Cordillera Tribes Heighten Struggle Against Large-Scale Mines in Chico River Watersheds

Northern Dispatch
Indigenous Peoples Watch
Posted by Bulatlat

BONTOC, Mountain Province – Like the anti-Chico Dam struggle in the 1980s, tribal elders in this province, 394 kms. north of Manila, and nearby Kalinga are renewing their cooperation, including their peace pact (bodong or pechen), in their new struggle to defend their domain from the threat brought by pending large-scale mining applications.

Their villages being considered part of the Chico River watershed, they said that these large-scale mining, if it pushes through, would destroy their ancestral homeland and the Chico River which serve as the water source of their rice fields and agricultural lands, from upstream in Mountain Province down to the rice producing areas in lower Kalinga and Cagayan valley.

A Kalinga mingor (warrior) and anti-Chico Dam veteran, Ama Julio Longan said that today, more than 20 years since Macliing Dulag led the anti-Chico Dam struggle, there is again a basis for uniting various tribes to defend their homeland, this time against a new enemy – the conduit state and corporate mining interests.

Mining Applications

This reporter learned from various elders, who were directly involved with the anti-Chico dam struggle, that mine applications covering vast tracts of their ancestral domains are pending at the Cordillera office of the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB-CAR). The applications were filed by local and foreign mining corporations.

MGB-CAR records show that the mining applications, numbering 15 all in all, cover a total of 526,543.7943 hectares in the Cordillera provinces, which serve as the watersheds of the Chico River. The coverage of these applications extends as well to areas outside the said watersheds. The areas exclude Regions I (Ilocos) and II (Cagayan). (Click here to view Table 1.)

The biggest of the applications are the eight applications for financial and technical assistance (FTAA) which cover 451,895.7943 hectares or equivalent to 85.82 percent of the total coverage of applications in the Chico area; five exploration permit applications (EXPA) which cover 65,657 hectares (12.46 percent); and, two applications for production-sharing agreements which cover 8,991 hectares (1.70 percent).

The mining applications in the Chico River watershed area comprise 47.35 percent of the region’s total mine applications, which span 1,111,995.4352 hectares as registered and pending at the MGB-CAR office as of 2008. The region’s land area is 1,821,691.58 hectares.

Chico River Watershed Threatened

2008 data from the Cordilleras’ Regional Development Council (RDC-CAR) show that the Chico River watersheds cover 405,670.60 hectares, or 22.27 percent of the region’s total land area. These watersheds cover municipalities in the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Abra, Apayao and Kalinga. (Click here to view Table 2.)

It also shows that 53 percent or 216,554.57 hectares of the watersheds are pine, residual and mossy or old growth forests. (Click here to view Table 3.)

These municipalities are inhabited by indigenous peoples, which government acknowledged as “having instilled values and discipline on resource conservation and the practice of indigenous forest management systems.”

Tribal elders interviewed from the affected municipalities said that watersheds are actually the communal and clan managed-forests nurtured through ages by the indigenous communities themselves.

Destruction of Water Sources

The Chico River has a length of 174.67 kilometers. Its water sources start from Tinoc, Ifugao; Buguias, Benguet; and, Mountain Province and downstream. Its outlet is lowland Cagayan.

RDC-CAR records show that the Chico River’s irrigated area is 29,199.79 hectares, including the so-called rice granary areas in Rizal and Tabuk, both in Kalinga, and Cagayan province.

Like the four World Bank-funded dam projects along the Chico, the large-scale mines threaten their ancestral domain, local elders believe.

“Large-scale mining will destroy the forests, and pollute the Chico (River), which waters our rice fields and farms. Our rice fields are sources of our food that sustain the villages along the Chico River, where villagers’ primary livelihood is agriculture. It also waters fields in Pinukpuk, Tabuk and Rizal where rice is produced for the commercial markets. The water system will be polluted and will destroy our main source of livelihood which is agriculture-based,” Longan said in Iloco.

Historic Anti-Dam Struggle

He predicted though that the mining issue will unite the people, through their indigenous peace pact systems in various levels of struggles, including the taking up of arms to defend their homeland, like what they displayed in the anti-Chico dam. He shared that during the anti-Chico Dam struggle, many local villagers joined the New People’s Army (NPA) when soldiers were deployed in the opposing villages.

One of them was Pedro Dungoc, Dulag’s right-hand man. He was ambushed together with Dulag on April 24, 1980 by troops led by Lt. Leodegario Adalem, but survived. He later joined the NPA and lost his life in the armed struggle.

Longan, who experienced military atrocities during the anti-Chico struggle, said that their land issue is felt up to the present: “Every 24th of April after Macliing’s death is marked in the memory of Macliing and other martyrs who died defending the Cordillera homeland.” April 24 is now popularly known as Cordillera Day, with commemorations sponsored by the biggest regional federation of community organizations – the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA).

Growing Opposition

Various communities in the Chico area have registered opposition to the mining applications.

Upon learning of the applications in 2006, the amam-a (elders) and village officials in Bontoc upland areas registered their opposition in a joint resolution. They sent this resolution to the offices of the concerned government agencies, including the MGB-CAR. The resolution was signed by the barangay (village) captains of Mainit, Guinaang, Dalikan, and Maligcong and was endorsed by the mayor of Bontoc and the governor of this province.

They urged these government agencies “not to allow registration or declaration of any mining claims over their ancestral domains and territories.” They pointed out that there were never consultations done by the applicants to the villagers.

“We lobbied various offices and stopped only when these offices assured us of their help (in our opposition),” said Mariano Pinto, speaking in the Bontok language, said in an interview. A leader of the Dalikan sub-tribe of Bontok, he showed their petition papers thumb marked by elders of their sub-tribe.

Maps and documents show that the mining applications in the Bontoc area extend to Sagada, Mountain Province, Abra and Kalinga. Some of the areas covered by the mining applications fall within the Central Cordillera Forest Reserve under Proclamation No. 217.

According to Cordillera regional officials and MGB national officials, mining can be allowed even in these watersheds if prior rights had existed before the declaration of the areas as watersheds.

In fact, 2009 RDC-CAR documents show that mining tenements within the watershed cover a total of 1,109,516.1686 hectares or 60.91 percent of the Cordilleras’ 1,821,691.58 hectares.

No Permit Without People’s Consent

In 2006, in his answer to the opposition from the barangays in Bontoc, then MGB-CAR Dir. Neoman Dela Cruz said they will not grant any permit to the applicants until the villagers issue their consent as required by the Mining Act of 1995. The same answer was relayed to the people by the regional office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

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2 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. How many more lives have to be sacrificed for this cause? The answer, friends was just blown towards my direction by the winds of Typhoon Lando… for as long as there are people who are clothed with greed and blinded by gold, many more lives. God forbids!

  2. need some more trives to enumerate,to know how many trives in cordillera

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