Lepanto Mining and Life in the
are golden high up the Cordillera mountains. Here, time creeps so slowly you
need to check your wristwatch constantly to make sure the day hasn't snuck past
you while you meditate upon mist-covered vegetable terraces and idly listen to
country music. But it is deceiving, this languid splendor. The following are
vignettes of life in the Cordilleras, showing how large-scale mining operations
have affected the life of the people in the area.
LANI T. MONTREAL
Posted by Bulatlat.com
Photo by Jessica Kellett
urgency is etched upon the weathered faces of Mankayan peasants in Benguet
Province selling vegetables at the Poblacion at below-cost prices, the miners
hurrying to get to their shift, mothers tending to their young. It is written on
posters announcing recruitment dates for overseas work for domestic helpers in
Hong Kong and Singapore. The urgency lies like an abandoned tunnel beneath the
surface of Cordillerans waiting to cave in. It quivers in the voices of
community leaders concerned about the future of their ancestral lands as they
hear tunnels being drilled below their homes and farmlands at night, and they
know that toxic mine tailings are dumped daily into their rivers and streams --
the lifeblood of their community. Because while gold, copper and silver are
mined in abundance in the bowels of these mountains, its inhabitants remain
among the poorest of the poor.
sign greets visitors of Mankayan at the junction to Bulalacao: “Five
kilometers yonder is a gold mine called Victoria.” For many of its struggling
residents, this invitation to awe is cold and empty like the late evenings here.
The municipality of Mankayan, Benguet province is about five hours by bus from
Baguio City, or 95 kilometers of alternately paved and loose gravel winding
roads carved on the side of the mountains. It is composed of 12 barangays
(villages) covering 16,336 hectares with a total population of 34,502
individuals or 6,495 households.
is home to the Kankanaeys, other Igorot communities who have settled here, and
lowlanders who work in the mines. Mankayan is also host to Lepanto Consolidated
Mining Company (LCMCo), the 66-year-old company that operates on 301 mining
claims covering 4,008 hectares within the Mankayan Mineral District. (Lepanto
also operates two pine forest timber concession in Benguet and Ilocos Sur
covering an area of 20,000 hectares.) The LCMCo principally produces copper as a
mine product with gold and silver as by-products. In 1995, the company
discovered a high-grade gold deposit which they named Victoria Gold. In a year,
the company outlined a substantial ore resource that could support an initial
1,500 tonnes per day operation.
March 15, 1997, Victoria Gold operation officially came into being, and after
only 10 months of operation, it produced 106,000 ounces of gold and 71,000
ounces of silver with an income of P342 million, making it the most profitable
year in Lepanto's history. Today, Lepanto boasts of being the country's leading
producer of gold and copper with gross receipts of P2.2 billion yearly. It has
about 2,000 employees with 60 percent of them working in the mining group.
Recent orders by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prioritize the unimpeded
application of the 1995 Philippine Mining Act have caused indigenous-rights
advocates and environmentalists to step up campaigns against destructive
development projects and mining.
December 2002, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms of Indigenous People, Prof. Rodolfo Stavenhagen came to Mankayan as
part of his official visit to gather information "from all relevant
sources…on violations of (indigenous peoples') human rights and fundamental
freedoms." While commending the Philippine government for taking "an
important step toward the full realization of the rights of indigenous
peoples" by adopting the Indigenous People Rights Act (IPRA) in 1997, he
echoed concerns raised by indigenous communities and their advocates of
inconsistent provisions within the Act that "may lead to contradictory or
ambiguous interpretations that do not fully favor indigenous rights."
is the same law that President Arroyo wishes to have reviewed in her effort to
push forward the full implementation of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
Ironically, Stavenhagen mentioned that some laws, including the same
controversial Mining Act, contain provisions "that make the application of
IPRA difficult." This observation was made even as the professor visited
the Victoria Gold Mine upon invitation and with a guided tour by the LCMCo.
his brief, Stavenhagen shared his impression that the indigenous communities and
organizations seem to "have lost faith in the ability of government
agencies and the judicial system to address their concerns effectively."
Stavenhagen's report, once completed, will be submitted to the UN Commission on
Sitio (sub-village) Cabitin where the streams entwine to journey toward Ilocos
Sur, a red orange stain stays upon the rocks, boulders and water way past the
golden sunrise. Aptot River now referred to as Lepanto River, flows past the
tailings dam that LCMCo built to contain the chemical wastes produced from
processing gold and copper. The tailings persistently escape to Lepanto, which
mingles with other mineral-rich tributaries and contaminates the water that
moves on to irrigate the farms of Ilocos Sur and Abra.
gathered by University of the Philippines College Baguio's Pahinungod (Volunteer
Program) in coordination with Community Health and Education, Services and
Training in the Cordillera Region Inc. (CHESTCoRE) and the Peasant Alliance for
the Cordillera Homeland called APIT-TAKO reveal that before 1936 when LCMCo
commenced its mining activities, farmers in the surrounding localities reported
high yields of indigenous crops. Back then, the lack of environmental awareness
and accountability justified the dumping of mine tailings and waste straight
into the river.
1960, the company built Tailings Dam No. 1 in Nasulian, Paco but abandoned it in
less than 10 years, rendering the neighboring lands unsuitable for agriculture.
Three more dams were built over the years but they all collapsed, following
typhoons and other natural calamities, contaminating even more ricefields.
Today, Tailings Dam No. 5 is visible from the top of Sitio Colalo, where only
recently, a school building collapsed due to the subsidence of land. The
company's efforts to treat the tailings outlet with lime, as prescribed by the
Department of Environment and Natural Resources, seem futile as the rust-colored
water continues to flow down the river, killing the animals that drink from it,
and permanently dyeing the rocks and boulders in its path.
Kankanaey family is grieving in Cabitin when we arrived. Gregorio Tanasia died
of cancer, his sister Glory Ocampo insists, but his death certificate indicates
cardiac failure. There would be another cancer-related death in town before our
weeklong visit would be over. In fact, the Mankayan Rural Health Unit reported
15 cases of various types of cancer in the region in 2002 alone.
Ana Leung, chairperson of the Department of Preventive and Community Medicine at
Saint Louis University and executive director of CHESTCoRE says that “many of
the heavy metals and chemicals liberated in corporate mining, especially
arsenic, are carcinogenic.” Dr. Leung was part of the UP-led team that
conducted research in Mankayan on the mining effects. “We should at least be
suspicious and wary of cancer cases occurring in the affected areas.” She
calls on appropriate agencies within government to document and investigate more
thoroughly the cases that come their way. “How many more deaths in Mankayan
were cancer-related but never documented?”
the past, the LCMCo blamed these cases to the use of potent pesticides by the
farmers in the community. Community folks have their own theories.
who was 64 when he died, was said to be an industrious family man to his wife
and eleven children. Over the years he had had various ailments -respiratory
infections, ulcers, upset stomach – but none prepared the family for his
demise on January 8 after he retired to bed in October last year. His sister
Glory says Tanasia died from liver cancer that quickly metastasized to his
stomach and esophagus. She blames the presence of the Lepanto containment dam
for her brother's death. "He used to pick up logs that were washed down the
Lepanto River for firewood. His doctors said that the smoke from those logs
might have caused his illness," relates Ocampo, a retired public school
teacher now living in Baguio.
built a nipa hut overlooking the ancestral lands his family tilled. From the hut
one can see on one side, the farmlands bordered by the Dupiri River and, on the
other, the toxic water seeping from the dam.
remember when I was young, we used to travel two hours by foot to our school and
those terraces you see filled with silt and tailings used to be ricefields,"
says Ocampo. "The company has given livelihood for the people. They have
built roads. But they do not take into consideration the long-term effects of
their mining activities on the town.”
short trek to Tanasia's house is littered with yellow banana stalks cut a foot
long each to serve as plates for the kanyao, the three to seven-day long
festivity following an important event in the community -- a death perhaps, or a
wedding. While many of the Kankanaeys have adopted the Christian religion, some
continue to incorporate their indigenous practices into their faith, a testimony
to their fierce resistance against colonial rule.
Tanasia, 54, sits calmly beside a wall covered with plastic shower curtains of
lilacs and pink roses. A picture of her late husband hangs on the curtained
wall, looking healthy and self-assured as he leans against the railing: Binga
Dam, Barangay Captain, 1968, the caption read. The widow has brown, deep-set
eyes, made sadder still by her loss, high cheekbones and a voice that sounded
soft but certain. She is half-Kalinga, brought to these parts from Abra by her
husband. They have been tilling the less than one hectare of ancestral lands for
their family's survival.
doctors wondered if he was a heavy drinker and smoker," she says, "but
he didn't have any vice. He had cysts all over his body. Four days before he
died, he couldn't swallow anything. His nose was very sensitive. I thought he
was just delirious when he started talking about the containment dam." She
quotes her husband in Kankanaey, and then translated his words herself in
English: "Our people are pitiable. They must be wary of the dam. It is not
safe. It is contaminating the springs that lie below it."
taken by the UP-led research team from the rivers and streams in Mankayan that
come in contact with the tailings have been found to contain lead and copper in
surface water. Copper and arsenic in soil are also higher compared to maximum
limits set internationally. In the report, they noted the following signs and
symptoms residents experienced after being exposed to the tainted water:
headache, dizziness, cough, chest pain, nasal and eye irritation. In areas as
far as Quirino, Ilocos Sur where the diluted tailings eventually pass, people
reported that "wounds take longer to heal when exposed to the Abra
River." There were also suspicious cases of birth defects such as cerebral
palsy, dwarfism and developmental delay. Some spontaneous abortions were also
terms of biodiversity, the loss of aquatic, plant and bird life are great. This
loss becomes even more stark when contrasted with the biodiversity existing in
the control lake unaffected by industrial pollution,” the study states. “In
terms of social impact, there is loss of livelihood due to the effects of
industrial pollution on agriculture. Historical evidence shows how the
surrounding communities have been transformed from being a former rice granary
to communities struggling to survive in the present cash economy.”
Administrative Officer for the Cordillera Administrative Region in Bugyos,
Agapito Gallentes, 56, grew up in Cabitin but is now only a weekend resident. We
catch him watching a movie on cable at his house on a Sunday afternoon, where
nearby, his family tends a vegetable garden. It is quite a vertical hike and we
are out-of-breath when we get to his house. The government worker offers us
water, which he says is taken from a natural spring in Cabitin. In our thirst,
we disregard the health alert and empty the glasses. The water is surprisingly
cool and sweet on our tongues.
what he knows of the copper-colored stream running alongside the vegetable
farms, Gallentes relates that it is part of the Lepanto River and that the
animals that drink from it pee blood and die. He believes, however, that liming
the water would neutralize the water’s acidity. “This is what DENR
recommended that mining companies do. If only they would comply on a regular
is sad, he comments, that while Mankayan is rich with minerals, “life does not
improve.” He mentions Philex Mining Company and how it had built roads and
infrastructure for the people of Tuba, Benguet. “They helped make life better
for the community,” he enthuses. “When the dam Lepanto built in 1986
collapsed, acres of ricefields were destroyed. The company compensated the
people with P10 per square meter.”
Sapid, Colalo, and Poblacion, where we stayed, the residents live in fear of
another landslide or sinking. In the last three years there have been incidents
of land subsidence, causing buildings and farmlands to collapse. Community
leaders claim these tragedies were not caused by nature, as DENR reported, but
by abandoned tunnels not properly backfilled. An LCMCo underground worker
attests to having seen tunnels "as big as municipal buildings"
underneath an area where a school building collapsed only a year ago. Back then,
the worker says, the company gives a seven-to-15-day tour of the underground
tunnels. “The wood used as pillars to prop up the tunnel walls probably rotted
and collapsed, causing the ground to crumble.” The same worker shares that
there were instances when they could hear the noises of trucks overhead as they
drill, corroborating beliefs of affected residents that the tunnels are dug too
close to the surface.
Lasa, 65, an elder and former barangay captain, said that LCMCo does not follow
the government requirement that mining companies drill at least 150 meters below
the ground surface. The former chief of police of Mankayan has led protests and
petitions against the company for a variety of issues, among them, land
subsidence, bulldozing of a graveyard, and the need for community and municipal
officials to have access to maps containing mining operation information.
was in 1983 when a gaping hole appeared on the bottom of the river. The water
was going into the tunnels," he recalled. "After that time, cracks
started appearing on the walls of residential homes and buildings and the roads
started sinking." Lasa, who speaks with the eloquence of a tribal chief,
worries about his own properties in the Poblacion, about a hundred steps down a
man-made stairway from his house. He has a store there and a small restaurant
where people go for billiards and videoke.
areas deemed danger zones, cracks visibly line the walls and floors of
residential homes like open wounds. Some of the residents have stayed despite
efforts by LCMCo to relocate them, saying Palatong, the sitio above Poblacion
where the company tried to move them showed signs of sinking as well.
lands that seemed safe were being claimed by other families saying these are
their properties not Lepanto's," said one Sapid resident who preferred to
be identified only as Manang. Her vegetable farm, located inside the mining
compound, was devastated in 1999 when a hole about 50 meters deep ("As big
as a house!" she insisted) devoured part of her garden. It took Lepanto a
whole day to fill the opening with sand and gravel. A year later, another hole
appeared on her untilled land, about a kilometer from her house. The earth shook
then, causing fissures on the walls and floors of her house, which she now
covers with old calendars and a vinyl carpet.
"We're just waiting for something to happen," said
the Kankanaey woman farmer who has six children and five grandkids, but whose
youthful demeanor and lean, slender body belies her 45 years. She fought Lepanto
to gain compensation for her ruined crops and lands. "They only paid for
the crops but not for the land," she said. "We asked them, how could
we go back to our lands to work when there is a danger that it would sink under
us? People say there must be an abandoned tunnel underneath our land that
Lepanto did not fill causing it to collapse, but the company denies it. They say
they just want to be of help to the people. They claim that this is part of
their property but we've been here ever since I can remember. We've been paying
property taxes for these lands."
recalled how, after the community got together to report the damage to Lepanto,
the company had sent dumptrucks and bulldozers in the night to start putting
backfill into the hole before anything was settled. "It was the women
residents who got up and drove them away. We said 'You are like thieves working
in the night!' We forced the workers to go back where they came from. The next
day, they were made to apologize to us."
a video her cousin took of the events following the landslide she pointed to us
Agapito Bulislis, LCMCo's legal adviser at the time, and the town councilor
Pulido Labi, who participated in the negotiations for the compensation. "We
asked them to pay P400,000 so that we could transfer our livelihood elsewhere
where there is no danger. But the company said they would only pay for the
damaged crops, which the Department of Agriculture estimated at P84T. Lepanto
refused to pay more."
Manang said, used to be called Sitio Pinagayan, meaning ricefields. "All
these, including the golf course, where the company's executives play, used to
be ricefields. Our family has been here long before Lepanto. When they came and
took away our water, we planted vegetable gardens instead."
the LCMCo compound, there is a recreation center where you can play pool and
sing karaoke for P5 a song; a mill where the rocks are grounded; a golf course
where schoolchildren would rather work to retrieve balls instead of go to
school; and bunkhouses with walls of GI aluminum sheets painted a limey green
where, in front, lines and lines of laundry hang to dry. There are also
residential houses like Manang’s, owned by families who have lived here long
before LCMCo started operating. About 70 per cent of the residents have a family
member who works for the company.
asked about the good that the company has done for the people of Mankayan,
Manang is slow to respond. “Well,” she says after a long pause, “at least
they fix some of the damage they create… If Lepanto is not in Mankayan, life
is going to be the same. If they don't take the gold then the people will
benefit from it. It is our ancestral land, after all.”
Cordillera, there is a way to prepare chicken without spilling blood. It is a
traditional meal called “pinikpikan,” which modern practitioners
fondly refer to as “killing me softly.” It is said that through the process
of beating and burning, the indigenous folks make appeals or ask favors from
Kabunian or the spirits of their ancestors. The native chicken, our guide
claims, makes the best pinikpikan, but a Broiler or Cobbs will do. You
will need firewood, a clean, flat surface, innasin (smoked, salted and
aged pork), water, pechay, chayote, and a piece of stick.
you start a fire. Put one wing of the chicken on a flat surface. Using the
stick, beat the wings from the inside like you would hit a gong – not too soft
and not too hard – just enough to numb the fowl, not break its bones. Keep a
rhythm as you go from the tip of the wing to the side then back.
the other wing. Lay its neck sideways on a flat surface and beat it repeatedly
from end to end. Beating the chicken makes its blood coagulate, no messy red
liquid dripping all over the place.
its strength is gone, you go for the kill. You hold the chicken by its feet and
wings in one hand and then you hit the back of its head just below the comb. One
well-placed blow should do it. Burn the feathers over the fire. Don’t burn
your hands when you remove excess feathers. Now, cook with innasin,
chayote and pechay.
24, is a miner at Lepanto. He plays his guitar and sings a country song called
“Shot to the Heart” as our guide beats our dinner, and we, the outsiders,
exclaim “aray” with every blow. The neighborhood children, some as
young as six, sing along with him like this is some nursery ditty.
has been working at Lepanto for a year now. He was 18 when he worked for Philex
in Tuba, Benguet, where, he claims, the rocks were tougher and did not fall off
so easily. A co-worker of his at Lepanto was recently injured underground— his
leg broke when a piece of rock “as big as a toilet sink” fell on it. In
fact, the International Labor Organization reports that “although mining
accounts for only one per cent of the global workforce, it is responsible for up
to five per cent of fatal accidents at work – 15,000 per year or 40 a day.”
study conducted by the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development
on underground mining in Itogon, Benguet in 1997 cites “being hit by falling
objects” as the leading type of accident followed by suffocation from chemical
fumes, and accidents involving machines.
is hot inside the underground tunnel,” Mark says. “Every five minutes, you
have to hose yourself down with water or you’ll get muscle cramps or pass
works the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift and has to report to work by 6:30. Sometimes,
he does a double shift to earn extra. While LCMCo prides itself in giving its
workers above-the-minimum wages, Mark says it is still not commensurate to the
amount of risk they take to get their jobs done. The lowest daily wage of
regular rank and file is P288.00 or about P40 above the government-stipulated
54, has been working for LCMCo for 18 years and gets an average of P310 a day.
He says it’s not enough to sustain his family of six. Over the years, he has
seen many colleagues die and get injured from falling rocks, machines and
dynamite shrapnel. Just recently, he relates, a co-worker named Roberto Farudin
was killed after he was pinned by a low-profile-truck (LPT) while the driver was
backing out. There were five fatalities in 2002 whose families got P220,000 each
from the company insurance, and some additional contributions from the LCMCo
officials and employees.
Lepanto, if you are killed while working, it’s your fault,” Felipe says.
Tacked on the bulletin board by the recreation center is the LCMCo Safety Credo
typed on a piece of paper that’s yellowing from age. To paraphrase: “The
incidence of accident is born from improper attitude, of thoughtlessness or lack
of thinking thereof. It is your moral obligation to prevent accidents.”
Ironically, the LCMCo was given
Recognition for its health and safety programs by the Department of Labor and
Employment (DOLE) in the 3rd Gawad Kaligtasan and Kalusugan awards night. The
Occupational Health and Safety Center (OHSC) of the Philippines launched these
awards to give recognition to individuals and companies for outstanding health
and safety records.
year, the employees did not get any profit-sharing or any other bonus in
addition to the mandated 13th month pay. Workers were told that LCMCo
did not meet its quota for the year. “Labor is blamed for it but how could we
meet the quota if the company keeps raising it? At the beginning of Victoria,
there was a lot of gold, but the sample got smaller and smaller. The LHD (load,
haul and dump) trucks are as big as Caterpillars (trucks used for construction)
and tend to gather more waste materials,” Felipe says.
1990, before Victoria, we had the biggest profit-sharing. Less than P7,000.
After that they decreased the amount every year. Now, we only get a
‘performance bonus’. It all depends on how your supervisor evaluates your
performance. So, if you don’t have a good working relationship with your
supervisor, don’t expect a bonus at all.”
mining methods employed by LCMCo is mechanized overhand and underhand,
cut-and-fill using the load, haul and dump (LHD) method for muck removal, the
use of drilling, rockbolting, blasting and other mechanized methods.
claims he used to have more faith in the company. “It seems things turned for
the worse when they found gold. They became more oppressive and abusive after
December 2002 the 1,560-strong Lepanto Employees Union filed a Notice of Strike
after the management fired Union members charged with absence-without-leave
(AWOL) when they did not show up for work on holidays seven times. “The
priority issue is the compulsory holiday work…Then we are also questioning
their labor-contracting-only (LCO) practice involving workers directly involved
in production… we are fighting for tenure. These LCOs don’t get benefits
especially if there are accidents. They also threaten the employment of regular
workers who get paid a little more,” explains Union President Panelo Ambas,
43, who has been with the company for 20 years.
also talks about the issue of “high-grading” apprehensions, or those caught
allegedly stealing ore. The Union believes the miners are framed because the
security guards are given rewards or incentives when they manage to catch
someone with a piece of nava, the reddish rock with white, powdery specks, which
may (or may not) have gold embedded in it. High-graders are penalized with
five-day suspension or, at the extreme, dismissal from work. “On one occasion,
the security guard searched some workers and found them to be clean. They
followed the same workers afterwards and accused them of high-grading.”
asked to comment on the land subsidence issue, Ambas says that when the company
finds ore “they keep drilling and mining, without monitoring the pillar
height. I don’t think they care much for the people whose lands and houses may
be affected because they can always just pay them for the damage… It will
probably take 10 years to stabilize the land in Sapid with backfilling.” Ambas
lives in Sapid with his wife and six children. His family is also into vegetable
Tawaken, 49, is a small-scale miner in Mankayan originally from the Mountain
Province. He and his wife Ernesta, 47, a Kalinga, have 13 children with ages
ranging from 30 to two. Two of the older ones are going to college in Baguio.
One, Daniel, a criminology student, has beautiful paintings on wood of the
Cordillera landscape hanging on the wall of their three-room cottage beside a
poster of Silvester Stallone’s Rambo III. An earlier, more child-like painting
is permanently dyed on the inside of the door to their sala. Mang Andoy smiles
briefly when asked about the paintings. “It is my son’s hobby,” he says,
almost dismissively, as he waves the million flies descending upon the merienda
of sweet bread and coffee he offers us. It is amazing how art finds space in
this cramped hut, where there seems to be a child in every nook and cranny. The
couple has sixteen grandchildren as well, most of them living here.
Andoy takes us to the nearby tunnel where he works. It is 100 meters long, and
about six feet high. There are droplets of water clinging on the walls like
crystals, and a few wingless cockroaches sitting there immobile. We watch our
step as we tread on planks of wood on the floor covering a hole where the miners
creep into to get to more ore.
make our own schedule here unlike in big mining companies,” Mang Andoy says as
he lights our way with a waning flashlight. “And anybody can work here, young,
old, crippled.” Women, however, are traditionally kept out of the mining
tunnels perhaps for practical reasons, as they are tasked with taking care of
the home. He lets us women in the tunnel, defying tradition. “The operator is
not here anyway.”
Andoy says they don’t use dynamite to blast their way underground, “just
shovels.” A watermill built with recycled rubbertire vanes gathers water from
the river for the use of the rock grinder by his house. It takes three days to
grind the rocks and half-a-day to segregate the sediment that may contain the
gold. A small containment dam captures the caramel-hued waste from the grinder,
which the miners collect in burlap sacks for drying and further sorting by the
only use charcoal and sodium to get to the gold. We cook it in a clay saucer
using a blower.” Mang Andoy shows us the tedious process with his aged tools.
“Some big scale mining companies use cyanide and mercury so that they can get
even those they call ‘water gold’. We don’t do that here.”
is the operators who own the mill and other equipment the scale miners use. They
get the biggest share when the miners sell the gold that they manage to get. On
a really good day, they can get at least four grams which they sell to middlemen
at P410 per gram. “Most days we only get .6 or .8. It really depends on the
is no health or accident insurance to speak of and, after the profit is
distributed among the workers, there is only enough to buy a sack of rice, but
Mang Andoy prefers to do this than tend a vegetable garden. “Especially now
that prices of vegetables are so low, the farmers would rather leave them to rot
than spend for transportation.” The price of a kilo of cabbage, farmers say,
is P1. They attribute the drop in prices to the influx of vegetables in Baguio
imported from neighboring countries like Taiwan. But that, in itself, is another
call him Kapitan. Denver Tongacan, 50, is a member of the Sangguniang Bayan and
the barangay chairman of Bulalacao, a farming town. He is also one of three
accused in a case filed by LCMCo at the provincial court for “illegal
obstruction to permittees or contractors defined and penalized under Sec 107 of
RA7942, otherwise known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.”
grizzled community leader only smiles when he remembers that day in October
1999. “The company found Victoria Ore deposits in Tabac, our neighboring sitio,
so they started operations,” he relates at the junction store his family owns,
where older men are drinking gin and teenagers are playing pool. “The people
there protested and burned one of their equipment. The company got help from the
military and a platoon was sent to contain the situation.”
says that when he and other community members saw the LCMCo workers laying down
pipes on the road to their sitio, they mobilized residents to barricade the
intended drill site. “First, there were just 20 of us. Before night falls
there were more than 500. We took turns manning the barricades for a week.”
case is still pending at the civil and criminal courts and, until it is
resolved, the drillings will not resume. For now, Tongacan and other leaders are
concerned about the granting of perpetual water rights to LCMCo to six of the
nine rivers in North Benguet. This will enable the company to generate 500
metric tons of water it needs for gold processing.
they take all our water, how are we going to sustain our farmlands?” he says.
He and leaders of the Barangay Bulalacao Movement have also applied to keep
their water, but he fears that the government will favor the big corporation.
na kung laban!” (fight, if need be), Dionisio Tipaac, barangay captain of
Suyok says, his eyes red from drinking gin. It is twilight and the store is
getting filled up with students and workers. “We will fight to the end.” He
mumbles more angry-sounding words in Kankanaey before going back to his friends.
the past, the people of Mankayan have come together to write petitions and do
mass actions when mining activities directly affect their sources of livelihood.
In the early ‘90s, the company was forced to close down two copper ore dryers
after residents complained that the smoke they emit were destroying their crops
and animals. “It took awhile,” says Perfecto Lasa. “The DENR came and went
to verify, the company brought agriculturists to check the dying vegetables and
bananas and the wasting animals. They said it was because of lack of fertilizers
and other reasons, but not the black smoke. The people appealed some more and
the company managed to lessen the smoke. But at night, when the town slept, they
would resume. The crops continued to die. Some outsiders – no one knows who
– probably heard of the people’s plight and bombed the dryers one night.”
is a CAFGU detachment on a hill in Cabitin and the people are getting anxious
about the increasing number of men in uniform they see in Poblacion. “There is
no terrorism here,” Lasa says. “But officials of Lepanto are told not to
come here for security reasons. This is a peaceful place.”
Stavenhagen, the UN Representative, mentioned in his debriefing report that he
found it “inappropriate that a regional police commander in the Cordillera can
decide, at the behest of a mining company executive… to monitor a public
meeting within the framework of the Special Rapporteur’s official mission.”
He also wrote about the “highly irregular presence of members of the military
in civilian clothing, videotaping the proceedings” of one of the regional
dialogues he attended.
year, about a hundred peasants, small-scale miners, gardeners and workers from
Mankayan; Tadian and Mainit villages in Bontoc, Mountain Province; and
Cervantes, Ilocos Sur convened in a Peasant Summit and formed Mankayan Against
Lepanto Expansion (MALEX). At the National Minority Week last August 12 to 16,
MALEX joined militant groups in a protest caravan against development aggression
and militarization. Their first stop was the LCMCo’s national office in Makati
where they were met with force by policemen who prevented them from depositing
bags of silt in front of the office as a symbolic act of protest. The police
wasn’t able to stop them, though, from throwing tailings and silt at the front
steps of the building.
discovery of gold and copper in the 14th and 16th century in the
Cordilleras drove many to migrate here. It encouraged some of the original
settlers to switch from swidden farming to copper mining, using the copper to
manufacture pots, pipes and tools, and to trade with the North. Efforts by
Spanish colonizers to send mining expeditions failed because of the natives'
uncompromising stance against foreigners.
the American colonial government systematically dispossessed indigenous claims
to ancestral lands when it passed the Public Land Act in 1902 allowing US
government to expropriate all public lands. In 1905, the Land Registration Act
institutionalized Torrens Titling system as the sole basis of land ownership in
the country. The Mining Law of 1905 provided that all public lands shall be free
and open for exploitation, occupation and purchase by both citizens of the
Philippines and the US. This law allowed the American mining interests to
the1930s, a mining boom in Mankayan brought a group of prospectors led by
American geologist Victor Lednicky to form the Lepanto Consolidated Mining
Company. The company built the country's first copper plant at 400 tons per day
and increasing it to 1,000 per day until the outbreak of World War II. For three
years during World War II, Mitsui Company operated the mine, and Lepanto Mining
resumed its operations in 1947.
year, the company started expanding its operations in an effort to extend the
life of the Victoria Gold mine. The projected mine life for the whole Victoria
project, without considering future mineral exploration, is around 11.5 years.
This estimate is based on annual 500 metric tons per day increase (MTPD) from
2500 to 5000 MTPD. Mankayan folks expect increased mining activities to affect
its annual operations report, LCMCo claims to have spent a generous P7.0 million
in 2001 for community projects such as social infrastructures, education,
sports, and cultural programs, medical missions, calamity assistance and
livelihood programs. “In the last five years, total expenditures for community
development totaled P29.3 million,” the report states. This is the company’s
response to the DENR Mines and Geosciences Bureau call for “contractor/permit
holder/lessee conducting mining and milling operation” to establish a Social
Development and Management Program (SDMP). In fact the Philippine Mining Act of
1995 specifically provides that the “contractor shall assist in the
development of its mining community, the promotion of the general welfare of its
inhabitants and the development of science and technology.”
his report, Stavenhagen talked about how closely related the land rights problem
is to the issues surrounding economic development strategies as they affect the
areas in which indigenous peoples live. “Many communities resist being forced
or pressured into development projects which destroy their traditional economy,
community structures, and cultural values – a process that has been aptly
described as ‘development aggression,’” he writes. “The indigenous
peoples are still waiting for human rights-centered development to reach
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