“We must put an end to this policy of poison and plunder, and must make sure that politicians who will continue this mining policy regime are no longer allowed to remain in power.”
by DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Theirs are stories of discoloured soil and poisoned waters, violated rights and broken promises. Indigenous peoples from mining-affected communities, for the past two decades have oft-repeated their opposition to destructive, foreign mining, and the law that allows it.
In various mass actions at the National Capital Region on Aug. 11, they repeated a call: to repeal the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, or Republic Act 7942, which they said had been a “tool for plunder and destruction.” In its place, should be “a patriotic, pro-indigenous peoples, pro-environment” mining law.
At the House of Representatives, the broad alliance, Scrap the Mining Act Network submitted its petition, which has gathered at least 15,000 signatories after a year of campaign. Outside the North gate of Congress, indigenous peoples from Luzon staged a “die-in” and ripped a symbolic “Mining Act” to depict the call of mining-affected communities.
Meanwhile, members of the Save Antique Movement picketed the office of the Department of Energy in Taguig city, then the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City, to call for the closure of Semirara coal mine owned by the David M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI).
“For 20 years, the law has facilitated and continues to legalize the land grabbing of our ancestral lands and resources by foreign and large-scale mining companies,” said Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the Katribu Kalipunan ng Mamamayang Pilipino (Katribu), and convener of the Scrap the Mining Act Network.
“The Mining Act is not only a threat to our land and resources, but the very survival of indigenous communities all over the country,” Malayao said in a statement.
The groups said President Aquino is also accountable, for his Executive Order 79 even broadened the Mining Act.
“The continuing perpetuation of the destructive and plunderous Mining Act is a hallmark of the Aquino administration’s brand of environmental governance,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.
Bautista said Kalikasan had recorded at least 19 mine spills and other incidents of mine pollution, or almost one major incident per year. “The worst has been the Philex mine spill in Padcal, Benguet last August 2012, where at least 20 million metric tons of mine waste inundated the entire Togupon Creek and the connected Agno River,” he said.
“We must put an end to this policy of poison and plunder, and must make sure that politicians who will continue this mining policy regime are no longer allowed to remain in power,” he said.
“Is it a crime to defend our own lands? You have the right to defend your land because that is your life. Why do these foreigners come here only to call us criminals?” said Lilian Fallao, of the Save Mankayan Movement in Benguet province, who joined the die-in outside congress.
Fallao, like many indigenous peoples who resisted mining, had been charged with criminal and civil cases. She was among the 97 community residents facing complaints filed by the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Corporation (LCMC), for barricading its drilling site in Tabio village, Mankayan. Although the criminal cases had been dismissed, civil cases remain, and are still being heard in court.
“Lepanto has been there for 77 years, but there is still no development in the host community,” Fallao said. Instead, she said, decades of mining has taken its toll on the people and environment.
“We can see how our community is slowly sinking,” she said, adding that there are cracks to their houses and roads.
The LCMC had partnered with the South African company, Far Southeast Gold Resources Inc. (FSGRI), for a joint venture in mining expansion. Fallao said local government officials colluded with the company to manipulate the process for free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), in which they had expressed opposition to the expansion, but in vain.
In 2011, they put up a barricade to stop the drilling operations, which they successfully halted in 2012. Fallao said they have removed the barricade, but still maintain vigilance, and keep watch at the drilling site.
Meanwhile, the residents face a new battle, as LCMC has applied to convert its Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) into a Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA). This year, the company already signed a memorandum of agreement with Mankayan council of elders.
The Mankayan municipal council denied the company’s appeal for endorsement, but the Benguet provincial council had obliged. Two village councils, Tabio and Bulalacao, had also said no to an endorsement, while six other villages had given theirs.
Fallao said her group had submitted its petition to the local offices of the National Council on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), to express their opposition to LCMC operations. On Aug. 11, they submitted the same petition to the NCIP national office.
Rivers, farms turned red
From the island province of Palawan, Erlinda Geñoso, and other members of the indigenous Pinagtibukang Kaundang-Undangan it Pelawan (PKP), joined the lobbying in Congress. She said their farm lands and water ways had “turned red,” with contamination of nickel-laterite from the operation of the Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation.
Geñoso, 47, is a resident of Labog village, one of the five communities affected by Citinickel’s mining, which began exploration in 2008, and eventually started operations in 2010. In June 2014, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau suspended the mining operations after a silt spill polluted the Pasi and Pulot rivers due to a breach in its silt pond. The MGB lifted the suspension six months later, after Citinickel paid P3 million ($65,000) in penalty.
Geñoso said they used to harvest 100 cavans of rice per hectare, even without using chemical fertilizers. Now, farm yield is down to only 50 cavans, because of mining contamination. She said that now they have to use a lot of chemical fertilizer to get 80 cavans.
“We have opposed the mining from the start, but we were told that there is nothing we can do, because the mayor and other government officials support the company,” said Geñoso.
She said the company promised jobs, electricity, potable water, schools and clinics in the community.
“They can’t even pay the one percent royalty tax which is their obligation in the agreement, let alone keep such promises,” said Geñoso.
“We see what they’re doing to us is just too much,” she said. This year, the Palawan indigenous peoples mobilized themselves in droves to call for a halt to the mining.
In Antique island, nine mine workers were killed in July in a landslide at the Semirara coal mine — the second following a similar tragedy in 2013, which killed 10 workers.
“The landslides in Semirara was once a tragedy, but for it to occur twice proves that so-called responsible mining is a farce,” said Bautista.
Studies cited by Caritas Philippines said the DMCI coal mining in Semirara has destroyed some 83 hectares of mangroves, two kilometers of coral reefs, and continues to poison rich, fishing grounds shared by Antique, Romblon, Mindoro and Palawan.
Knocking on their representatives
“If only this mining law were for the people, and not for foreign corporations,” Benedictine nun Mother Mary John Mananzan, OSB, a lead convenor of Scrap the Mining Act Network, who joined the lobbying.
“We can see that we only have a few virgin forests and minerals, then, these will be taken away by foreigners…it’s unfair,” she said.
The Scrap the Mining Act Network submitted its petition to the office of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, and to the heads of the committees on natural resources and indigenous cultural communities and indigenous peoples.
It was in 2014 when the group first submitted a copy of the petition to Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate and chair of the committee on indigenous peoples, North Cotabato Rep. Nancy Catamco. The latter had been recently condemned by various groups for insulting Lumad evacuees, and forcing them to return home.
Also on Aug. 11, indigenous leaders led by Katribu visited their district representatives in their respective areas at their offices in Congress, to ask support for their opposition to mining and hydroelectric power projects.
The groups called for an alternative to “the liberalized, foreign-controlled and export-oriented mining industry.”
“We also call for the enactment of a mining bill that embodies the Filipino people’s desire for a mining industry that upholds national sovereignty and patrimony, social justice, environment protection and people’s rights and welfare,” said Tyrone Beyer, Scrap the Mining Act Network convener.