BAKUN, Benguet — Elders of at least nine more sitios in Barangay Gambang here rejected the mineral exploration project of Royalco, Philippines.
In a resolution, the barangay council of Gambang endorsed the Certificate of Rejection by the council of elders of sitios Mabuhay, Pulag, Gold Star, Mogao, Batanes/Paasin,Nametbet/Lebeng/Bagtangan, Takayan, Liwang and Bolbolo, covering Phase III of the said mining exploration venture.
Barangay Captain Alvaro Paquito signed Resolution No. 51-2008, which defined the council endorsement for the said rejection.
Upon learning of the approved exploration permit application, elders questioned the processes and altercations of legal interpretations ensued between NCIP representatives and individuals. The heated exchange dismayed the Council of Leaders and Elders of their understanding of “customary laws” and “indigenous rights” as embodied under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).
Among the arguments the Certificate of Rejection forwarded include the predominantly agricultural character of the livelihood sources of the people and their preference to develop farming rather than mining; the apprehension that mining would divide the community and alter the harmonious community relationships; and the apprehension that the company’s interest in the area does not end in the exploration stage and that they fear losing their water to the mining operations.
“We are preserving the land for the future generation and the generations to come. We are not ready to allow these lands for large scale mining,” the elders’ certification of rejection reads.
The Council of Leaders and Elders, also added that Sitio Liin is the source of water for both domestic and irrigation.
“In case any exploration will happen at Phase III, this will affect all the sitios sourcing water here. It would be disastrous to the residents and their livelihood,” one of the signatories said.
The leaders and elders also maintained they did not receive any prior notice for such consultation. They said they were informed two days before, which they said is not enough for them to prepare. They assert that this is violation of their right to Free prior Informed Consent as community. Some of them were not able to attend due to lack of access to information in their sitios.
Some of the landowners opposing the said mineral exploration were not in the list. They tried to include participate so that they could question such anomalous approval but they were not given chance by the NCIP team.
More elders of affected sitios are also preparing for their Certificate of Rejections, according to another resident.
Royalco’s exploration involves an area of 986 hectares in Barangay Gambang. Its free, prior and informed consent has been approved for Phase I, while those of phases II and III are undergoing consultations. Phase III met strong community opposition, according to Paquito. # Sonia Bullong