Large-Scale Mining Threatens Communal Forests in Mountain Province

Communal watershed forests in Mountain Province, which serve as the water sources of main rivers, are threatened by various mine applications due to the government’s active campaigning to revitalize the mining industry.

Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat

Communal watershed forests in Mountain Province, which serve as the water sources of main rivers, are threatened by various mine applications due to the government’s active campaigning to revitalize the mining industry.

A member of the Sangguniang Bayan (Municipal Council) of Sagada, Mountain Province, Jaime Dugao, revealed that at least three exploration applications (EXPA), four applications for production sharing agreement (APSA), and five applications for financial and technical assistance agreement are pending at the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural resources (MGB-DENR-CAR).

“The applications threaten our communal forests, the rivers, and the sustainable environment in the province which we had nurtured through our indigenous systems,” added Dugao, popularly known as Tigan-o, in a Manila forum last week with the theme “Church leaders-indigenous people’s dialogue on traditional knowledge, food security and indigenous people’s rights.”

The forum was attended mostly by church personalities and was held at the Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines in Quezon City. It was sponsored by the Task Force on Indigenous People’s Rights, a national network of non-government organizations, church-based and academic institutions advocating for indigenous peoples rights.

Based on MGB-CAR documents, the three EXPA cover 8,745 hectares; four APSA cover 11,376 hectares; while the five AFTA cover 222,482 hectares.

One EXPA and APSA applications included areas in Kalinga and Ilocos Sur, respectively. The two provinces are neighbors of Mountain province.

The AFTA applications also cover areas not only in Mountain province but included areas in the neighboring provinces of Ilocos Sur, Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya, MGB documents revealed.

Dugao said these applications are among several in the region, which all in all cover nearly 70 percent of the Cordillera’s 1.8-million hectare land area.

Watershed and forest reservations

Dugao said that Sagada and the neighboring towns – in Mountain Province and Abra – are actually water sources of main rivers flowing down into lower areas.

“Sagada is among the water sources of the Chico River which flows down to Kalinga, then Cagayan, which irrigates thousands of agricultural lands,” he pointed out.

The Bumud-ok Falls in Fidelisan, Sagada flows down to Amlusong Creek to join the Chico River, he added.

Dugao also said Sagada’s Lake Danum flows down to the Balas-iyan River – and, with water from nearby Besao town (Mountain Province) – feeds thousands of hectares of rice fields in Quirino, Ilocos Sur. “Water from the Balas-iyan River is fresh until it reaches the Abra River in Quirino which is polluted by corporate mining wastes from Mankayan,” he added.

Dugao pointed that their secret in environmental conservation were “sustainable practices since time immemorial.”

Indigenous resource use

“Our sustainable practices in the communities of Sagada are exercised through the Dap-ay, an indigenous socio-political institution where elders, like me, play an important role,” said Dugao pointing out that such indigenous practices for resource utilization and conservation are passed from generation to generation through the Dap-ay.

Dugao shared that among their sustainable practices that are still carried out at present is in forest conservation.

“The ‘Batangan or Saguday system’ is an intergenerational task where our forest conservation or utilizations are a collective obligation of community members,” he said, adding: “Any violation by a community member means a sanction from the elders, of course, after careful deliberations.”

“This is the main reason our forests are abundant in our town and in the province,” he said.

Government data show that Mountain province is among the Cordillera provinces with a larger forest cover. Thirteen rivers flowing to the nearby regions trace the Cordillera as their water source.

Opposing large scale-mining

“The province and the entire region as forest and watershed areas would be destroyed if mining will be allowed,” he said.

Dugao pointed out that mine applications are lopsided in favor of corporate interests.

“We might be giving our resources in exchange for these mining companies’ small taxes which they give to the government in return,” said Dugao.

Citing research data, Dugao added: “We are not against development. But an eye opener for us however is the experience of our brothers in Benguet. Large-scale mining has been destroying their environment since the third quarter of the 19th century when corporate mining supplanted traditional copper mining sites in Mankayan and logged the forests of northern Benguet for mine timber and smelter fuel.”

He also cited large-scale mining, like the open pit mining in Itogon that had stripped the mountains of their forest covers, as a cause of forest denudation.

He appealed to the forum participants to support their struggle against large-scale mining in Sagada and in the Cordillera and for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act No. 7942. Northern Dispatch / Posted

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