“One hundred ten years of operations of Benguet Corporation, 77 years of Lepanto Mining Corporation and 57 years of Philex Mining Corporation did not bring development to the people of Cordillera.” – Beverly Longid, Katribu Partylist
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The Cordillera region is rich in mineral reserves such as gold copper, silver, zinc, and non-metallic minerals like sand, gravel and sulphur. It is home to the three longest-operating mining giants in the country.
Today, one-third of the Cordillera’s land area of more than 1.8 million hectares is covered by mining operations, mining permits and applications.
“One hundred ten years of operations of Benguet Corporation, 77 years of Lepanto Mining Corporation and 57 years of Philex Mining Corporation did not bring development to the people of Cordillera,” Beverly Longid, president of Katribu partylist said in a forum organized by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and and Resistance and Solidarity Against Agrochemical TNCs (RESIST), Oct. 8 at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
According to 2012 data of the National Statistical Coordinating Board (NSCB), 22.6 percent of families in the region remain poor.
Regional unemployment in the third quarter of 2011 was pegged at 4.7 percent and unemployment rate at 13.4 percent, according to official estimates of the Regional Development Council of the Cordillera Autonomous Region (CAR).
“Contrary to the claims by the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] and the Chamber of Mines, the Filipino people and the country do not benefit from mining,” Longid said.
Data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) showed that in 2012 reveals that mining contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was only 0.7 percent. Employment in mining and quarrying was not significant, too, at a rate of 0.7 percent in the same year.
While the gross production value in mining was P146.4 billion ($3.38 billion) in 2012, taxes, fees and royalties from the industry was only P12.12 million ($282,212). The amount is only 8.3 percent of the gross value in mining.
In the first half of 2011 alone, Philex Mining Corporation’s estimated value of ore production is P8.2 billion ($189.62 million). Regional development council data also shows that during the third quarter of 2011, large-scale gold output in the Cordillera was valued at P2.53 million ($53,187), silver production at P53.15 million ($1.23 million) and copper concentrate output at 1.51 million ($35,000).
“If there is impunity in violation of political rights, there is also the corporate impunity of mining companies,” Longid said. “It is about time to hold them accountable for the many years of destruction of the environment.”
Energy projects for whom?
Aside from being rich in mineral deposits, the Cordillera region is also a major energy producer. Its bodies of water can provide 4,000 megawatts of electricity or around 70 percent of the need of National Power Corporation for the Luzon grid, Longid said.
Two of the oldest dams were built in Benguet — the Ambuklao dam in Bokod built in 1956 and the Binga dam in Itogon which opened in 1960.
“There was no resistance at that time. Using deception, lies, promises of compensation and jobs, the people believed the government,” Longid said. “More than 150 families were displaced from Ambuklao and 350 families from Binga.”
Longid said the locals were relocated to Palawan, which they later discovered were occupied by the local folk. “They were forced to migrate to another place which is infested with malaria. The same thing happened to those who went to Nueva Ecija. The supposed relocation area was occupied by the Bugkalot.”
Longid said that besides the issue of relocation, which had not been resolved, the indigenous peoples who were driven out of their land were not paid compensation. The National Power Corporation said it would buy the land at 25 centavos per square meter. At that time, the value of the land was P2 per square meter. Until now, the displaced families have not received anything,” Longid said.
“Worse, these areas were not electrified,” Longid said.
Longid said plans are underway to build 41 hydropower projects in different parts of the region. She said that two giants are involved in these projects – Chevron and Aboitiz Group of Companies.
“Chevron has the worst record in the world in terms of violation of laws in environmental protection,” Longid said. “In Burma, it is reportedly financing paramilitary groups to protect its projects.”
“Again, the question is for whom? It is not for the people of the Cordillera,” Longid said.
Longid said “opposition to development aggression projects should not rest solely in affected areas of indigenous peoples but it should be the collective endeavor of the Filipino people.”
Longid said the people want a new framework on the use of natural resources. Mining and other natural resources, she said, should be used for genuine national development.