Benguet mayor yields to people power on mines

BAKUN, Benguet — Residents of Barangay Gambang here prove there is power in numbers as their concerted action led the town mayor to act in their favor affirming their stand against the Royalco Philippines mineral exploration project.

AGAINST MINING. Exploration activities going on in Barangay Gambang pushed its residents to move against further mining operation in the upper villages. Mobilizations are at its height with locals trooping to government offices for support. Photo by Lyn V. Ramo/NORDIS

The same group, organized into Bantay ken kinabaknang ti Umili a Nagtaudan Aywanan (BaKUN Aywanan, earlier aired the popular clamor that pushed for the indefinite suspension of the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between “validated” community elders and Royalco Philippines as a precondition to the issuance of a free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for the said mining venture covering some 5,400 hectares.

Representing sitios grouped into the Phase III of the proposed mineral exploration, residents aboard 24 vehicles, mostly vegetable delivery trucks, started early Monday for the set dialog with Mayor Marcelo B. Contada and the town council at the Alibacong Elementary school here.

“Gaputa sigaan yo, tumulongak ta adi matuloy din exploration tan nay sya et di mailak ay panlalabanan yo.” (Because you oppose it, I will help so that the exploration will not push through because as I see it causes disunity) Contada said after Gambang residents took turns speaking their minds out for almost six hours.

Affirming the people’s position

Residents who braved the very cold Alibacong weather exchanged views in front of their barangay and town officials, each with an argument to defend, but in the end, Cuntada just affirmed their respective positions.

The MOA and eventual mining permit for Phase III has to be set aside in the face of people’s opposition, according to Cuntada. The Phase I and Phase II MOAs have to be reviewed to see how to deal with these inasmuch as some elders have signed it. “Kintaen yo no kasano a maresolba daytoy,” (See how these could be resolved) the mayor told Gambang folk who agreed in the end not to allow any mining operations in the area.

Phase III, in the new clustering made since Royalco started its social acceptability bid in Gambang, includes sitios Basig, Nametbet, Lebeng, Dosdos-dicay, Le-in, Inga-an, and Cagam-is, according to Royalco in an earlier interview. Takayan, Bagtangan, Liwan and Bolbolo are also included, according to residents, although the ground relocation survey has not been conducted.

The company and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) did not include the small scale mining communities of Mabuhay, Batanes, Pulag, Dangkigan, Gold Star and Mogao.

“These have been excised from the application for mineral exploration because a Minahang Bayan is allegedly being applied for the area,” Royalco’s Ruben Quitoriano told Nordis.

Firming up

A woman elder from Nametbet Dominga Gaspar said residents in Upper Gambang could not allow any mining operation in the area because it has been disuniting families and the neighborhood. “Uray exploration ket unggay,” (Not even exploration) as she recalled how NCIP and Royalco deceived community elders into accepting the clustering of the barangay, dividing its elders into pro-mining and anti-mining.

Benny Alingdan of sitio Cagam-is added that his neighbors stand for the children. “Itakderanmi ti kaaduan ta adu ti annak mi,” (We stand for the majority because we have so many children) he said.

Exploration, first stage of mining operation

In earlier fora, this town’s indigenous peoples said they were made to believe that exploration is not a part of a mining operation, contrary to what leaders of the Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network (BMAAN) has asserted.

BMAAN Spokesperson Vergel Aniceto, a former mine worker at Benguet Corporation’s Acupan Mines in Itogon explained that, a mining operation starts with a mineral exploration.

Phase I has been issued an exploration permit in May 2008. Phase II has been issued a MOA and awaits a mining permit.

Those opposing any mining operation in Gambang, however, claimed that the processes have been deceitful and done fraudulently.

Meanwhile, the Gambang Indigenous Peoples Association and Community Organization (GIPACO) elected its new set of officers on November 28, also in Alibacong. BMAAN Convener Fausto Maliones, a resident of Proper Gambang, is its new chairperson.

During the dialog, Maliones enlightened Bakun officials and residents that exploration permits may be converted into a mineral production sharing agreement or financial and technical assistance agreement when the holder opts to do so, quoting Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Administrative Order 2007-15. # Lyn V. Ramo(NorDis)


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