This brief article is based on a case study made by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance Research Commission . It points out the impact of major aggressive projects imposed on communities of indigenous peoples in Benguet in the name of the greater Filipino population. And has articulated recommendations to mitigate the impact of these extractive projects. — Editors
A. The Land and PeopleOur Cordillera region is part of Luzon island, Northern Philippines. The home to more than 1.5 million indigenous peoples belonging to at least eight distinct ethnic groups collectively known as Igorots.
The Province of Benguet has a total land area of 265,538 hectares. Its forest land comprises 174, 740 hectares (66.78%) while alienable and disposable lands make up 86, 908 hectares (32.22%) of the total forest land.
Benguet has thirteen municipalities namely: Atok, Bakun, Bokod, Buguias, Itogon, Kabayan, Kapangan, Kibungan, La Trinidad, Mankayan, Sablan, Tuba and Tublay. La Trinidad is the capital town.
There are 140 barangays comprising the municipalities of Benguet. The municipality of La Trinidad has the most number of barangays (16), followed by Kapangan (15), Buguias (14), Kabayan and Tuba (13 each), Mankayan (12), Bokod (10), Itogon (9), Atok, Sablan and Tublay (8 each), Bakun and Kibungan (7 each).
The Ibaloy people live in the southeastern portion, occupying 8 of the province’s 13 towns. The Kankanaey, meanwhile dominate the northeast areas of Benguet.
Benguet’s fertile lands along the rivers and the gold ore from the mountains allow the Ibaloi villages engage in various economic activities. In the gold-rich areas in Itogon and other gold-mining communities. Gold trading villages were established along strategic mountain passes and trails which controlled the flow of trade to the lowlands. The rice growing villages emerged in the well watered area of the Agno River Valley. Swidden farmers panned gold in the streams and rivers and traded these.
Land ownership is traditionally recognized by prior occupation, investment of labor and permanent improvements on the land.
B. Mines and Dams present in Benguet
Corporate mining in Benguet started during the Spanish colonial period when Spanish businessmen secured a mining concession from the Igorots in Mancayan and launched the operations of the Sociedad Minero Metalurgica Cantabro de Mancayan in 1856.In the 1950s, the Agno River in Benguet was tapped as a source of hydropower. The first dam to built along the Agno River was the Ambuklao Dam, started 1953 and was operational in 1956, followed by the Binga Dam. 12 other run-of river mini-hydros, all privately operated, were also built in other parts of Benguet.
Province of Benguet had hosted 14 mining operations in the past decades with Benguet Corporation 1903 in Itogon as the oldest mining company in the country. Two of the largest corporate mines, namely Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company and Philex Mining Company continue to operate, this time using high technology for large-scale mineral extraction.
II. Impact of Mines, Dams
The Agno River
Along the Agno is the series of three mega hydroelectric dams – that block the river flow to generate electricity. The power generated by these dams has gone to supply the power needs of the mining companies as well as the overall power demand of the Luzon grid.
It has inundated and permanently destroyed productive vegetable farms, orchards and ricefields. Destroyed forest habitats and watersheds and displaced indigenous peoples communities along the river.
Land destruction, subsidence and water loss
Underground block-caving operations, a fairly recent innovation practiced by Philex and Lepanto, have induced surface subsidence and even ground collapse.
Pollution of water and Soil
Mine tailings disposal
Open-pit and underground bulk mining have persisted in Mancayan and Tuba. Here, ore is being extracted and tailings are being generated at a rate of up to 2,500 metric tons per mine per day.
Pressure tends to build up in active tailings dams especially during times of heavy rainfall. Philex and Lepanto deal with the problem by draining their dams of water. The water is channeled to tributaries of the Agno and Abra rivers.
Siltation- of rivers is a serious problem in Benguet resulting from mining operations and dam construction. The Ambuklao and Binga dams are stark examples of the detrimental impacts of siltation and megadams on rivers.
Siltation, the collapsed of mine tailings dam and tailings disposal along one 25-kilometer stretch of the Abra river, some 465 hectares of riceland have been washed out and covered by silt.
Rice plants are normally green until maturity. But these seedlings have turned yellow only a few days after being transplanted to contaminated fields.
Before 1936, High yields of indigenous crops was recorded. In the same year, mine tailings was dumped straight into the river. By 1960s the tailings Dam No. 1 in Nasulian, Paco, the farm lands down river became unsuitable for agriculture. In 1970s, tailings Dam No. 2 (Lipa-an, Paco) collapsed and added contamination to ricefields, etc.
Serious health problems due to water, soil and air pollution.
There was also observed then a rise in the incidence of respiratory diseases, skin problems and impacted on the reproductive health of women, and others.
Loss of flora, fauna, biodiversity and food security,
Dislocation of Indigenous Peoples from Ancestral Land and Traditional Livelihoods
Large-scale corporate mining and dams have dislocated the indigenous Kankanaey and Ibaloy people from their ancestral lands and traditional livelihoods.
III. People’s Alternative
People’s alternatives to corporate mining and dams and indigenous systems of sustainable resource utilization and management can be found in indigenous communities in the Cordillera.
The Ibaloy and Kankanaey people of Benguet continue to practice traditional Small-scale mining till today. Traditional methods of pocket-mining and gold panning are crude but environment friendly and have been passed down through generations since the16th century.
An alternative source of energy are microhydro dam as opposed to megadams. The experience of micro-hydro project (MPHP) of the Chapyusen Mangum-uma Organization in the Cordillera proves the viability of a community-based and community owned power system to provide energy for lightning, rice milling, sugar pressing, blacksmithing and carpentry.
1. The international community should develop minimum standards for the protection of the environment and human rights that are binding on all countries and companies, based on the highest existing standards, and with effective monitoring and sanctions imposed on the offending parties, be it the national government, funding institutions, or the companies.
2. There exists the Akwe: Kon voluntary guidelines, developed under the Convention of Biological Diversity, for the conduct of cultural, environmental and social impact assessments regarding developments proposed to take place on, or which are likely to impact on sacred sites and on lands and waters traditionally occupied or used by indigenous and local communities. These guidelines should be made binding rather than voluntary and could be adopted as a minimum standard by international financial institutions and national governments when implementing development projects affecting indigenous peoples.
3. Countries that are home to transnational companies should enact legislation that will require those companies to operate using the same standards wherever they operate in the world. Home countries whose nationals and corporate entities inflict damage in developing countries, particularly on indigenous peoples, should impose some form of penalty on the offending parties.
4. An international system should be created to allow complaints to be filed by affected indigenous communities against companies, governments and financial institutions whose development programs and interventions violate the rights of ownership and control by indigenous peoples over their ancestral land, territories and resources and cause serious destruction of the environment.
5. In the case of Benguet where the indigenous people have already suffered and will continue to suffer enormous damage to their lands and environment due to the long-term impacts of mining and dams, proper and immediate compensation and reparation should be provided to all affected people to include adequate monetary compensation, sustainable livelihood, alternative land, employment and other sources of regular income. A program for the restoration and rehabilitation of lands and waters destroyed by mines and dams should also be implemented.
6. Past experience has shown that no monetary compensation nor livelihood project could replace or surpass the destroyed ancestral land and traditional livelihoods of affected indigenous peoples. The solution to restoring the living quality and to stop the permanent destruction of the environment is to stop destructive large-scale corporate mining and decommission unviable megadams. Alternatives such as chemical-free traditional small scale mining methods and community-based microhydros need to be promoted and supported.
7. Philippine legislation and policy on the liberalization of mining and the energy industry need to be reviewed and revised as these have proven detrimental to indigenous peoples in different parts of the country. A new mining policy should support the Filipino people’s efforts towards nationalist industrialization and ensure the creation of jobs, food security, a stable economy, mitigation of environmental degradation, and environmental rehabilitation. # nordis.net