“Tunggal dumawat tayo ti nayon a sweldo, ibaga da a bassit ti mapaspastrek a ganansiya ken maluglugi da pay” (Whenever we ask for just wage increases, the company tells us that it is not earning, that business is not good). Striking mine workers have all the more reason to demand for a wage increase and an improvement in benefits. The company, after all, has been raking in billions of pesos in retained earnings. What they are asking for only accounts for less than five percent of such earnings.
BY ABIGAIL T. BENGWAYAN
BAGUIO CITY – The 1,687 rank-and-file employees of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) are on their 6th day of strike as this article is being written. The work stoppage started on the foggy dawn of June 2 in Mankayan, Benguet. To date, underground operations remain paralyzed.
The miners were exploited and oppressed in all imaginable means by the management, a classic example of struggle between capital and labor. Hard labor is one of the simple bases of the demand for wage increases and benefits. It is also a known fact that the economic crisis has affected the Filipino people — and the poor is hit the hardest. The workers of LCMCo and their families need not be shown macroeconomic statistics to prove this. They live it everyday.
The workers, led by the Lepanto Employees Union (LEU), ask how LCMCo can go on expanding its operations when it cannot respond to the needs of its labor force first. The workers ask why, in spite of LCMCo’s profits, adjusting their wages to realistic rates seems unworkable.
Profile of a mining giant
More than a century ago, Spanish occupation in Mankayan prompted copper mining which lasted for some 19 years under the Sociedad Minero-Metallurgica Cantabro-Filipino de Mankayan. But it was American colonization that paved that well-cemented way for the entry of mining corporations in Benguet province. Several laws were eventually enacted, including the Public Land Act of 1903 and the Mining Act of 1995. Business boomed in the 1930s. By 1936, a group of investors led by Victor Lednicky formed the LCMCo.
The LCMCo started operating in Mankayan primarily for copper production. It has become the biggest gold producer in the country after expanding its copper operations in 1995 to include other minerals.
According to research conducted by the Cordillera chapter of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, or May First Movement), LCMCo established major subsidiaries in the names of Far Southeast Gold Resources, Inc., Diamond Drilling Corporation of the Philippines (DDCP), Diamond Boart Philippines Inc., Shipside Incorporated and the Lepanto Investment and Development (LIDC).
In a primer titled “Large-Scale Mountain Top Mining: Its Impact on Land, Water, and Indigenous Peasant Communities in the Agno and Abra River Basins,” the peasant alliance Alyansa dagiti Pesante ti Taeng iti Kordilyera (Apit Tako, Alliance of Poor Peasants in the Cordillera) noted that small-scale mining accounts for 54 percent to 59 percent of all gold remitted to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) annually. Large-scale mineral production accounted for only 41 percent to 46 percent of the annual gold remittance.
The same KMU research stated that LCMCo occupies 4,621 hectares of Mankayan land, specifically the villages of Paco, Sapid, Poblacion, Colalo, Cabitin, Tabeo, Bulalacao, and Suyoc. In January 2005, it applied for an Application for Production Sharing Agreement (APSA) in Maintin, Bontoc, Mt. Province covering 3,924.67 hectares, and another APSA in Mankayan covering some 1,057 hectares. It also has an approved and registered Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) for copper mining also in Mankayan.