April 27, 2010 in Featured
By OFELIA EMPIAN
“Garait dja Tribo / Ishawat tayo ni Apo / Pansaksakhey to Kitedjo / Mangidavan pangkhep tayo”
The Ibaloy song depicts the solidarity of the people in their struggle to protect their homeland. The land on which they thrive as a community, as a family and as an individual who is free to roam the grandeur of the mountains. The mountains with its lush greens and cool waters, where animals make their bed. But a century gone by, and the grandeur that the mountain was, is already haunted by austerity.
Large-scale mining remains one of the ills that the province of Benguet is facing. The effects of it remain evident in many parts of the province, affecting the indigenous people’s culture, environment, and livelihood.
Mining in Benguet goes a long way. For more than two centuries, the people of Benguet were left to operate on their own, small scale mining without the disturbance of outsiders. The biggest mining operation, observed by Garcia de Aldana y Cabrera in 1620 involved about 800 Igorot working a single opening that was 20 meters wide and 20 meters deep (Scott as cited by Gimenez, 2009). This shows that the Igorots have their own way of mining even before colonizers came.
But by the 18th Century, “the independent development of mines and communities were disrupted” by the “ruthless military campaign” led by Guillermo Galvey, el commandante del pais de Igorrotes y las partidas del norte de Pangasinan (commander of Igorot country and parts to the north of Pangasinan) (Guillermo, 2009). As a result, many communities were scattered, leaving their lands and resources behind.
The Spanish Colonial period ushered the establishment of different mining companies, the first one was the Sociedad Minero-Metalurgica Cantabro- Filipina de Mancayan in 1856 in Mancayan (now Mankayan), Benguet. But it eventually closed down. Upon the arrival of the Americans in 1900’s, they “entered into contracts with local families to file legal claims to mineral-bearing land… which they used to create mining companies” (Cordilleara Peoples Alliance, 2007).
These mining companies are Benguet Mining Corporation (1903), Atok Big Wedge (1931), Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (1936), Philex Mines (1954), and Itogon- Suyoc Mines (1956). While these mines prove to be income generating projects, the damage done to the environment and the community is greater than the gains generated out of it.
“Mining companies out-rightly violate the socio-cultural and political systems of indigenous peoples as they have shown complete disrespect to these collective processes and ways of life of indigenous peoples” (Carling, 2005).
Various means of legal mechanisms, deception and divide-and-rule tactics were employed by these transnational mining companies in order to get what they wanted, in the process, jeopardizing the culture of the indigenous peoples.
In many cases, mining companies usually resort to misinformation drive and one-sided education regarding the “benefits” of mining to the community. The communities were made to believe of the promises of schools, roads, livelihood projects, and health facilities among others if these mining applications are granted. Leaders and land owners are bribed in order that they concede to the mining concessions. For indigenous communities which have long been neglected by the government for their basic services and sustainable livelihood assistance, these promises then become very attractive that, in turn, pave the way for community divisions.
Such was the case in Gambang, Bakun, Benguet where the recent mining exploration of Royalco caused the division of the indigenous peoples in the area. Barangay Gambang used to have one set of panglakayen (elders) but since the village was “subdivided into three communities with Royalco’s proposed three-phased explortation project”, there came up “new council of elders that resulted from the validation of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP)”, of which many were not used to.
The reason of the subdivision, according to an elder is that Royalco could not get the full consensus of the whole barangay for mining application so they resorted to dividing it into phases.
Aside from this, the Ibaloys and the Kankanaeys were displaced from their lands and homes. Mining patents granted by the government to mining companies have denied indigenous communities of their rights to ownership and control over their lands and resources. According to Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA): “An additional impact is the violation of the collective rights of the indigenous…people of their collective rights to self-determination and cultural identity as they are displaced from the land and community that is the basis of their continued existence and identity.”
Throughout the years of operation of the corporate mining industry in the province, it had caused irreparable damage to the community. Surface water sources were tainted with chemicals while subsurface water systems were devastated, disabling rice and other agricultural productions. Forests and watershed areas were denuded, all because of the mechanized mining and blasting.
According to CPA:
“By the time the century neared its end; large mining had ruined roughly 20,000 hectares of agricultural land in our province.”
Even before any colonies came, the Igorots have their own mining. They operate their own mining shaft, imploring the aid of the whole community. According to Gimenez, “the biggest mining settlement, spotted by Alonso Martin Quirante in 1624, consisted of 200 houses.”
But with the entrance of these transnational mining corporations, with their heavy machineries, mining in Benguet was never the same. According to Gimenez (2009): “the Igorot in Itogon did not yet have any notion of the scale in which the Amerikano mined, of how deeply and extensively the American mining companies could excavate, how much timber they would need for shoring up their huge tunnels, how their tunnels would drain water from underground tables as well as surface channels, what poisons they would dump the river. The Igorot could not anticipate how gold production in the scale and style of the Amerikano would impact on the agricultural resources they were developing.”
One of the evident negative effects of mining is the caving in of barangay Aurora in Mankayan. Residents were evacuated when the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR-MGB) declared the ten-hectare area along Aurora Street in Barangay Poblacion, a danger zone. In 1999, a local resident, Pablo Gomez, was buried alive and whose body was never found.
Aside from land sinking, deep mining tunnels resulted to the disruption of groundwater paths. In 1937, a disaster hit Gumatdang, Itogon’s oldest rice- producing village. Atok- Big Wedge drove in two gigantic tunnels on opposite sides of the village, immediately draining the water from its most abundant irrigation sources. All of these caused the drying-up of rice fields which is the primary livelihood of the residents. This irresponsibility of these mining companies was further reiterated by Joan Carling: “it (mining companies) has caused long-term destruction of the environment and the inter-generational livelihood source of indigenous communities.”
Economical/ Political Effect
The bounty of Benguet has long been sacrificed “in the name of development.” It has been the sacrificial lamb of the country in order for these mining industries to contribute to the growth of the Philippine economy. Contrary to claims about its contribution to economic development, affected indigenous communities and others have become poorer and deprived of their land and resources which is the material base of their culture and distinct lifestyle.
According to CPA“…while these mining companies raked in billions of dollars in profit, the province of Benguet remains as one of the 20 poorest provinces in the country, together with the other provinces of the Cordillera.” It was such an irony, with all the riches of Benguet, it all went to the benefit of these foreign- operated mining companies.
“Mas mahirap pa nga ang mga provinces with mining companies kaysa sa mga wala” (The provinces with mining companies are poorer compared to those who have none), according to Mero Santos, Deputy Secretary of CPA.
Many locals were employed as miners under these companies, as true to the promise of these companies to “provide jobs for the people.” But many of them are working under strained conditions; exploited and faced with the daily hazards of mining. Their health is slowly degrading because of the fumes that they inhale inside the tunnels. There are also unreported mine accidents, which usually involves rock and timber falls. According to James Tulipa of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement) – Cordillera, mining companies in the region employ deceiving tactics to evade records of accidents in the mine sites (Ramo, 2004). These workers who figure in accidents in the workplace are either made to sign their daily time record or are assigned as janitors at the manager’s changer-room to make it appear that no accident ever happened.
Mero Santos said that in Lepanto, many miners go unpaid and their benefits were not paid which resulted to the union of workers to go on strike in order that the company will give what is due to them. But instead of paying their workers, Lepanto would resort to harassment, work rotations and removal of union leaders from the company, and still persist in not paying their workers.
Another sad fact is the involvement of government agencies with mining companies. According to Santos, for National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), a “No” from the community is a “Yes” to them, even though the law Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) is supposed to be inclined with the people’s decision. Santos further stated that instead of taking its role as the protector of the indigenous people’s interest, NCIP become “middlemen” for these foreign-operated companies, taking their side in ensuring that the people will be divided. This would be easier for them to seek consent individually, specifically, the land owner. To which Santos said :”( it) completely violates the ‘consenus’ as stated in the law, (to be acquired) among indigenous peoples.”
The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), specifically Section 3g, defines FPIC as “the consensus of all members of the indigenous cultural communities (ICCs)/indigenous peoples (IPs) to be determined in accordance with their respective customary laws and practices, free from any external manipulation, interference and coercion, and obtained after fully disclosing the intent and scope of the activity, in a language and process understandable to the community.”
But this was not taken fully in its account because others, NCIP included, tend to violate this law as evident in the Royalco application in Bakun.
“Corporate mining is a form of development aggression and national oppression of indigenous peoples,” according to Carling.
As the indigenous peoples of Benguet start to realize the stark effects of the different mining industries to every facet of their lives, they once again, group together to stop the mining companies from further destroying the environment.
As of now, more than 66% of the (CAR) region is applied with mining applications, and most of them are in the province of Benguet, followed by Abra, Kalinga and Apayao, according to Santos.
Through the years, various people’s group, mainly consisting of affected residences but then expanded to other concerned citizens; stand together against these mining companies. In Itogon, as recounted by Santos, spontaneous barricade were done in resistance by the indigenous peoples to the mining companies to stop the expansion of mining, in which they were successful in doing so. But these were met not without the deployment of military forces to suppress the people, which most of the time leads to human rights violations. According to Santos, the Northern part of Benguet, is where the military encampments are.
“Kung saan ang mining application at maiinit na issues nandun sila,” (Where there is mining application and issues, they’re there too), Santos said.
Various organizations against corporate mining sprung up from Benguet and its surrounding province, these are Itogon Inter- Barangay Alliance (IIB-A), who are against open-pit mining; another is the MAQUITACDG (which stands for Mankayan, Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo), an alliance of communities living along the Abra River from Benguet down to Ilocos , which stood up against Lepanto’s proposed expansion, which made the company halt its expansion; Benguet Mining Action Alert Network (BMAAN); Save The Abra River Movement (STARM); Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA); and many others who give their time and support to the cause of saving and rehabilitating the remaining natural resources that Benguet and the whole Cordillera has.
And so the solidarity amongst the whole indigenous tribes of Benguet , the Kankanaeys and the Ibaloys, continue to strengthen as they struggle to defend their land in legal avenues where they can assert their collective rights, as a people, dreaming to be free to roam their own lands without the sound of rocks blasting and machineries whining and grinding in their own backyards.# nordis.net