By ALDWIN QUITASOL
Posted by Bulatlat.com
LA TRINIDAD, Benguet — Some 250 indigenous peoples, mostly of Kankana-ey-Bago tribe, from Gambang, Bakun successfully stopped the supposed signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) that will pave the way for the entry of Australian mining firm Royalco Philippines Inc. into their ancestral territory.
The Bakun residents held a picket in front of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) provincial office here to protest the scheduled signing of the MOA between a couple of landowners in Bakun and representatives of Royalco particularly for the Phase 3 of Royalco’s mining application.
The protesters boarded 11 trucks and were accompanied by local government officials of Bakun and Gambang headed by Municipal Mayor Marcelo B. Contada and Punong Barangay Alvaro Paquito. Delegations from nearby areas affected by Royalco’s application in Madaymen, Kibungan, headed by Punong Bgy. Homer Teliaken and Mankayan residents also supported the protest action.
Trouble with NCIP
Ernesto Soriben, secretary general of the local group Bantay ken Kinabaknang ti Umili a Nagtaudan – Aywanan (Bakun Aywanan) said it seems it is not only the Royalco they are having trouble with, but also with the NCIP as well.
Soriben said that they have already registered their strong opposition to mining through petitions and letters and yet the NCIP continues to ignore them. He said they trooped to the NCIP office to assert the recognition of their rights as indigenous peoples out to preserve their birthright.
The group submitted a letter to NCIP-Cordillera Administrative Region Regional Director Amador Batay-an requesting him to stop the signing of the MOA for Phase III.
Benguet Gov. Nestor Fongwan who arrived at the picket protest called Batay-an through his phone and invited him to have a dialogue with the Bakun folk. Batay-an said there is already a final NCIP decision denying the petitions filed earlier by the residents.
The protesters proceeded to the NCIP regional office but were told by NCIP personnel that Batay-an was in the Mt. Province. One of the NCIP staff only promised the group that they will study their complaint and contact them soon on developments.
Bakun folks are protesting the issuance of the certificate of compliance to the FPIC by the NCIP to Royalco. “It seems the NCIP is no longer listening to us people of Bakun,” said Benny Alingdan of Gambang.
Weeks earlier, some of the Bakun elders were invited to a MOA signing that was scheduled on September 8. They said the MOA was for the few landowners who favored an exploration. The elders said this was a violation of the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) process.
They added that under the said process, it is the consensus of all members of the indigenous cultural community or indigenous peoples to be determined in accordance to their tradition without interference, coercion, and obtained after disclosing the intent and scope of the proposed activity.
“Our consensual agreement for MOA signing is necessary. We cannot be deliberately divided into phases, clusters and now as landowners for any FPIC certification,” the letter stated. A copy of the letter was also submitted or furnished to Fongwan and other provincial officials.
In a solidarity statement, Xavier Akien, vice chairperson for internal affairs of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) expressed concern with regard to the NCIP’s position.
“We are alarmed at the turn of events in Bakun, where indigenous peoples’ rights to ancestral land and democratic participation to the FPIC process are being ignored and violated,” Akien said.
On the night of September 3, residents of Gambang stopped the planned drilling and mineral sampling activities of Royalco. They set up a barricade to block the entry of mining equipment of Royalco, while they contacted Bakun Mayor Marcelo Contada and requested police assistance.
At the same time they also asked Contada to inform the Royalco office at Sinipsip, Buguias not to push through with their plan.
The residents said that they have done all legal remedies, but still the NCIP’s decision of issuing such a certificate and the proposed MOA signing frustrated their efforts.
One of the residents, Silvano Baktaw, said they have no recourse but to assert their rights through holding such mass protest actions.
Former Benguet Provincial Board Member Joseph Cosente told the protesters that it is always right to fight for the preservation of their land and farming as their main source of livelihood.
Rima Libongen of the Itogon Inter Barangay Alliance (IIb-A), who joined the Bakun delegation said many of their forefathers came from Bakun. “If you look at Itogon, the land is so devastated because of so many years of bulk mining operations there. We should not let this happen to Bakun),” she said.
“We support Bakun Aywanan’s continuing actions to save their ancestral lands against destructive mining and instead develop sustainable agriculture as their livelihood source,” Akien said. Northern Dispatch/Posted by Bulatlat.com