no) he said.
Further, Rudy Reyes of Lacub, Abra said that in their town, mining companies, local government units (LGU) and the military are helping each other for the mine firm to enter. Promises of development by the firm he said made the LGU protect its interest from the strong opposition of the community using their goons and military to harras the villagers.
He added that since the beginning of Golden Lake exploration application, army troops are deployed in almost all barangays of Lacub, instiling fear among the residents.
Reyes added that there were a lot of documented and undocumented human rights violations in the course of militarization. Troops he said were courting minors and even married women. He also pointed out that there was a rape case involving troopers in barangay Pacoc in the said town. Thus, they continue to call for a military pull-out.
Why no to corporate mining?
One of the delegates from the Philippine Independent Church asked the speakers what is with mining that the people oppose it? Albert Diego from Colalo, Mankayan then said that mining in Benguet specifically in their town has caused their water sources to be depleted, their lands to sink, polluted the river where they fish, and is causing the continuous sinking in Poblacion, Mankayan. He also told of their fear of being erased from the Philippine map because of the continuing subsidence.
Mayor Jeremy Jesus Bueno III of Santa, Ilocos Sur being the catch basin of all mine wastes thrown into the Abra River said, they had been experiencing fish kills, and coral bleaching since the 1970s. Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) he added was operating at that time.
On the other hand, he explained that when it comes to Magnetite mining (Off shore mining) which the municipality had experienced during the Marcos regime, this has quickly depleted their land area. Their shorline rose up to the mountain edge and narrowed. If the offshore mining companies become operational in their municipality, he said, perhaps the whole of Santa will be submerged and erased from the map just like what Diego fears for Mankayan.
Lulu Gimenez of Apit TAKO said, if you mine the earth especially in large scale mining, the earth is disturbed making it prone to land slides. She also retold that the collapse the several old tailing ponds of the said company had cause not only pollution in the river but the thick silt covered the vast rice fields near the river leaving it very acidic and unproductive.
The delegates then formed a network composed of organizations, individuals from BAMPIS municipalities, and advocates to strengthen and coordinate with regards to onshore and off shore mining and campaigns for human rights. The network was called, BAMPIS Mining Watch.# nordis.net