BAGUIO CITY (Dec. 27) — Indifference and conflicting perceptions on the application of indigenous people’s rights as embodied in the law is reportedly blocking a possible development and rehabilitation of the Batong Buhay mines in Pasil, Kalinga.
An impending dialog between a government-owned and controlled corporation and a Kalinga home-grown mining company would thresh out possible talking points, mining experts said.
The government-controlled Philippine Mining Development Corporation and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) have conflicting views on the rehabilitation and management of the former Batong Buhay mines, officials of a mining and quarrying consultancy group today told the media.
According to Atty. Ed Quiaño of the Chico River Consultancy and Management Corporation (CRC), the NCIP believes the indigenous peoples have the right to choose investors and partners, while PMDC like to have the operation bidden out to potential investors.
“This difference is stalking possible talks on how to go about the mine project,” Quiaño said.
Batong Buhay mines was operated in the early 80’s. It closed down after a year of full blown operation in 1985 due to the intervention of the New People’s Army then led by the late Conrado Balweg, which reportedly responded to the people’s complaints against the mining operations. Its facilities have since been cannibalized, according to CRC’s Engr. Danny Galang.
Galang said there is a need to respect the rights of indigenous peoples as part owners of mining investments as he hit government indifference.
The rehabilitation and management of the said mine is now the subject of three exploration permit applications (EPA’s) with the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (MGB-DENR).
Allegedly filed on July 10, 2006, the EPAs were filed by the Balatoc Tribe Exploration and Mining Corporation (BTEMC); the Makilala Mining Company and PMDC, whose EPA was reportedly favored by the MGB-DENR.
Government records, however, show that no EPA has been approved yet for Batong Buhay Mines.
NCIP’s Engr. Alberto Olsim said any move for the rehabilitation of Batong Buhay mines would need a certificate precondition, as part of the processes of the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). He said no FPIC application has been endorsed to the NCIP-Cordillera so far.
PMDC is acting as a government trustee of the foreclosed Batong Buhay assets, while BTEMC is a local company of Pasil tribal elders and leaders. The latter, according to Quiaño, is trying to hold a dialog with the former for a possible working relationship of the mines.
While CRC did not disclose any identity of a possible investor in the Batong Buhay mining project, which needs at least some $150 million initial investment, Quiaño said an Australian company has been eyeing the same mine site.
TransAsia Philippines has committed some P10 million in social projects in the meantime that the BTEMC is working on the EPA.
Although both Galang and Quiaño worked for the Benguet Corporation, a century-old mining firm in Benguet, they denied BC has any interest in Batong Buhay.
CRC Chair Ricardo Famorca, a metallurgist, used to work with Philex Mining Corporation.
Priority right vis-a-vis sub-tribal accord
The NCIP en banc, in a resolution in February 2007. granted to the Balatoc Sub-tribe of Kalinga the priority right to harvest, develop, extract or exploit any natural resources within their ancestral domain in Balatoc, Pasil. This acknowledgment of the Balatoc sub-tribe’s priority right is subject to the tribe’s earlier memorandum of agreement with the Guinaang sub-tribe of Balbalan town, also in Kalinga.
The same resolution cited three of the tribal agreements in May 2006, to wit: that the boundary starts from Pangit to Calbacab to Tabulao to Crossing Git-ting Creek to Bogis/Bonot to Itor then, to Sinicot; that the portion of Bonot/Bogis, Itor and Sinicot will be validated for final boundary between Barangay Balatoc in Pasil, and Barangay Guinaang in Balbalan; and that gold-panning activities is open among the Guinaang sub-tribe and the Balatoc sub-tribe, except small scale mining and large scale mining which both tribes oppose, prohibiting any non-member to interfere in the area.
The NCIP also stated that the recognition of priority rights of the Balatoc sub-tribe is still governed by existing rights that may subsist within the ancestral domain. These may include resource use and land use permits, and the respect accorded to individual, partnership or corporation issued certification precondition during the effectivity of IPRA, where FPIC was granted by the concerned community.
Quiaño questioned the outright denial by MGB-DENR of the BTEMC EPA, in July. He said the NCIP resolution allowed a refiling, which the local IP company did on August 9, but the application was returned without any favorable action.
CRC finds no problem with surface rights owners because the same tribe applying for EPA own the rights to the surface. While a small splinter group, the Balatoc Resources Exploration Corporation (BREC) poses a little problem of representation, its leaders are formerly officials of the BTEMC.
Victor Gumisa, BREC president, is the outgoing BTEMC president, who was replaced by current President Alfredo B. Malannag in July. Nevertheless, there should be no big deal, Quiaño surmised, hoping for a reunification.
The present mine site occupies a 498 hectare mineral land, which may expand three-folds more, according to Galang. He said expansion would be done laterally and vertically.
“With the current prices of gold and copper, the return on investments is expected in a five-year period,” Galang said. At present gold commands some $800 per ounce in the world market. Locally it is P1,000 to P1,200 per gram. An ounce is equivalent to 31.1 grams.
In conceptualizing the local company, IPs are part-owners, Galang said, with five percent to 18%.equity and three to five percent royalty. Equity is based on the actual investments of the foreign investor, while royalty is based on either gross revenues or net of smelting cost.
The proposed mining method for Batong Buhay is block caving, similar to that of Philex in Tuba, Benguet. # Lyn V. Ramo for NORDIS