MANKAYAN, Benguet (Nov. 20) – Peasants from four towns around the Lepanto Consolidated Minng Company (Lepanto) here blamed the government’s all-out support to the mining industry as they traced the roots of their woes to the destruction wrought by said company on their communities.
In a forum on human rights here, peasants from Mankayan, in Benguet; Quirino and Cervantes in Ilocos Sur; and Tadian in Mountain Province spoke of the effects of the on-going mining operations in the tri-provincial boundary.
Among those they have noted is the continuing siltation of rice fields in Cervantes due to the opening of Lepanto’s tailings dam that flow into the Abra River. The reports show a decreased agricultural rice production due to silted fields.
The environmentalist group Save the Abra River Movement (STARM) earlier reorted that Lepanto has polluted Abra River with its mine effluents, after conducting a thorough environmental investigation mission.
A Mankayan resident noted the erosion again in Colalo due to Lepanto’s quarrying to raise the level of the tailings dam. They also observe new cracks in some agricultural and residential lands at barangays Colalo , Paco, Poblacion, and Bulalacao, all in Mankayan due to the ongoing mining operations.
Mankayan’s Denver Tongacan, president of the town’s Association of Barangay Captains, who welcomed some 250 delegates, expressed the need for stronger unity to enable the affected communities to stop Lepanto’s expansion.
In Cervantes, Ilocos Sur, an old woman said that even their traditional sources of edible marine products along the Abra River have been silted, posing another threat to food security.
“Naawan dagiti sulsuli a pagal-alaan mi ti lames, bisukol ken pasayan,” (The nooks where we used to get fresh water fish, snails and shrimps are gone) she laments.
Lepanto is now operating the Teresa Ore as part of its Victoria Gold Project. In an earlier press conference, Vicente Dilem, a former Lepanto Employees’ Union officer, said residents in Mankayan should brace against the copper plant which Lepanto would built soon for its expanded operations. Dilem also testified to destrction wrought by Lepanto’s operations. He has worked with the mining firm for 18 years until his retrenchment in 2005, due to a labor dispute.
In a unity statement, the Mankayan, Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo (Maquitacdg), the peasant alliance in the said towns, said that the GMA administration does not listen to the people’s opposition to destructive mining operations.
“In fact, it has even allowed new mining applications of other mining firms in the tri-boundary,” the statement said, specifying Cordillera Exploration (CEXI) and Oxiana, among others. Instead, the government slapped the opposing people with an intensifying human right violations, Maquitacdg said.
In response to their plight under what they called an oppressive regime, the peasants from Ilocos and Cordillera resolved to guard against deceptive measures meant to erode their unity and to advance people’s actions for the defense of the ancestral domain, life, livelihood and resources. # Lyn V. Ramo for NORDIS