By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
The umili (villagers) of Gambang, in Bakun, Benguet has a rich history of resistance against mining companies – both foreign and local. Presently, their resistance, in defense of their ancestral domain, amid the continuing violations of their rights as indigenous peoples (IP).Dominga Gaspar, a leader of the municipal wide people’s organization BaKUN Aywanan, retold a legend of how Gambang got its name. A long time ago, there was an old woman cooking swine food in a big pot which the locals call gambang. An American was lost on his way to Lepanto. The American saw the old woman and asked the name of the place. The old woman did not understand what the American was asking. As she assumed that the American was referring to the big pot, she answered gambang.
Gambang is an Ilocano term for copper. Gaspar did not hear any stories explaining the relationship of their barangay’s copper deposit and its name. Since time immemorial, the community had been lived by farming. “It was only before the Japanese regime that traditional small scale mining occured,” Gaspar said.
However, a story told by one of the elders in Gambang that even before the war, they bartered utensils and pots made of copper to other provinces in the Cordillera and nearby lowland areas. They also bartered their products for livestock, like carabaos.
Gaspar also said that Gambang folk fought and stopped encroachment of mining companies, including Lepanto’s plan to expand their mine operation to their village. It was only in the 1960s, she said, that local and foreign mining companies aggressively tried to enter Gambang for mine purposes.
Entry of foreign mining companies
In 2009, a rights group based in Vancouver, Canada, the Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR) initiated a research into the alleged violations to the Indigenous Peoples rights in Gambang.
The said rights group is an organization of Filipinos and Canadians working for the promotion and defense of human rights in the country.
The investigation team was participated in by the Commission on Human Rights – Cordillera Administrative Region (CHR-CAR). In the commission’s report, it confirmed that since 1960s, the town has been a favorite exploration spot among various local and foreign mining companies.
Itogon-Suyoc Mines Inc. (ISMI), made the first attempt to introduce mining activities. However, it was met by the villagers’ concerted opposition. This experience caused the villagers to organized themselves to vigilantly protect their ancestral domain.
Gaspar said Gambang folk organized delegations and trooped to the Benguet Provincial Capitol to seek the help of then Governor Bantas Suanding. In a face to face dialogue, the governor advised them to register their ancestral lands as mineral claims. Only few took his advice to register their mineral claims. Those who registered were bonded to the Boma Mining and Exploration Company (BOMEXCO), Gakian and Casenaba.
But some part of the people’s ancestral domain, a total of 844 hectares, was declared by then Pres.Ferdinand Marcos as a Forest Reserve under Presidential Decree 150 and therefore was excluded for mining purposes.
By the turn of events, an exploration permit by the Bureau of Mines was awarded to BOMEXCO. Through various feasibility studies and exploration work, BOMEXCO found out that the area had a rich copper deposit.
BOMEXCO, in 1995, registered at the MGB-CAR an Application for Production Sharing Agreement (APSA) which was designated as APSA No. 050. BOMEXCO assigned its mineral rights to Dalton Pacific Resources Inc., an Australian owned mine firm. It consolidated this APSA with an Exploration Permit Application No. 1, MGB-CAR records show.
As the ExPA application is located in indigenous communities, MGB-CAR required Dalton to undergo Free Prior and Informed Consent process with the concerned IPs in Bakun. The said mine firm did not pursue its application instead, it assigned its mineral claims to Oxiana Philippines Inc.
Gaspar, who was one of the opposition to the application of Dalton then told this writer that the mine firm knew that they cannot get the consent of the community because of the overwhelming opposition. “That could be the reason why, Dalton did not pursue its application,” she said.
Oxiana in 2006 complied with the FPIC process. A consultation was then conducted in Gambang that was followed by a referendum on February 16, 2006 in Bagtangan Elementary School and at the Barangay Hall. 454 voted against the application while 45 voted in favor. Thus, the next day, a Certificate of Rejection was executed and submitted to the regional office of the National Comission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
On October 9, 2006 however, NCIP issued new FPIC guidelines. CHR report states, “Accordingly, a new FPIC process was needed to be undertaken under the new auspices of this new FPIC guidelines over the same applied area of Oxiana”. On August 9, 2009, Oxiana informed NCIP that it has changed its name into Royalco Philippines Inc.
Royalco’s divide and rule tactic
The community lead by the BaKUN Aywanan and the Gambang Indigenous Peoples Association and Community Organization (GIPACO) cried foul over Royalco’s division of barangay Gambang into several phases. Gaspar alleged this as a “divide and rule” tactic of the mine firm. “Gapu ta ammu da haan da a maala ti consensus a decision mi, ginudwa da dakami,” (Because they knew that they cannot get our consensus decision, they divided us), she pointed out.
Santos Mero, the Deputy Secretary General of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), regional wide association of peoples organizations said in an interview that the people in Gambang had already gave their decision in the 1st FPIC process. “Apay gamin a kasapulan a paulit-ulit nga i-hold ti FPIC nu madin ngarud ti tao ti proyekto,” he said.
Fausto Maliones, chairperson of the GIPACO iterated in several dialogues and inquiries that the division of Gambang into several phases is contrary to the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). He and Gaspar believe that they as indigenous peoples in one barangay community should decide as one.
Maliones even revealed that aside from the division into phases, Royalco divided phase II into two clusters and even entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with individual lot owners. “What is now the use of FPIC processes with what they did?,” he asked adding: if the company can enter into that kind of agreement with individuals, then they as IP community has no difference from other non-IP communities.
Moreover, in the two congressional inquiries held, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño hit the NCIP for the division which he termed “chop-chop FPIC”. It is a grave violation to IP rights, he said.
Meanwhile, Atty Severino Manuel Lumiqued, the Provincial Legal Officer of NCIP-Benguet said the suggestion of dividing the community came from the community itself. This was however belied by BaKUN Aywanan and GIPACO saying that the suggestion did not come from the community as a whole. It was a suggestion from few members of the community who are pro to the exploration application, it added.
Furthermore, CHR report states that securing separate FPIC processes in one IP community like Gambang is inconsistent with the underlying principle of cultural integrity. It has accordingly sowed discord among members of the community. The commission observed that “there is now a gap and enmity among IPs in Gambang brought about by the unnecessary division allowing selfish and individualism to rule and wreck havoc on the cultural integrity”.
Atty. Lyndon Morales of the CHR explained, in a dialogue in Bagtangan Elementary School in 2010, that the IPRA law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) treated IPs collectively as a community and not as individual member or independent faction within the indigenous community. This was corroborated by an explanation in their report that IPs have unique nature of imbibing and practicing common cultural and customary beliefs, traditions and laws under the spirit of unwavering solidarity.
This divide and rule tactic of the mine firm, stated the CHR, works efficiently to defeat the enshrined human rights of the IPs in barangay Gambang considering their acknowledge vulnerabilities when aggressed separately. “Certainly, this is not what the Constitution and IPRA envision in promoting and protecting the rights of ICCs/IPs,” the CHR report reads.
Violations to the FPIC guidelines
Municipality of Bakun was granted its Certificate of Ancestral Domain. Barangay Gambang is only a parcel of the said domain. In the 2006 FPIC guidelines, it says: “When the area affected covers only a portion of the ancestral domain, only the ICCs/IPs in such portion shall be involved in the FPIC process, or in special cases, whose consent shall be validated”.
This according to CHR report aptly applies to Bakun where only a portion thereof is affected. The report added that it is very significant to note that a single FPIC process shall still be conducted in this portion of the domain.
Accordingly, there is no provision in the IPRA and the FPIC guidelines that allows the division of Royalco’s Bakun concession into five separate phases.
Despite the CHR findings and recommendations, dialogues and inquiries that exposed irregularities in the FPIC processes, the mine firm continues to claim that all the said processes were done regularly and in full compliance with the 2006 FPIC guidelines. The mining company’s claim is supported by the report of Lumiqued that process did observe the IPRA and the FPIC guidelines.
On April 11 this year, Royalco and Vale showed to the Sangguniang Panlalawigan regular session and insisted that they had not received any report of Royalco’s violation to IP rights. They got their information only from the news articles of various media outfits.
Despite the nullification of Phase III’s Compliance Certificate by the NCIP Central Office through an Enbanc resolution, the said companies insist on the legality of their application in Gambang. Their equipments are ready to be brought to the said phase.
However, their entry or transport of equiptment was block by the community. The company has already filed a motion for reconsideration for the said nullification of their phase III application. They also filed a motion to inhibit NCIP commissioner Zenaida Hamada-Pawid from participating in any field investigation and FPIC processes in Bakun as they alleged that Pawid showed bias infavor of the anti mining exploration group.
In their statement, the company iterated that their exploration project is extremely different from the mining proper. This was however hit by Reps. Teodoro Baguilat Jr and Casiño.
Growing community resistance
Presently, Gambang folk, specially in Phase III, are on guard against the entry of any exploration equipment. Since Royalco entered Gambang, BaKUN-Aywanan fearlessly and tirelessly struggled to defend their ancestral domain. They lobbied their issues up to the congressional level, trooped to the Provincial Capitol twice, and even traveled to Quezon City to forward their grievances.
According to Gaspar, their will to defend their ancestral land from mining plunder keeps them fighting. “Makapabannog ngem kasapulan nga aramiden tapno haan a madadael ti pangkabiagan mi ken para iti annak mi,” (It is really tiring but we have to keep fighting so that our source of livelihood will not be destroyed and for the sake of the future generations), she said in an interview.
On the other hand, CPA called the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Benguet to enact a pro-people environment code. “It is time that the province issue a moratorium on the entry of large scale scale mining for the province to recover from environment devastation brought by more than a century of mining plunder,” it said. # nordis.net