Corporate Mining: Assault on IP Lands

First of two parts

The assault of massive corporate mining will surely be met with strong resistance by indigenous communities who have continued to nurture and protect their territory. The people will not simply allow the devastation of their land and resources in the name of profit which has no value in their life.

By Joan Carling*
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

When the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995 with finality in February this year, the Philippine government aggressively embarked on a total sellout of the people’s mineral resources, with several incentives to foreign mining companies. The following month, government identified 20 priority projects for corporate mining in different parts of the country. Sixteen of these priority projects cover indigenous territories in Mindanao, Palawan and Mindoro, and the Cordillera.

In the Cordillera, northern Philippines, more than 66 percent of the total 1.8 million hectares of the region is now covered with mining applications, with more than 140 mining applications of both local and multinational mining companies. The province of Benguet had hosted 14 mining operations in the past decades with Benguet Corporation as the oldest mining company in the country. Two of the largest corporate mines, namely Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company and Philex Mining Company continue to operate, this time using high technology for large-scale mineral extraction.

Mining interest in the region started during the Spanish colonization because of traditional small-scale production of gold by the Ibalois for trade with people of the lowland. Since then, the Cordillera region has earned the interest of both local and foreign mining prospectors.

Based on the geophysical survey of the Cordillera region, the mineral deposit of the region of gold is 25 percent while copper is 39 percent.

Indigenous peoples’ collective rights

Of the Philippines’s 84 million total population, indigenous peoples number about 10 to 12 million, representing at least 110 ethno-linguistic groups. Around 60 percent of these are in Mindanao and 30 percent in the Cordillera. While the groups’ culture and lifestyle are diverse, they have common indigenous concepts and systems, principles, values and aspirations.

The basic commonality of indigenous peoples in the Philippines and the world over is the regard and concept of land as the source of life of which their identity, spirituality, and collective socio-cultural and economic systems are rooted. The persistence of this, despite centuries of external and internal colonization, genocide, displacements, exploitation and oppression, as well as attempts for assimilation and homogenization of culture remains as the distinct feature and difference of indigenous peoples from the rest of society.

As indigenous peoples, their world view and concept of nature and resources in terms of ownership, use, management and development are different from the western/capitalist impositions. Given the value of land and nature to indigenous peoples, these are not treated as commodities.

Instead, the natural environment should be protected and nurtured for it to continue providing for the needs and survival of the present and future generations. Unlike the capitalist view of resources as separate elements to be exploited or extracted because of their own commercial value, indigenous peoples regard these resources with their symbiotic relationship and interdependence and its use should only be in response to basic needs and not for exploitation as source of surplus.

Further, indigenous values revolve around collective survival and development so cooperation and mutual assistance is necessary, as opposed to individualism and competition.

Because of the historical social injustice committed to indigenous peoples, and the continuing assertion of their distinctness in oneness with the land and territory, they are entitled to certain collective rights with the fact that they have nurtured and protected their natural environment for centuries.

These rights are the right over their land and resources or territory, to their identity and integrity as distinct peoples with their own customary laws, language, socio-cultural systems, beliefs and spirituality and the right to self determination economically and politically. The recognition and respect for these collective rights are necessary to ensure the continuing survival and development of indigenous peoples.

Assault of corporate mining

Corporate mining is a form of development aggression and national oppression of indigenous peoples. Contrary to claims about its contribution to economic development, affected indigenous communities and others have become poorer and deprived of their land and resources which is the material base of their culture and distinct lifestyle. Likewise, it has caused long-term destruction of the environment and the inter-generational livelihood source of indigenous communities.

The entry of corporate mining operations without the consent of IP communities is a blatant disregard and violation to the territorial integrity and self determination of indigenous peoples. Mining companies are given by government the priority rights over mineral lands, even if these are indigenous peoples’ territories.

Likewise, the companies are also given the right to extract minerals in the most profitable way, using high-technology for massive extraction with the least cost and greater profit. Further, they are also given the prior right to control, manage and use all other resources such as water bodies, timber and others they may need to support their mining operations.

Territorial integrity of indigenous peoples is a matter of right because of their decades of human investment through their blood, sweat and tears in nurturing and protecting their natural resources. Because of this, indigenous peoples inherently have prior right and ownership of their land and territory as the material base of their collective survival and the source of their distinct lifestyle. It is also in their strong relationship with their territory that defines their collective identity as distinct from others. This complete disrespect to the territorial integrity of indigenous communities paves the way to physical and economic displacement of indigenous communities leading to their alienation from the very source of their existence and collective identity, which is tantamount to ethnocide.

Indigenous peoples’ ancestral land rights

For indigenous peoples, land is not a separate entity from all the other natural resources which comprise their territory. With the extractive nature of corporate mining, massive destruction of ancestral land, water bodies and the natural environment cannot be avoided due to massive land extraction and thousands of tons of mine waste generation. This does not only directly threaten the health and well-being of indigenous peoples, but also violates their right to protect and nurture their natural environment which sustains their tribes, clans, and families from generation to generation.

It also violates the rights of indigenous peoples to freely determine their own path to development, with the use, management and development of their own human and natural resources. Likewise, the destruction of their subsistence economies and particular livelihood activities by large-scale mining operations is a direct threat to their food security. It also violates their indigenous resource management systems that provide them their basic needs, while protecting these resources from massive exploitation.

For example, indigenous forest management systems have certain prohibitions or regulations in cutting timber and gathering of forest products to protect the watershed areas and biodiversity of the IP territory. All these will be adversely affected by corporate mining operations, because of its very extractive and destructive nature. For mining companies and their business partners, the mineral deposit in the territories of indigenous peoples is regarded only for its commercial value, and not in relation to other elements of the natural environment, which indigenous peoples have been using for their livelihood activities. Mining companies seem not to mind the symbiotic and interrelationship of nature and indigenous peoples. More important to them is the extraction of minerals for profit, even if the consequences of this kind of extractive and destructive operation out-rightly deny indigenous peoples of their collective rights.

Collective socio-political systems

Indigenous peoples are governed by their own socio-cultural and political systems, which include customary laws as tribal/village governance systems to ensure the protection of the common good, promote cooperation and mutual assistance and community peace, harmony and security. They also include collective mechanisms on decision-making on matters concerning them, as well as on the participation of all members of the tribe/ village on various activities and cultural practices.

With the imposition of corporate mining through legal mechanisms and various forms of deception and divide-and-rule tactics, mining companies out-rightly violate the socio-cultural and political systems of indigenous peoples as they have shown complete disrespect to these collective processes and ways of life of indigenous peoples.

Mining companies usually resort to misinformation drives, bribery of local leaders, deception through promises of employment, funds, projects, scholarships and health facilities among others, in order to get the support of affected communities. At the same time, they consciously hide their real motive for profit, and the adverse and long-term impacts of their mining operations. For indigenous communities which have long been neglected by the government for their basic services and sustainable livelihood assistance, these promises then become very attractive that, in turn, pave the way for community divisions. It is deplorable that mining companies take advantage of the dire condition of neglect and marginalization of indigenous communities to pursue their vested interest, leading to break up in community cohesion and unity.

Likewise, given the impact of corporate mining in terms of physical and economic displacements, intact communities and villages then become dispersed, thereby weakening the practice of their socio-cultural and political systems. In their efforts to cope with worsening poverty and marginalization, individualism and competition become second nature, contrary to the tradition of mutual assistance and cooperation for their collective survival.

Likewise, indigenous systems of decision making are either subverted or co-opted by mining companies for them to claim they have the consent of affected communities. This has been the case in several ongoing mining operations in Mindanao, southern Philippines, affecting Lumad communities.

In conclusion, corporate mining in indigenous lands affect all strands of the peoples collective life as distinct from others, and directly threatens not just their economic survival but also their collective existence in their territory as the source of their culture and identity.

The assault of massive corporate mining will surely be met with strong resistance by indigenous communities who have continued to nurture and protect their territory. The people will not simply allow the devastation of their land and resources in the name of profit which has no value in their life.

IPRA and corporate mining

The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) was passed in 1997, claiming to uphold the collective rights of indigenous peoples. Its problematic implementation is characterized by the lack of substance in fully recognizing the collective rights of indigenous peoples, and the insincerity of the national government to pursue social justice for indigenous communities.

While IPRA claims to recognize ancestral land rights through certificates of ancestral land/domain titles, this right is still within the framework of the State having prior right to the people’s natural resources.

Thus, in its ruling on the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995, the Supreme Court said that the national government has the liberty to allow 100 percent foreign control of mineral resources and contracted areas for their mining operations in the name of national development, even in indigenous lands.

Thus, ancestral land recognition is merely a stewardship arrangement and the State can still intervene legally on how the resources in IP territories can be utilized. What can be useful for indigenous peoples under IPRA is the provision for the “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” ( FPIC ) of indigenous communities affected by any project/ activities within their territory or may adversely affect them. The FPIC provision is based on the principle of self determination, and the indigenous peoples’ participation in the decision-making process on matters affecting them. But because of the difficulty of mining companies in acquiring the consent of affected communities, it has been pressuring the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to weaken the provisions of FPIC. In particular, it wants this process to be technical and procedural, instead of ensuring the substance of proper and thorough consultations and decision making processes, availability of needed information, and ensuring the participation of all affected members of the communities.

Thus, while there are legal avenues where indigenous peoples can continue to assert their collective rights, what is more important and critical at the moment is for indigenous peoples to actively defend their territories through various legitimate forms of struggle, and the exercise of their right to self-determination at various levels. It is also important to strengthen cooperation and unity among indigenous peoples, while building bridges and networks for support. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

*Joan Carling is the chairperson of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) based in Baguio City.

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