With Mining Revitalization under Aquino Gov’t, Benguet Groups Vow Fierce Opposition

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BAGUIO CITY — With the continuing entry of mining corporations in Benguet, the Benguet Mining Action Alert Network (BMAAN) vowed to further safeguard their homeland against development aggression projects.

The BMAAN is composed of indigenous peoples, peasants, church workers, industrial workers, officials from the local government units of the 12 municipalities of the province. The Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Benguet Youth, Alyansa Dagiti Pesante Iti Taeng Kordilyera (Apit-Tako), Mankayan, Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo (Maquitacdeg), Bantay ken Kinabaknang ti Umuli a Nagtaudan-Aywanan (Bakun Aywanan) are also convenors.

Santos Mero, CPA deputy secretary general, told his colleagues at a meeting in celebration of the third anniversary of the BMAAN that the cries of the people especially the indigenous communities are yet to be heard by the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III. Mero noted that Aquino did not mention mention anything about the preservation of the environment and the respect of indigenous people’s rights in his inaugural speech.

Mero explained that a month after Aquino sat in Malacañang, the President met with the officials of the Philippine Chamber on Mining and appointed Ramon Paje who served as the new Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Paje served as presidential assistant to the mining executive director on Mining Development Coucil and Mero claimed, interferes with staunch opposition of the local government unit (LGU) of South Cotabato against open-pit mining.

“It seems that the policy on the revitalization of mining through Executive Order 270 under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is being continued by Aquino,” Mero said. During the term of Arroyo, there were 23 mining applications and operations throughout the country that rose to 63 in 2007. Five of these are in the Cordillera, mostly in the province of Benguet.

Mero revealed that there is a renewed filing of mining applications under the new administration. He noted that big business tycoons like Lucio Tan, San Miguel Corporation and Eduardo Cojuangco who previously were not interested in mining, are now collaboating with mining companies. There is also an expansion of magnetite mining especially in the provinces of Ilocos Sur and Norte, Cagayan and Isabela. There is also an increase in coal mining contracts, he said.

In the Cordillera, there are 215 approved and pending mining and exploration applications. In these applications, the rights of the IPs on Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) are at stake. “The people are caught unaware that there are already approved mining applications in their area,” said Mero in the local dialect.

Mero said that in places where there are mining applications and when there is strong opposition, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are deployed. “Militarization escalates and more human rights violations are committed,” Mero said.

Ernesto Soliben, Bakun-Aywanan secretary general, said troops from the 503rd Brigade of the Philippine Arny were deployed in the areas of Bakun. 503rd is operating in Abra and some parts of Benguet and Mountain Province.

BMAAN spokesman Engineer Vergel Aniceto said that the opposition of the IPs grows stronger. He said the Bakun folks are consolidating their ranks in their opposition against the entry of a mining company from Brazil owned by Vale through Royalco Mining Company.

Aniceto also said that the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found that there are violations on the FPIC rights of the community of Gambang, Bakun. FPIC is facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to get the consensus of the community affected by the entry of a mining exploration.

Aniceto also noted the strong position of the Save the Apayao Peoples Organization (SAPO) against Oceana Gold Mining Corporation. Aniceto said the people of Kibungan and Bakun are on guard against the entry of Solfotara Mining Company.

BMAAN will continue its campaign against destructive mining operations and development aggressions, Aniceto said.

Aniceto said BMAAN will continue organizing the people of Benguet. He also said the network will study the utilization of the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in their campaign. Posted by: (Bulatlat.com)

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