A mining company which is set to leave Benguet in three years has been sued by several former employees of the company. This time, it is not about the ill-effects of mining, but the company’s discriminatory practice in admitting students in the schools within the mining community.
BY ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet – Several parents in Tuba and Itogon towns in Benguet, northern Philippines are filing a lawsuit against the Philex Mining Corporation for denying the enrollment of some 200 students in two schools located inside its mine site. Some of the students who were denied admission in the schools are graduating from elementary and high school.
The parents branded the non-admission as “discriminatory” to the indigenous peoples.
The affidavit-complaint of the 27 parents is already prepared by their lawyers and is expected to be filed at the Provincial Prosecutors Office this week.
The suit is the last resort of the parents to pursue their children’s enrollment at the Philex Mines Elementary School and the Saint Louis High School – Philex. The company allegedly failed to heed the call by both local and national officials to accept the students’ enrollment.
The case springs from the alleged violation of equal protection and non-discrimination of indigenous cultural communities which are prohibited under the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (Republic Act No. 8173) and the Anti-Children Abuse Act (Republic Act No. 7610).
A copy of the affidavit-complaints furnished Northern Dispatch and Bulatlat showed that most of them are members of the various tribes in the Cordillera who have been in Philex for years. Some have even served for more than 40 years as employees of the company.
Parents said that at least 200 elementary and high school students were not allowed by the company to enroll at the schools in the mine site.
Philex has been operating a mine in the towns of Tuba and Itogon of this province for the past 47 years.
Rose Nueva from Ifugao, who has lived in the area since 1970, said that the company’s denial of her children’s enrollment caused her anguish. Her two children, who should be third and fourth year high school students, were forced to enroll outside Philex.
“As a result of the company’s refusal, I was forced to enroll Jan Michael in Potia, Ifugao and Jan Mark in Baguio City as third year and fourth year students, respectively,” Nueva said in her affidavit. “We were forced to live separately, causing me more anguish. Jan Michael called me up crying due to his difficult situation in his new environment, which further broke my heart.”
Malikias Baldo, a Kankanaey from Mt. Province, lived in the area since 1967 when his father worked for the company. He was seven years old at that time. He also worked for Philex and was later retrenched, but chose to stay in the area.
He was forced to enroll his two children in a school in nearby Barangay Ampucao, Itogon which is 15 kms away from the place.
This is discrimination, Baldo said. “I do not see how they (his children) are different from the members of the TIHCOSAPI who are the only members recognized as members of the indigenous peoples living in the area and they are the only ones allowed to enroll in the schools,” he added. TIHCOSAPI members are allegedly accredited by the company as the only recognized members of indigenous communities.
He also said that the issue caused him additional expenses and much to worry for his children’s safety as they need to travel daily.
Another complainant said that Philex Mines has been harassing her and her family to leave their house. Lately, she was told to abandon her stall at the market despite the business permit issued by the Tuba local government. Selling in the market is her family’s source of livelihood.
The non-admission of the school children by Philex Mines is part of the company’s decongestion program which they tried to impose last year. The company this year issued an advisory to the parents of the almost 200 students that their dependents would not be accepted by the two schools.
The students are excluded allegedly because they are not dependents of mines employees. Most of the parents are former employees and members of the different tribes of the Cordillera.
Parents, however, said that they are not urging the company to pay for their children’s school fees as they are ready to pay for these fees. Yet their plea fell on the company’s deaf ears.
Despite the support for the parents from Sen. Juan Flavier, Department of Education School Superintendent Mary Namuhe, Regional Director Remedios Taguba, Gov. Borromeo Melchor and the Provincial Board, the company still refused to admit their children.
Sources who asked anonymity said that the company’s decongestion program is questionable.
Philex Mines has a 50-year permit to mine in the area. It is in its 47th year of operation. With the remaining year, what is the reason for the decongestion, one of the sources claimed. “This is plain discrimination. Or there are deeper reasons for this decongestion,” one source said.
Another source said that the area is being considered possible for either mining expansion or residential sub division. Nordis/Bulatlat