By ALMA B. SINUMLAG
Posted by Bulatlat.com
MANKAYAN, Benguet — In sitio (subvillage) Tabbac, Bulalacao of this town, a month long barricade continues in opposition to the drilling activities of Goldfields. Support from the town’s neighboring villages, people’s organizations, and partylist group continue to reach the barricade site, which, according to residents, made them firm in their fight against mining.
On the first week of January, residents here headed by the Barangay Bulalacao Movement for the protection of environment Inc. (BBM) and Tabbak Community Organization (TCO) set up a barricade right beside the drilling site to express their strong opposition to the project.
In an interview, Sangguniang Bayan member Joseph Denver Tongacan said that upon knowing of Goldfields’ plan, they went to the site and asked the company where they got their permit. A representative of the company said they have the right to continue the project because they already have a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the surface owners of the land subjected to drilling.
Tongacan sought the opinion of the municipal mayor regarding the issue and the mayor shared the opinion of the company.
However, Tongacan said that Bulalacao residents are firm in their stand against the project because they have already learned their lesson from the history of drilling in their village. He shared that more than one hundred holes existed in the area due to Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company’s (LCMCo) Victoria Gold project in the 1990s. Their water sources were depleted since the drillings were done in their area. Large cracks in the soil were also attributed to the numerous holes underneath.
Tongacan added that the said Victoria drilling was met by a community barricade which lasted for six months despite the charges filed by LCMCo against their leaders. He added that after long years of litigation, the court ruled in favor of the community.
Antonio Langaoan, one of the elders who supervises the barricade, said they are peace loving people who are just fighting for their rights over their ancestral land and the protection of their environment. He believes that if the company will continue the drilling, their village will become a ghost town in the future, as community will eventually leave the place because of the fear that their land will collapse like in some parts of the town.
Residents noticed large cracks in several houses but he lamented that their complaints of the adverse effects of LCMCo’s operation are being ignored when it was raised to the company and proper authorities. He even feared that if the company will insist on pursuing the project, there is a big possibility that their leaders will be charged, and possibly imprisoned, just like what they experienced during the Victoria Gold project.
Goldfields and Lepanto
Santos Mero, deputy secretary general of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), explained that the drilling is part of LCMCo’s Far Southeast (FSE) project that is being funded by Goldfields.
Goldfields according to Mero is a South African mining company which is the fourth biggest gold producing company in the world. In September last year, Goldfields entered into an agreement with LCMCo for the gold mine operation in this town.
In the press release of Goldfields in September 2010, the company invested $120 million in LCMCo’s FSE’s project and they are given 18 months to acquire 60-percent interest in the FSE’s deposit. “Gold Fields will conduct a major drilling program as part of a feasibility study on the deposit,” stated the press release.
After coming from the supposed congressional onsite hearing on Thursday in Bakun, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino visited the barricade area to know the peoples’ clamor to stop the drilling activities. After receiving the community’s position paper and documents, he said, “It is clear that the enemy is a giant however, a giant can be also defeated sometimes.”
Casino then challenged the community to continue fighting even though their enemy is considered as a giant. He promised that they will study their issue and echo it in the national level. He also advised them to be courageous with their struggle while they (in Congress) will see what they can to address the issue.
Beverly Longid of Katribu said the issue in Bulalacao is not isolated. She shared that most of the indigenous communities in the Philippines are experiencing the same. It is in these communities where the remaining mineral resources are found, she explained, that is why companies are doing everything just to extract the said resources at the expense of the indigenous people.
On the other hand, Ambino Padawi, the barangay chieftain of Colalo, expressed his solidarity with the people of Bulalacao. The problems of the Colalo and Bulalacao are interconnected. If the drilling will pursue, he said their water springs will be contaminated. Because Colalo is in the lower area, he fears that they will again be utilized as dumpsite for their tailings.
Padawi challenged the Bulalacao community to take their experience as an example. He recounted that due to the mining operations of LCMCo, their elementary school sank causing the death of one person. Sadly, he said, LCMCo insisted that the sinking was due to natural cause.
Meanwhile, Governor Nestor Fongwan said in an interview that the MPSA was secured by LCMCo prior to the advent of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and therefore they are not required to conduct a free prior and informed consent (FPIC). He said, however, that the company should still consult the community regarding the project.