Congress Validates Flaws in Securing Consent for Mining in Benguet

By KIMBERLIE OLMAYA NGABIT-QUITASOL
Northern Dispatch

BAKUN, Benguet — The claims of the residents of village Gambang here regarding the irregularities in the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process conducted by the National Commission on Indigenous People’s (NCIP) was validated in the recently concluded consultation conducted by the National Cultural Communities (NCC) of the House of Representatives on February 27.

NCC Chairman and Ifugao Representative Teodoro B. Baguilat Jr. said that, while the committee still needs to finalize its report, it was established that there were irregularities in the FPIC processes conducted by the NCIP in relation to the mining exploration application of Royalco Philippines, Inc. covering village Gambang, Bakun, Benguet.

Baguilat pointed out that among the clarifications achieved in the consultation is that dividing Gambang into phases for the conduct of the FPIC has no clear basis. He added that there should be one FPIC consultation for the entire community because Royalco’s exploration application affects the community as a whole. He added that adjacent communities should also be included in the FPIC process as mining would also affect surrounding areas.

“It is unfortunate that the provincial (Benguet) and regional (Cordillera are not present during the consultation. We gave them the chance to explain their side but they defaulted,” he said, referring to the NCIP offices. He added that the NCC would still summon the NCIP Benguet and Cordillera to explain how they conducted the FPIC process and the issuances of certifications of precondition amid strong and wide opposition.

Baguilat further said the mining applications should not be divided into exploration stages and mining operation. “Exploration leads to mining, we should not confuse the people. The intention of the exploration is really is to mine therefore it should be considered as one whole operation,” he stressed.

According to Baguilat, the minutes of the said consultation and the earlier consultation would be the bases for the NCC report. He added the consultations and committee hearings conducted regarding Royalco’s permits are in aid of legislation.

“We do not have the power to cancel the permits issued to Royalco. We conduct congressional inquiries to help us in making laws. But we can recommend and help pressure concerned agencies,” he said.

Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño, one of the proponents of House Resolution 481 urging the NCC to conduct an inquiry regarding the irregularities in the certificate of compliance issued to Royalco, stressed that the consultation established that there is a widespread opposition to the entry of Royalco in Gambang.

He said the village (Gambang) and municipal (Bakun) councils and even the provincial board have passed resolutions calling for the cancellation of the Royalco reflecting the sentiments of the majority of Gambang residents.

“Government should respect the will of the majority. We should follow the will of the people,” Casiño said.

Representative Ronald Cosalan who also attended the consultation also expressed disappointment that officials from the provincial and regional offices of the NCIP were not present to shed light on the said irregularities in the FPIC process. He added the NCIP officials responsible for the conduct of the FPIC consultations should clarify the process they conducted.

“We have to put a final decision to this. They need to justify their budget or even their existence,” he said.

NCIP Commissioner Zenaida Hamada Pawid affirmed during the consultation that there is no legal basis for breaking up into phases the FPIC process. She reiterated that the intention of the FPIC is to get the consensus of the community whether they would allow or disallow the mining operation or exploration in their domain.

Pawid explained an ancestral domain is the property of the community and not individuals or clans and therefore the course of development of the domain should be decided by the community as a whole.

She called on all Gambang residents to build their unity and decide as one community on the management and development of their domain. She also asked the community to help her in solving the problems that arose from the FPIC processes in the past.

Benguet board member and vice chairman of the Committee on Indigenous People Juan Nazaro said the NCIP violated the FPIC a provision of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA). He added that there is a problem in the actual implementation and interpretation of the law by the NCIP provincial and regional offices.

Nazaro stressed that the erring NCIP officials should be given sanctions. He added that the case of Gambang is not an isolated case as there are similar cases of questionable FPIC processes in the province. “The NCIP is abusing the FPIC. They misinterpret the law (IPRA) and their interpretation seems to favor the investors,” he said. — Reposted by (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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