Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 3, Number 10 April 6 - 12, 2003 Quezon City, Philippines
Protecting Lepanto Mining in Ilocos Sur?
The Maengs and Kankanaeys – two
ethnolinguistic tribes – will host Cordillera Day on April 24, in Quirino,
Ilocos Sur. Unlike in previous Cordillera Days – held in Cordillera towns to
commemorate Kalinga leader Macliing Dulag’s martyrdom and the Cordillera
people’s struggle for self-determination – this year’s event will be held
in the upland mining area of Quirino where Lepanto Mining Corporation has
reportedly turned the mighty Abra River virtually into a “dead river.” But
there’s another threat to the villagers – increased militarization.
BY AUDREY MARY BELTRAN
A soldier in civilian clothes check his M-16 in the town plaza of Legleg, Quirino, Ilocos Sur
Photo by Audrey Mary Beltran
stillness in Quirino, Ilocos Sur is deceiving.
the people go about their daily lives farming and vending, they are living in a
state of fear. The Charlie and
Bravo Company of the 50th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of
the Philippines (AFP) have been conducting counter-insurgency operations in the
area since October last year.
then, residents of Quirino, particularly in Barangay Patiacan, have reportedly
experienced human rights violations ranging from harassment to indiscriminate
most recent incident was the search conducted by 25 soldiers from Bravo Company
of the 50th IB in Barangay Tubtuba or Lamag, the host community for
Cordillera Day 2003, last March 29. The
houses of Barangay Captain Dengaey, Pedro Oticao, Juan Andres, Mateo Dumayag,
Juan Dolliente, Lakay Alluyen and Victorino Coplanga - all staunch advocates
against Lepanto mining expansion and operations - were searched for M16s and an
M14 that allegedly belong to the New Peoples Army (NPA). The search team was
headed by a Sergeant Serillo.
search yielded not a single bullet or firearm. On what basis Judge Ferdinand Fe
of Bauang, La Union issued the alleged search warrant remains a question.
operations started in October last year and became more frequent after villagers
from Quirino, Cervantes, Mankayan and Tadian held a series of meetings and an
environmental investigatory mission on the effects of Lepanto Mining on the Abra
residents said the soldiers warned them against opposing the Lepanto operations
and expansion during military-conducted mass meetings last year.
Marcelo Bal-iyang of Legleg, Quirino believes these military actions are aimed
at instilling fear in the people to prevent them from participating in
anti-mining meetings and assemblies. He refuses to believe that the military
presence had something to do with a reported encounter between government troops
and the NPA last March 3.
the Quirino villagers remain defiant to the military warnings. Last March 4-5,
four municipalities forged unity against mining. Over 300 delegates from four
municipalities of Benguet, Mountain Province and Ilocos Sur formed MAQUITACDEG
(for Mankayan, Quirino, Tadian, Cervantes Danggayan a Gunglo). A local term
spelled differently, makitakdeg means
to stand beside or to fight with.
Sario Malinias of Mountain Province, lawyer Tom Bayugan of Tadian,
representatives from Bauko, Mountain Province, Save the Abra River Movement (STARM)
and the mine workers of the Lepanto Employees Union also expressed their full
solidarity with the organization.
prayers, songs, poetry readings and discussions, the participants united on the
position to save the Abra River, to demand for compensation for the people’s
losses, to stop the large, destructive mining operations and expansion plans of
Lepanto mining company.
town plaza to military camp
March 4, Charlie Company led by a 2nd Lt. Nilo Machete slipped into
Legleg, the heart of Quirino, and virtually turned the town plaza into a
military camp. The act, village leaders said, violated Philippine human rights
laws as well as the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians in times of
war or military operations.
M203s and other high-powered guns have been in full public view since then.
Military men, some in civilian clothes, roamed the streets of Legleg with their
certain Private First Class Marinas took close-range pictures of community
leaders, human rights workers of Dinteg (Cordillera Indigenous Peoples Law
Center) and of leaders and organizers of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA)
in the area.
Machete gave contradictory reasons for their stay at the town plaza. During the
first days of their stay, he said that they were the blocking force for the 50th
IB operations, adding that an armed encounter in Patiacan, Quirino took place.
Last March 14, after they failed to convince villagers of their continued
presence in Legleg, he said that they were waiting for their supplies and needed
rest. That morning, Bravo Company headed by a 1st Lt. Quitoriano
joined them bringing the military deployment in the municipality to almost a
refuses to dialog
public dialogue to discuss the military presence in Quirino was supposed to take
place on the same day at the Legleg town plaza.
Other issues to be tackled were the AFP plan for the reactivation of the
Citizens Armed Force Geographical Units (CAFGU) in the municipality, the
“malicious branding” of people’s organizations, individuals and the CPA as
NPA front organizations and cases of human rights violations allegedly committed
by soldiers in the area. But the military and local officials canceled the
dialogue at the last minute.
Jaime Asiong’s executive secretary, Vilma Asiong, explained in an interview
that the mayor received an “order” from a high official to snub the meeting.
Asiong then refused to allow the villagers the use of the town plaza for the
assembly. But the villagers stood to their ground and held a meeting at the town
plaza anyway. Community leaders from Lamag, Cabaroan, Patiacan and even from
Legleg took turns to denounce the effects of the Lepanto mining in their areas
and the ongoing militarization.
Local villagers take water sample from Aptot River (now known as Lepanto River) to test the extent of contamination from Lepanto's mine tailings. Photo by Jessica Kellett
April 24, residents will host Cordillera Day, an annual celebration of the
people’s struggle for the defense of land, life and resources, at the
foothills of the Cordillera mountain ranges – in Lamag or Barangay Tubtuba,
Quirino. Cordillera Day, which used
to be called Macli-ing Memorial, is celebrated on the day of Macli-ing Dulag’s
martyrdom, which falls on April 24, some 20 years ago.
this year’s solidarity gathering is an indigenous peasant community composed
of two ethnolinguistic groups – Maeng and Kankanaey.
Kankanaey is the dialect predominantly spoken in the area.
The role of the Dap-ay or the traditional village center led by the
Council of Elders of the ethnolinguistic groups remains intact and decisive in
the community culture.
coming Cordillera Day will highlight the people’s struggle against large-scale
and destructive mining by Lepanto. Villagers
say that since 1936 the corporation has been dumping wastes and heavy metals on
the Abra River. This has resulted
in the death of marine life in the river, the poisoning of farm animals and
irrigation system and the destruction of hundreds of hectares of agricultural
land downstream the Abra River. The
people also suspect that the toxic water is the cause of the diseases and
several cases of death due to cancer in the area.
the start of the Victoria Gold Project in 1995 and the discovery of more gold
deposits in the neighboring municipalities of Mankayan, Lepantlo has been
aggressive in its production and more exploration. Bulatlat.com