Mining Firm’s Exploration Divides Indigenous Folk in Benguet Town

A group of residents, who identify themselves as elders of Barangay (village) Gambang in Bakun, Benguet Friday said the mineral exploration project of Royalco Philippines has eroded the relationships among indigenous residents in their community.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) – A group of residents, who identify themselves as elders of Barangay (village) Gambang in Bakun, Benguet Friday said the mineral exploration project of Royalco Philippines has eroded the relationships among indigenous residents in their community.

The group also questioned the capacity of the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to forge unity among the residents to arrive at a community consensus.

“NCIP and the company even changed the concept of elders because our previously recognized community elders, whom we call panglakayen (traditional community think tank) are now confused that they could no longer represent the community,” Fausto Maliones, a resident of Gambang, told the press.

Maliones is co-convener of the Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network (BMAAN), which was launched in a gathering of Benguet mining communities in August.

An elder said, “Agsisinnalusod kami nu apay a naikkat kami kas panglakayen (We ask each other why we were ignored as elders).”

A council of elders is comprised of men and women who have been recognized by the community due to their wisdom and integrity, and have gained the community’s respect. The council is consulted in all decisions, said Vergel Aniceto, BMAAN spokesperson.

“In Gambang, however, the inherent elders have been displaced by new ones,” according to Ernesto Soriben, chair of the local people’s organization Bakun-Aywanan. He was referring to the processes the Gambang folk underwent with Royalco’s application for an exploration permit.

The pronouncement came at the heels of a planned signing of the second Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on November 18 for the Phase III of the proposed mining exploration. The Phase I MOA, similarly contested, was signed in January this year. Phase II has no MOA yet.

Subdivided virtually

Gambang was virtually subdivided into three communities with Royalco’s proposed three-phased exploration project, which covers some 5,400 hectares. Phase I, which is around 986 hectares, includes Sitios (sub-villages) Gambang Proper, Lower Yugo, Tood and Tuwa-ok; Phase II (172 has.), Sitios Mangga, Kil-ingan and Upper Yugo; and Phase III (1,400 has.), Sitios Basig, Nametbet, Lebeng, Dosdosdecay, Le-in, Inga-an and a part of Cagam-es.

Sitios Batanes,Bagtangan, Takayan and some parts of Sitios Bolbolo and Liwang are not in the list of areas applied for mining exploration.

According to Royalco Community Relations Manager Lourdes Dolingan, Gambang has 36 inhabited sitios.

“Gaputa di da maala ti consensus ti intero a barangay para iti exploration, ginudua-gudua da daytoy, (Because they could not get the consensus of the barangay for the application for mining exploration, they resorted to dividing it into phases.) another elder said.

Not used to it

Soriben said Gambang residents used to have only one set of elders and are not comfortable with the council of elders that resulted from the validation of the NCIP, which conducted the field-based investigation for Royalco.

The field-based investigation led to the granting of the required free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the community for the Phase I.

Royalco’s Elizabeth Antonio, community relations assistant, confirmed this in a separate interview when she said, “We do not force those who do not like to sign the MOA.”

The elders from Sitios Bagtangan, Mabuhay, Pulag, Goldstar and Bayyo are one in saying that the proposed exploration project has eroded the concept of an indigenous peoples’ community, which usually works for a consensus without leaving out those who are opposing an idea.

Eleven validated elders from the scope of Phase I now receive a monthly allowance of P2,000 ($48.19 at the Nov. 7 exchange rate of $1:P48.19), which they will each continue to receive until the exploration ends after two years. Those who work for the company get P300 ($6.22) per day, higher than the P280 ($5.81) regular pay for an ordinary crew worker in the drilling site and the road maintenance projects.

Limitless drilling

To date Royalco is now on its seventh diamond drilling. Its first two holes, both around 10 centimeters in diameter and 298 meters and 490 meters deep, respectively, were dug in July and August in Sitio Balite.

Landowner Alex Soriano now plants the area with potatoes after the company rehabilitated it, rip-rapping the slopes and covering the mud pits with hauled soil.

Soriano also looks forward to owning the small building Royalco now occupies as a field office near the area where it bore the first holes.

“Dayta ti inkari ti kumpanya nga ibati da kanyak,” (That is what the company promised to leave behind) Soriano told Nordis when asked in jest how much he was getting in exchange for the drill holes on his land during the ocular visit to the site last week.

Senior Mining Engineer Ruben Quitoriano clarified that the holes would be back-filled with concrete to prevent its eventual collapse and to allay fears that the water table would lower into the depth of the diamond drilling.

Quitoriano did not disclose the number of holes the company plans to drill but said the ore samples that would be gathered would determine future drilling activities.

While he evaded queries on the company’s plans after the exploration, Quitoriano said the value of the ore body in a certain drill site would dictate later the site for a possible open cast mine.

Only for exploration

Seventy-one-year-old Willie Calixto, a validated elder who works with the company’s drilling crew, said the community gave its consent only for exploration, and not yet for mineral extraction.

Another resident interviewed during the turn-over rites for the basketball court at the Tingbaoen-Galisen Elementary School said he would oppose mining operations but admitted he gave his consent to the exploration project.

When asked how he would view a possible mining operation on his farm, Soriano said, “Ti umili ti agdesisyon nu minas ti tongtongan,” (The people will decide on the fate of the mines)

Calixto clarified that if the exploration would show a sizable mineralization over the area, he would welcome the next stages of a mine operation.

BMAAN’s Aniceto clarified that there are at least four stages in a mining operation namely, exploration, development, extraction and mineral separation.

“Exploration is a necessary step in any mining operation,” Aniceto said. He used to work with the Benguet Corporation.

Citing provisions of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, Maliones said the company has the option to extend the permit into a mineral production sharing agreement. Northern Dispatch / Posted

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