“The people affected by mining has long been asking the government to side with them. It is obvious, however, that government is quicker to respond to the interests of mining companies.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Misamis Oriental — Every other day, the Tumambang family of Sitio Opis in San Fernando, Bukidnon is able to eat rice and vegetables. In between, they fill their empty stomachs with bananas, sweet potatoes and cassava.
Tumambang and her family plant rice for their consumption, and at times, sell it to the market. “I knew from the very start that we are poor. But I never realized that much worse is about to come,” Leah Tumambang, 37, told Bulatlat.com.
Given the poverty they are experiencing in their community, she said, most of the residents did not think twice about accepting the Eagle Mining Company to mine in their community sometime in September 2008. The mining company promised, she said, that it would build schools, health centers and other projects that would benefit the people.
People were promised that they would have an opportunity to build concrete home. But most importantly, residents were told that they would be given jobs.
But none of these promises came true. Tumambang said, the mining operations made their lives harder instead.
“The mining company ruined our water system, where we get potable water,” she said, adding that the water pipes, which was donated to the community by a German NGO, was destroyed. “They never bothered to fix it.”
Tumambang added that the mining waste spilled to the river where the community,since time immemorial, usually wash their clothes. With the polluted water in the community, many, most especially the children, suffer from diarrhea – a sickness they never experienced before the mining activities in their area began.
To add to their woes, the mining company also destroyed their crops. Fruit-bearing trees were cut down. Families who owned the trees were compensated, ranging from $116 to $232. “But it is not enough. We could earn so much more from those trees, which are more sustainable for the Lumads.”
“We gathered together, consolidated our ranks and decided that it is time to drive them away,” Tumambang said.
The residents, according to Tumambang, tried all the possible means to drive the mining company away from their community and salvage what was left of their water resources. They sent petition letters and held dialogues with local government officials, But, she said, local officials told them that they could not do anything to help the community because they should honor the signed agreement.
“But why should we honor such agreement if the mining company did not do their part?” she said.
On February 22, the New People’s Army burned down the equipment used by the Eagle Mining Company because of its “environmentally destructive mining operations, for ignoring the demands of the Lumad in the area and the call of the church people for mining to stop, and, for threatening to file cases against and summarily killing some leaders who opposed the operations of the company.”
In a statement posted in the official website of the Communist Party of the Philippines, they belied reports of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that they burned down the equipment of the mining companies because of its failure to pay revolutionary taxes. “In truth, the AFP protects these companies that destroy the environment, and it is one of their sources of corruption.”
Since then, the mining company has not yet resumed their operations. “In a way, it was also a victory for us. I was happy when I learned about the attack but at the back of my mind, I knew that the people in authority would find ways to put the blame on us Lumads.”
True to Tumambang’s intuition, she said, members of the 8th, 9th and the 26th Infantry Battalions were soon deployed to their community, causing fear among the Lumads. “We are not happy with them around. We are not comfortable farming with soldiers, in full battle gear, roaming around our community.”
The military, according to Tumambang, also singled her out from the rest of the community. In two separate occasions, she was sent a letter, inviting her to come over to the military camp. She added that soldiers would interview her, asking the same questions over and over again. “As if they were waiting for me to let slip that I am a member of the NPA,” she said.
“I would tell them that I am a mere leader of women peasants, lobbying and fighting for our ancestral lands,” Tumambang told Bulatlat.com.
Tumambang was also told to “stop being an NPA” and offer her services to the military as an intelligence asset instead. “I keep telling them that I am not an NPA. Should they catch me carrying firearms, I give them my consent to kill me that very moment. But all I have in my fight is the strength of the people fighting for a decent living, against poverty.”
Jomorito Goaynon, chair of Kalumbay Regional Lumad Organization, said the military is almost always used to quell the resistance of the people. He added that one of their techniques, as evident in both Oplan Bantay Laya and the present administration’s Oplan Bayanhihan, is to red tag groups who are against mining.
Goaynon said they have received reports that the military would tell residents not to join the fight against mining because that would necessarily translate to being an NPA. “They were threatened that they would be abducted and killed,” he said, adding that there were some who wanted to join the recently concluded peasants march but was afraid to go.
Goaynon said their organization could not blame the locals for fighting against mining because it is causing environmental degradation and its impact on their livelihood. “It destroys the land and everything that lives on it,” he said, “It is plunder.”
Kalumbay said there are currently 51 multinational companies applying for permits in Bukidnon to mine copper, nickel, gold and manganese. Three companies, on other other hand, are already in their exploration stage.
Tumambang said the government has forgotten the plight of the farmers and the rest of the locals who are directly affected by the harmful effects of mining. She said the nickel mining company in Surigao de Norte that was attacked by the New People’s Army on October 3 and featured in a GMA 7’s I-Witness report for its environmentally destructive operations is now back on track through the assistance of the government and the military.
On October 3, the NPA burned down the mining facilities of Taganito Mining Corporation and the Platinum Gold Metal Corporation “to protect the environment and natural resources and for the defense of rights of the Lumad people.” Since the attack, however, the AFP has announced the formation of Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary units, which will be trained and allowed to carry firearms, to areas where there are major mining operations.
President Benigno S. Aquino III said he is fully supporting the AFP in it plans. “We do not foresee any abuses from them but rather they will augment the abilities of our security forces to preserve peace and order in our country,” Aquino told the media.
In a GMAnews report, Nickel Asia Corporation, parent of Taganito Mining Corporation, said they have already resumed their normal operations. Mining companies added that they are expected to ship ore in the first week of November.
“Our Taganito team has worked hard to get operations back to normal almost immediately,” Nickel Asia president and CEO Gerard H. Brimo said, reassuring its shareholders and investors that they already have an expenditure program, amounting to $11.6 million, to replace the machinery and equipment damaged during the raid.
“We call on the government to repeal the Mining Act of 1995 as it would not do good to our country and to the people,” Tumambang said, adding that she and some of the residents of Sitio Opis participated in the peasants march to demand to the government to heed their calls.
Goaynon said this shows the biases of the government for mining companies. “The people affected by mining has long been asking the government to side with them. It is obvious, however, that government is quicker to respond to the interests of mining companies,” she said, “The people have no choice but to continue to fight.”