By ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW with reports from ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — Leaders of people’s organization in the Cordillera supported a Congressional resolution to conduct a legislative inquiry on a large scale mine expansion in Mankayan that has caused villagers to barricade an identified expansion site for five months now.
They also challenged Cordillera congressmen to support the passage of the resolution and lead the efforts at investigating the large-scale expansion of two well known mine corporations in the said town.
Bayan Muna Representative Teddy Casiño filed House Resolution No. 2523 urging the Committee on National Cultural Communities to investigate, in aid of legislation, what he claimed was an arrogant mining expansion of the Far Southeast project (FSE), a sixty-percent stake controlled by the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) and fourty-percent by the Gold Fields, one of the world’s largest gold-producer.
Casiño, who visited barricaders in Tabio, Mankayan, alleged that the expansion was done with the backing of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples despite the people’s pronouncements that they never gave consent to the expansion project and that it would destroy the remaining unmined ancestral land areas.
Casiño appealed to the local authorities of the town and the province to take the side of the residents who are against the incursion of Gold Fields and Lepanto into their ancestral domain. He also called on the two companies to desist from further harassing the residents as they would only violate more laws and statutes on IP rights.
The militant Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) threw in their support to the House Resolution as it will facilitate the truth behind the anti-people expansion project. “And we hope Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan and Congressman Ronald Cosalan will be categorical in supporting the people’s interest,” CPA Secretary-General Abi Anongos said in an interview.
The Save the Mankayan Movement (SMM), that is at the lead of the continuing barricade that started in January this year, welcomed the resolution as it will prove that they are correct in launching the longest running barricade against the mining expansion in their area.
They explained that the expansion project violated the statutory requisites for their free, prior and informed consent on the project, as they added that the area is among the unmined part of their town, which has been ravaged by large-scale corporate mine interests for nearly a century.
“We appreciate this move by Congress through Rep. Casiño. This will help unmask the tactics being employed by LCMCo and Gold Fields,” explained Marlou Pablo, SMM president. Pablo added that acts of harassment, by way of court cases and the use of local police forces, are applied by the large mine companies. “We are now criminals for defending our ancestral land,” he aptly described in a phone interview.
Criminal charges filed vs. barricaders
Most of the active residents of Tabio had been charged at the Benguet Prosecutor’s office for their barricade.
Nordis learned from Atty. Richard Kilaan, their legal counsel, that a criminal complaint was slapped against 123 of the barricaders. Among the 123 named respondents, one was long deceased, one a bed-ridden cancer patient, and three were minors, said Kilaan who is from Mankayan and among those charged.
The complaint is under preliminary investigation by the Benguet Prosecutor’s office, Nordis learned.
FSE process FPIC
On the other hand, the management of the Far Southeast welcomes the investigation requested urged by Cong. Casiño saying it is another venue to exercise transparency and show what they (FSE) have done so far.
In a press statement, FSE said that their company respects and adheres to the laws that govern the Philippines. It is on the process of acquiring the FPIC from the project where they also push for the conversion of the MPSA to FTAA.
“We firmly believe that the community will benefit from a project like FSE, and we stand firm on our commitment to uphold the rights of indigenous peoples,” said Marione Molintas-Ruiz, FSE media relations officer.
Casiño hopes that the Committee on National Cultural Communities of the House headed by its chairman, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat can hear the said resolution when the 3rd Regular session of Congress opens in late July.
Towards the latter part of January this year, residents of Mankayan set up a barricade at Sitio Madaymen in barangay Tabio. On the same date, they founded SMM on the objectives to protect the remaining environment of Mankayan as a large part of the municipality including neighboring places that have already been destroyed by the many years of LCMC’s mining operations. SMM members stood by their action as an assertion of their rights over their ancestral land against destruction and denudation brought about by corporate mining.
SMM members filed a petition for a writ of preliminary injunction on the drilling activities of the mines. But NCIP-Cordillera Administrative Region hearing officer Brain Masweng reversed its earlier decision and ordered the barricaders to allow personnel of FSGRI to resume its operations. The protesters maintained their barricade despite a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued by Regional Trial Court Branch 64 in Buguias Judge Agapito Laoagan on May 23 in favor of a petition filed by LCMC.
The resolution stated the fact that the mining firm did not get the Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the people at any stage of the expansion of the mining project is an obvious violation of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) or Republic Act 8371.
The resolution also cited Mankayan Municipal Council Resolution of Mankayan on February 28 endorsing the clamor of the Save Tabio Organization (STO) for “no drilling shall ever be conducted nor be permitted at Madaymen, Tabio. STO members wrote a letter to the council that FSGRI did not comply with costumary laws and the IPRA before starting its drilling activity. The organization also requested the municipal body for the pull out of the company’s drilling machines and its workers.
According to the resolution, the company’s position is that the project does not require the residents’ FPIC as the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) was granted by the government before the IPRA was enacted.
The resolution also noted that there is a possible conflict of interest in the NCIP resolution favoring FSGRI since the head of the NCIP was commissioner Zenaida Brigida Hamada-Pawid on one hand and the regional manager of Gold Fields(FSGRI) Engineer Louis Pawid on the other. It stressed that the NCIP was created by the IPRA law to precisely protect and promote the rights of our indigenous peoples and not any mining company or corporate interests that may be detrimental to the current and future generations of indigenous peoples.
“We will have an initial hearing in congress and will decide later if we need to go on site. It can help in the resolution of the case. But what is important is we hear all sides of the issue”, said Baguilat.
Pablo hopes that the congress will really visit their area. He said that they will hold a meeting to discuss the good news and also take up information passed to them that there will be a dispersal of their barricades on July 2. “Saan mi nga ammo nu sino ti umay nu military weno pulis,” (We have no idea of who will come whether it is the military or the police) Pablo said.# nordis.net