By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
It was a hopelessly sad, scary and heartbreaking sight, as members of the communities around the Philex open-pit minesite were huddled in one corner by the road of the open pit, and exposed to a most physically dangerous area of loose gravel, deep mud, precarious loosened boulders and continuously pouring rain. They were called to a meeting to dialog with the mining company by the local office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) upon the company’s request. The press and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance were also invited.
Knowing it was raining (as it was for the past two weeks or so), and that their digital equipment and their representatives would be exposed to bad weather, and also because they had the facillities readily availabe at the moment of the meeting, the company just suddenly changed the venue of the dialogue. The people, despite believing they had already said their piece, still patiently braved the cold and rainy weather and appeared at the agreed venue.
Knowing that the condition of their domain under the mining company had to be made known to the wider public, and that they felt more confident on a perceived neutral ground – the original venue along the provincial road at the open-pit site – the community refused the company representatives’ sudden change of venue. Instead, they decided to stay and waited for the company reps to come meet with them there in the rain. They even camped out overnight.
Suddenly, during breakfast the following day, some gruff, armed and impolite company guards came to their camp along the provincial road, roughed them up, and even bodily carried them out of their tent and ordered them out by orders of the company management.
That was bad, very bad.
For the past 50 years, the company has been operating and carving out billion-dollar profits from the mountains, rice fields, hunting grounds, watersheds, rivers and forests, which the people in the area have long identified as their source of life and livelihood. In all these years, a simple recognition by the company of the collective right of the community, who by native title own these mountains, has not yet or even been practiced or shown by the Company. Greedy?
All foreign-owned and -operated mining companies in the Philippines know by heart that the best mine workers are the Igorots of the Cordillera. One American prospector of old even fervently believed that “they [Igorots] could smell the gold in the mountain.” They also knew the Igorots were good neighbors. The strong community life and relations made it so.
Yet the foreign companies paid these workers a miniscule portion of the sales gained from the mines. Yes, they built and maintained roads, schools and town buildings, because they needed these facilities to access the area’s resources – land, water, minerals, forest, people. For where could they dig gold, what will they use to clean off the dirt from the gold, what is the most economical and good post for the tunnels and buildings, what is the cheapest way to do all the digging, the hard and menial work.
The NCIP was to see to it that IP rights to life are duly recognized and respected. That responsibility is not to be neutral (which several of the officers have claimed to be) when it comes to taking the people’s side over profit motive – Big Capital’s only reason for being.
Take this case of that so-called dialogue between the affected community and company representatives. That puny group of Benguet people – cold and exposed to the elements, trying to bravely represent their common indignation against the destruction of their traditional home and oppressed state perpetuated by the mining company – were practically misunderstood and shunned away with the help of the NCIP.
Maybe the NCIP officials do not intend and do not realize it yet, but their agency, in assuming the convenient position of neutrality, eventually does give way for Big Capital and the profit motive. As servants of the people in government, these officials must work out some way to at least allow the so-obviously helpless communities, like that beside, below and around that open pit, to keep their dignity intact and acquire a just fighting chance against corporate entities that merely extract local resources for plain profit – big corporate profit they would rather keep to themselves than share it with the wider native populace for everyone’s wholesome security and development.#