By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
In one of my earlier visits to Mankayan, I was hosted by a member of the prominent Sab-it clan who gave us a tour of a part of their land that they leased to the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo). The leased property included Tohking, which means steep area in Kankanaey. Tohking, located at the hilly boundaries of Palasaan, Sapid and Bulalacao, is a tunnel approximately 300 meters long and 15 to 20 meters in height and width.
I learned that Tohking was used as a refuge area for the community during the second world war. The communities went there to hide from invading Japanese forces.
In my conversation then with Lakay Nick Sab-it, he said they were convinced by LCMCo to lease the property to them for 25 years which started on November 7, 1995. The rent for the 2,000 sq. m. land was a measly amount of P30,000 for the 25 years duration of the contract or P1,200 annually or P3.29 daily. The company claimed they will locate the mine’s ventilation there to provide air to their workers underground and to sand fill the holes in their underground operation. This had convinced the Sab-it to lease the land hence the measly amount for rental.
But the tunnel was not used as a breathing ventilation nor for the sand fill. They learned that it was used as an outlet for the smoke emission from the mines. And they learned about it only when the emissions started to cause illness in the community. Residents complained of respiratory diseases such as cough and fever. Even animals experienced nose bleeding and unexplained death of cows and pigs. And the residents petitioned then the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to stop LCMCo from using the tunnel as exhaust. Pressured, the DENR made an investigation but the result was never released publicly.
The Tohking tunnel was actually used by LCMCo as an exhaust for its gold production of the Teresa Ore Project, one of its earlier gold mine project since the company shifted from copper to gold production.
I then remember a story I wrote many years ago of the people of Madaymen, Tabio, Mankayan who were then also opposing a drilling project by one of LCMCo’s subsidiaries in the area. The barangay officials of Tabio, alleged LCMCo’s subsidiary the Far Sotheast Gold Resources Inc. violated their Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the number of degrees slant of their drilling. Instead of a drill hole the officials discovered a mine shaft or a tunnel to be used as entry point of workers to the underground. The shaft or tunnel would only mean that there is or will be actual mineral extraction in the area. And the people claimed that the company failed to properly inform them of the actual use of the area, vital information which would aid them to make proper decisions. They said that this act of misinformation and the absence of their free, prior and informed consent is the main factor that they oppose the project.
Truly concerned government agencies would listen to the concerns of the community, the issues being raised by the people, because only the affected community could truly raise issues on matters of their environment and their existence as a community. # nordis.net