BAGUIO CITY — Communal watershed forests in Mountain Province, which serve as the water sources of main rivers, are threatened by various mine applications allegedly due to the government’s active campaign to revitalize the mining industry.
A member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Sagada, Mountain Province, Jaime Dugao revealed there are at least three exploration applications (EXPA), four applications for production sharing agreement (APSA), and five applications for financial and technical assistance agreement (AFTA).
Now pending at the regional office of the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (MGB-DENR-CAR), the applications cover the communal forests in Mount Sispisitan, which is sharing the provincial boundaries with Abra and Kalinga.
“These applications threaten our communal forests, rivers and the sustainable environment in the province which we had nurtured through their indigenous systems,” added Dugao.
Popularly known as Tigan-o, Dugao attended a Manila forum last week with a theme: “Church leaders-indigenous people’s dialog on traditional knowledge, food security and indigenous people’s rights.”
The forum participated by mostly church personalities was held at the Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines in Quezon City and was sponsored by the Task Force on Indigenous People’s Rights, a national network of non-government organizations, church-based and academic institutions advocating for indigenous peoples’ rights.
Based on MGB-CAR documents, the three EXPA cover 8,745 hectares; four APSA cover 11,376 hectares; while the five AFTA cover 222,482 hectares.
One EXPA and APSA applications included areas in Kalinga and Ilocos Sur, respectively. The two provinces are neighbors of Mountain province.
The AFTA applications also cover areas not only in Mountain Province but included areas in the neighboring provinces of Ilocos Sur, Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya, MGB documents revealed.
Dugao said the applications are part of mine applications in the region which totals to nearly 70% of the Cordillera’s 1.8 million hectares land area.
“Watershed and forest reservations”
Dugao claimed Sagada and the neighboring towns in Mountain Province and Abra are actually nourishing the headwaters of main rivers flowing down the lowlands.
“Sagada is the watershed of the Chico River which flows down to Kalinga and Cagayan. It irrigates thousands of agricultural lands,” Dugao pointed out. The “Bumud-ok Falls” in Fidelisan of Northern Sagada flows down to Amlusong creek to join the Chico River, he added.
Dugao pointed out the same case with Sagada’s Lake Danum where fresh water flows down the Balas-iyan River – with headwaters in nearby Besao town, also in Mountain Province, which feeds thousand of hectares of rice fields in Quirino, Ilocos Sur.
Water from the Balas-iyan River is so fresh until it reaches the Abra River in Quirino, now polluted by corporate mine wastes from Mankayan, Benguet, he added.
Dugao said the sustainable agricultural practices since time immemorial were the people’s secret in environmental conservation.
Indigenous resource use
“Our sustainable practices in the communities of Sagada are exercised through the dap-ay, an indigenous socio-political institution where elders, like me, play an important role,” said Dugao pointing that such indigenous practices for resource utilization and conservation are passed from generation to generation through the dap-ay.
Dugao shared among their sustainable practice that is notable up to the present is forest conservation.
“The Batangan or Saguday system is an inter-generational task where our forest conservation or utilizations are collective obligation of community members,” he said adding, any violation by a community member means a sanction from the elders after a careful deliberation.
This is the main reason on why forests in the province are abundant especially in Sagada.
Government data show that Mountain Province is among the Cordillera provinces with higher forest cover and 13 rivers flowing to the nearby regions traced the Cordillera as their water sources.
Opposing large scale-mining
The nature of the province, and the entire region, as forest and watershed areas even without the state laws would be destroyed if mining would be allowed, he said.
Dugao pointed out these mine applications are lopsided more for the benefit of corporate interests.
“We might be giving up our resources in exchange of these mining companies’ small taxes that they give to the government,” said Dugao.
Citing a research, Dugao added, Sagada folk are not against development.
“An eye opener for us however is the experience of our brothers in Benguet, where large-scale mining has been destroying the environment since the third quarter of the 19th century when corporate mining supplanted traditional copper mining sites in Mankayan and logged the forests of northern Benguet for mine timber and smelter fuel.”
He also cited the causes of forest denudation as large-scale mining, like the open pit mining in Itogon that had stripped the mountains of their forest covers.
He appealed to the participants to support Cordillera people’s struggle against large scale mining in Sagada in the Cordillera and for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or RA 7942. # Arthur L. Allad-iw