By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — The recently concluded free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process requested by the community consultative assembly in Ambassador, Tublay on February 18 on the small scale mining (SSM) application of Dennis Tan unmasked a number of issues.
One of these issues was the confusion of who the proponent of the SSM application is. In an interview with Chris Polig, son of Ben Polig land title and surface owner, said that it was confirmed in the FPIC assembly that Dennis Tan was the actual proponent of the application for SSM.
Document chronology indicated that Ben Polig signed the memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Robert Chan of Landwealth giving Chan the right to explore and exploit his property for small scale mining operations.
Chris Polig also said that Robert Chan, by a Deed of Assignment passed the mine operations right to Dennis Tan.
On the other hand, Atty Nestor Caoili of Community Volunteer Missioners (CVM) who was present during the assembly too said the working personnel of Landwealth were the same personnel working for Tan. This according to him led the people believe that there was more to what was being said. Thus, the community, he said, raised questions on the status of Landwealth’s application for Large Scale Mining (LSM) covering more than 2,000 hectares including Polig’s land and the area applied for by Tan for SSM.
Representatives from the Mines ang Geosciences Bureau (MGB) then explained that the said application is still pending in their office. They further explained that it is in the name of KM 21 Mining Exploration Corporation with Landwealth as its operator.
“So it really appeared to the community that Landwealth was the shadow behind Tan’s SSM application,” Caoili said. In his observation, he said it is becoming clearer that the SSM was a strategy of Landwealth to start their operation prior to the approval of their application for LSM.
On the other hand Chris Polig said, it also became clearer to him that what the community was protesting is the entry of non-resident applicants and not the SSM itself.
It can be recalled that earlier, Polig did not understand why his fellow small scale miners were protesting SSM operations that according to him has fed them specially during meager harvests from their vegetable gardens.
Sincerity of the IPRA law
One of the issues raised was the registration of SSM in the Provincial Mining and Regulatory Board (PMRB). The community asked if in case they want their private mine areas registered, what was required?
MGB then said that aside from getting the consent of the surface owner, they have to get the consent of Landwealth or the KM21 because it is their applied concession area.
This according to Caoili will only discourage the community to register their SSM.
Moreover, Nestor Tap-ayao, resident of Sitio Dilong of barangay Ambassador and a member of the Upland Development Institue (UDI), said that getting the consent of the said mining companies is the right process defined under the Regalian Doctrine.
However, he said the IPRA law recognizes the rights of IPs over their land and resources and that seeking the consent of Landwealth is a violation to their rights as defined by said law.
“Damagek man ti gobyerno nu kasanu kapudno diay inaramid da nga IPRA?,” (May I ask now the government how sincere are they in formulating the IPRA?) he further asked. With regards to the FPIC process conducted, Tap-ayao said, at least issues were clarified.
On the other hand, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) representative suggested that the community may now proceed to their consensus building. However, the list of elders who will decide on whether or not to allow the said mining application is not yet finalized.
The community according to Caoili will finalize the list on the 28th of March. He added that once the list is completed, the community will use the “Tongtong”, Benguet’s indigenous practice of consensus building and decision making.
Courts will decide on the retraction letter.
Earlier reports stated that Ben Polig has sent his retraction letter to Robert Chan. This is with regards to the MOA signed by the two parties. MGB said during the assembly that it will have to be the courts to decide whether the MOA can be retracted. There was no assurance that Polig’s letter will have any legal bearing. # nordis.net