By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
BAGUIO CITY — Amid the persisting community conflict in Gambang, Bakun, Benguet regarding the Royalco Philippines Inc.’s mining exploration, a contract to transfer the Royalco’s exploration project was signed early 2010.
Through a contract called Technical Due Diligence, Vale Exploration Philippines Inc., a subsidiary of the world’s second largest multi national mining company acquired Royalco’s exploration project. The said company will continue the ongoing exploration in Gambang.
According to the letter dated November 15, 2010 of Max Estaris, the project Coordinator of Vale Exploration Philippines to Bakun mayor, Marcelo Contada. Vale will focus on exploring copper deposits in the area.
The letter also stated that Vale has started implementing Royalco’s project in Phase 2 area in sitio Manga. “Iti negosasyon ken panangala iti consent dagiti dua nga landowners nga maapektaran ket nalpasen,” (The negotiation and gaining consent with two affected landowners is done) the letter read. It further stated that the preparation for the drill sites in the said phase is ongoing. Also, drilling equipment are being transported to the area.
Moreover, the letter informed mayor Contada that a Community Relations (ComRel) office headed by the Monkey Forest, a social consulting organization that was hired by Vale has been set up. The ComRel according to Estaris will be conducting community relations activities and Social impact assessment regarding the project.
As of press time, the ComRel according to Dominga Gaspar, a barangay councilor in Gambang had been inviting them for an Information Education Campaign (IEC) and Vale is almost finished with its drilling activities in Sitio Manga.
However, Gaspar said they, (the residents) want to focus their attention first on the persisting community conflict caused by the violations of Royalco to their rights as an Indigenous Peoples (IP) community.
It can be recalled that Royalco caused a break in the community’s cultural integrity by dividing them in two groups: a pro-mining exploration and anti-mining exploration. Gaspar said that as an IP community, they must be consulted and decide as one.
Gaspar added that they hope for an immediate action from Congress regarding the issue. They want Congress to compell the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to suspend all the mining exploration activities in their barangay to give way for a proper consultation process.
In a press release by Royalco dated February 26, 2010 posted on their website, in an agreement with Vale, Royalco will receive royalties. It was stipulated that an amount of US$530,000 will be paid to Royalco on completion of the pending initial exploration project and another US$500,000 after a year.
Vale has theoption to acquire the complete concession area once they had spent an amount of US$3.5 million in three years and once all documents have been registered by the Philippines authorities. If the company will choose to exercise the said option, an amount of US$5 million will be paid to Royalco.
It was further stated in the press release that Royalco shall continue its current exploration for gold in the country.
Meanwhile, Engr Vergel Aniceto of Benguet Mining Action Alert Network (BMAAN) said Royalco may know that they cannot handle the opposition to their project in Gambang thus, they have to find a graceful and profitable exit thus the contract with Vale S.A.
Vale S.A., is a Brazilian mining company, the 2nd largest mining company in the world, it is also the world’s largest producer of iron ore and pellets, key raw materials for the steel industry, and one of the largest producers of nickel.
The company also produces copper, manganese, bauxite, alumina, aluminum, coal, cobalt, among others. Vale according to their company profile claims to have a social, economic and environmental responsibilities in the countries where it operates.
However, there had been complaints in the countries where Vale is operating. One of these is the community poisoned by Vale Inco’s Nickel Refineries in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada.
According to Defending Land, Life and Dignity (2010), a book of testimonies of mining affected communities entire the world which was compiled by the Red Internacional Women and Mining Network (RIMM), Diana Wiggins, a resident of Port Colborne divulge nickel contamination in their environment caused by Vale Inco’s Nickel Refineries.
Wiggins said that in a research spearheaded by their community, they found out that Vale had been dumping electrolyte nickel underground. In 2000, they found electrolyte nickel seeping into the water table and into the Welland Canal where the city of Port Colborne draws its drinking water as well as into Lake Erie and the surrounding areas.
The same year, results of soil tests made by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) show that the soil contains 14,000 to 16,000 parts per million of nickel and over 600 parts per million of lead. In the standard set by the Ontario (MoE), the findings is above the allowed standard. MoE said, the level of nickel in the soil should not be higher than 200 parts per million.
With these findings, Wiggins felt betrayed by those they trusted to protect their environment, health and safety. “As a mother, I am sickened and at a loss of words to explain the feeling of not knowing what the future will be for my children,” she said.
She further said that their children are now prohibited to play in their yards, they were even transferred to another school because of the soil contamination. They have organized protests to publicize their concerns however, their government until now has made no action.
Also, there had been reported workers’ strikes in Canada for the company’s violations to labor rights. # nordis.net