By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
BAGUIO CITY — Round one in the legal battle at the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) was won by the indigenous peoples of Mankayan, Benguet against the giant mining companies.A Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued by the regional hearing officer of the NCIP-CAR ordering mining corporations to stop their drilling operations in Mankayan.
NCIP-CAR Hearing Officer Brain S. Masweng ordered Indodrill Philippines, Inc. (IPI) and the Far Southeast Gold Resources, Inc. (FSGRI) to cease and desist from their on-going drilling and related activities in the ancestral lands of the residents of Madaymen, Barangay Tabio of Mankayan.
In its order, Masweng justified his issued TRO as the plaintiffs will suffer grave and irreparable damage or injury. “It (drilling) would seriously affect their social and economic activities should the on-going drilling and other relative activities of the mining corporations within the ancestral lands and domains of the plaintiff if the TRO will not be issued,”
Masweng said in his order dated March 9 which was only made available to media this March 15.
Residents of Madaymen, Tabio who bonded themselves under the Teeng Di Mankayan (Indigenous Peoples of Mankayan) filed on January 27 a petition for TRO and injunction at the NCIP-CAR to order the stoppage of the drilling operations that the above companies had started in December last year.
The residents, who barricaded the drilling site, claimed that they had not issued their consent before the drilling activities of IPI and FSGRI. They reiterated that the said consent is mandated by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997.
Tabio is covered by the Far Southeast Gold Project where the interest is controlled by the FSGRI. FSGRI is controlled by Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation (LCMCo) with a 60% interest. LCMCo earlier sold its 40% interest to Gold Fields, a top world producer of gold.
Gold Fields wanted to increase its 40%capital in the project to 60% in its option agreement with LCMCo but with the pre-condition that they need to determine the natural deposits of the project through the on-going drilling activities.
In the TRO, however, Masweng dropped Gold Fields as a party-respondent in the case as its participation maybe considered as other persons acting for or in behalf of the other respondents.
Nordis called Joan Gatchalian, the media officer of LCMCo and FSGRI, who said that they have yet to receive a copy of the TRO, hence they cannot comment yet about it. She is not also sure if their Makati office had received a copy (of the TRO) as it is their (Makati) office that handles the case.
Meanwhile, the residents of Tabio received the news with jubilation as it will reiterate their rights on their ancestral domain in the area. They had been barricading the drilling site since January this year and they claimed that their move was correct.
Their legal victory, residents claimed, has heightened their vigilance on their struggle as they knew that the companies involved will do all means to divide the people.
“Numanpay adda daytoy TRO, tuloy latta ti panangirupir ti karbengan nga ikkaten da ti kagamitan da iti nasao nga lugar ken isardeng da ti expansion (Even with this TRO, we will continue our struggle to fight for our rights until they will remove their equipments on the site and stopped their mining expansion),” said Marlou Pablo, president of the Save the Mankayan Movement, an alliance of community organizations in Mankayan which opposed mining expansion.
Cupido Banias, Jr., one of the residents who filed the TRO, received their victory warmly but wondered why Gold Fields was dropped as a respondent despite its interest on the drilling activities. He said in an interview that he is very supportive on the barricade until the drilling will be permanently stopped.
Earlier, the Sangguniang Barangay of Tabio passed a resolution which withdrew their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the FSGRI drilling in the area as they claimed that the company violated their MOU.
In their MOU, they stated that the drilling should only be one bore hole with an inclination of 86 degrees to 76 degrees, more vertical from the surface down. Instead, they started drilling their hole in 61 degrees inclination, which is more of horizontal towards the nearby areas covered by the Far Southeast Gold Project. The drilling already reached 178 meters deep when the residents barricaded the site. # nordis.net