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Volume 3,  Number 10               April 6 - 12, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Military Protecting Lepanto Mining in Ilocos Sur? 
Maengs, Kankanaeys to Host Cordillera Day

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.


A soldier in civilian clothes check his M-16 in the town plaza of Legleg, Quirino, Ilocos Sur

Photo by Audrey Mary Beltran

The stillness in Quirino, Ilocos Sur is deceiving.

While 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.

Since then, residents of Quirino, particularly in Barangay Patiacan, have reportedly experienced human rights violations ranging from harassment to indiscriminate firing.

The 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.

The 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.

The real motives

Military 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 River system.

Quirino residents said the soldiers warned them against opposing the Lepanto operations and expansion during military-conducted mass meetings last year. 

Tatang 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.


But 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.

Gov. 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. 

In 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.

From town plaza to military camp

Last 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.

M16s, 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 armalites.

A 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.

Lieutenant 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 battalion.

Military refuses to dialog

A 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.

Mayor 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

Cordillera Day 2003

On 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.

Hosting 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. 

The 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.

Since 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

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