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A Journey of Faith, Hope, and Struggle
Volume 20 Number 4
Friday, 06 November 2009 13:51
Paul P. Bacungan
Project Staff, TFDP-Mainstreaming Human Rights Project
Nueva Vizcaya

Before they came, we were living peacefully. We had abundant fresh water, fertile soil for our vegetables and rice, timber to build our small houses, and most especially, healthy relationships amongst us.

When the mining company came, all of these changed. Not only did they threaten to pollute our waters and land, level Dinkidi Hill, and submerge sitio Dinauyan to construct their tailings dam, the mining company is set to wipe out the Ifugao here in Didipio.”

Dinaon Inlab,
An elderly Ifugao woman of
Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya
“Land is our life. Land is our physical life - food and substance. Land is our social life, it is marriage, it is status, it is security, it is politics. In fact, it is our only life. Tribesmen would rather die to protect their traditional land… When you take our land, you cut away the heart of our existence…

Big multinational foreign companies, being from an alien culture would neither understand nor grasp the significance of this. For them, land is a commodity to be bought or sold. They just treat as an exploitable resource…Why would they violate the indigenous communities’ right to exist?”

Augustine Hala,
An Indigenous people from Papua New Guinea


This is not the first time that you will hear the story I am about to tell. In fact, maybe you have heard enough stories about indigenous peoples… You have heard stories of “natives” being dislocated from their ancestral lands, of indigenous peoples (IP/IPs) who fought the intrusion of multinational companies, of a tribal leader like Macli-ing Dulag who was treacherously murdered in defense of his tribe’s right to their ancestral domain and so on and so forth…

In the Philippines, the indigenous people’s centuries-old struggle for their ancestral land is not just a simple issue of their right to self-determination but more so for their rights to exist as a people and as “co-creators”. It is a struggle for their right to life. It is a journey of faith, hope and struggle.


A JOURNEY OF FAITH AND STRUGGLE

The increasing demand of global consumption at the turn of the 20th century for minerals and other natural resources saw the need to explore, exploit and extract the natural resources. But the irony of this is the fact that these “exploitable” resources are inhabited by the so-called indigenous peoples. Extractive industries like oil, gas and mining, not to mention commercial logging and huge dam projects, are among the most serious threats to IPs territories and means of subsistence.

In the Cordilleras, thousands of IPs - Ifugaos, Kankanaeys, Ibalois, Kalanguyas and others -- were forced to leave their original lands and migrated to other areas. “Development aggression” by the multinational corporations in the form of mining industries and commercial logging concessions, with the support of the national government, has seen the influx of IPs to other provinces, like Nueva Vizcaya.

Hoping for a better, undisturbed life, some Ifugaos settled in Barangay Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya in the early 60s. Didipio is one of the thirty barangays of the municipality and covers a land area of more than 3,751 hectares - 372 hectares are being maximized for agricultural purposes and the rest for forest land use.

Didipio is originally a part of the ancestral domain or a hunting ground of the Bugkalots (Ilongot) until the early 1960s when migrants from Ifugao converted most of the hills and valleys of the area into farm fields of rice, corn, beans, banana, citrus and other productive crops. Initially, there were only about 50 families who inhabited the area but in the 1970s, migrants increased rapidly due to the introduction of commercial logging and small-scale mining activities.

The barangay is rich in mineral and natural resources -- gold, copper and other minerals -- and presently inhabited by indigenous (mostly Ifugaos/Igorots) and non-indigenous peoples who nurture these resources in a sustainable and productive way since the 1960s. Most of the inhabitants depend on agriculture for their own subsistence and their primary source of income. Majority of their products are palay, ginger, various vegetables and citrus. This boosted Kasibu to become the fruit and vegetable bowl of the whole province of Nueva Vizcaya.

Didipio straddles the Mamparang peaks which form part of the majestic Sierra Madre Mountain range. Its land area is characterized with moderate, hilly, semi-rugged and rolling terrain with secondary forest cover. The barangay has bountiful, pristine water supply coming from rivers, creeks and natural springs. It has a fertile soil and a short dry season, which is best suitable and ideal for agriculture.

At present, the barangay has 254 households with an estimated population of 1,700. Eighty percent (80%) are Ifugaos and 20% from Ibaloi, Kalanguya, Kankanaey, Ilocano, Tagalog and Visayan settlers. Didipio is geographically divided into seven (7) sitios - Centro Didipio, Dinauyan, Surong, Verona, Waterfalls, Camgat, and Bacbacan.


THE DIDIPIO GOLD-COPPER PROJECT

The once peaceful life of the residents was shattered in 1989 when an Australian mining firm, Climax-Arimco Mining Ltd., conducted its geological surveys without prior notice to the residents. The people were surprised. The company did not even bother to inform them - what they intended to do and the purpose of the survey, according to the residents.

Five years later, in 1994, CAMC was awarded a Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) by then President Fidel V. Ramos even before the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or RA 7942. The company gained the right to explore up to 50 years and potential 100% foreign ownership. The Agreement covered 35,000 hectares of both the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino. But the corporation needed to hold consultation with the residents to determine its social acceptability and at the same time, a requirement for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issuance of the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

Although there were “consultations” held by CAMC, Lorenzo Pulido, vice-chair of the Council of Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) recalls…”We have been cheated. The company called for meetings in different communities… They would ask people to sign a sheet of paper for their attendance. But when the company went to court in Manila, we found out that the attendance sheets had actually been approval forms for mining. The company used the attendance sheets to back up their claims that majority of Didipio residents approved the gold-copper project. All those who signed the attendance forms felt they were deceived…and cheated.”

CAMC, now known as Australasia Philippines Mining Incorporation (APMI) finished their exploration activities by 1998. Based on my conversations with them, the company promised that their barangay will be developed if they approve the project - roads, electricity, clinics and schools will be built.

Barangay Chair Antonio Dingcog opines: “I do not believe the company’s promise of development. In fact, the company invited us to a field trip years ago and went to a mining community. When I talked to the community residents there, they said the company promised them that when the mine pushed through, they would give development to that place. Their lives will be improved! But what happened was that during and after the companies operation, the people there were worse off, and only some did benefit from the mine especially the foreign owners of this mine. Can they show me one instance, anywhere in the world, where mining and agriculture exist happily side by side?”

On the one hand, CAMC/APMI argues that they should be given a chance to prove that they take social and environmental responsibility seriously. Of this, barangay councilor Peter Duyapat Jr. retorts: “My house is situated in Sitio Dinauyan. My sitio will be the site where the mine tailings dam will be constructed. The tailings dam alone will cover an area of more than 60 hectares which will cover the entire Dinauyan area. At the same time, two kilometers of the Dinauyan River and the valley will be filled with waste rock and tailings slurry. How come they would say that the environment will not be affected? They said that the topsoil will be returned once the mine operations stop. How are they going to do that? You unearth hundreds of thousands tons of topsoil and then, return it to its original state? It’s obvious that these are lies. Like promising us that they will give us the moon and the stars. That’s why majority of the residents don’t want to sell our lands although some have been lured to sell.”

If the company is really serious about social acceptability and responsibility, Kagawad Peter continues, “When the company failed to buy the lands of my neighbors, they visited and talked to me and offered five (5) million pesos, a house and lot, ten (10) hectares of agricultural land and a vehicle, just so that I would consent and approve their mining operations. But I told the Australian representative that they should offer that to others who already approve of their operations. I repeatedly told them that I could not sell my land and could not in conscience accept their offer. The future of our children and their children is still in our ownership of the land. Land is our life!”

At present, the Arroyo government has identified Didipio as one of the twenty four (24) priority areas with regards to its mining promotion to foreign investors. On the other hand, Climax Mining Limited and Oceana Gold limited (a company listed on the Australian and New Zealand stock Exchanges) announced a merger by scheme of arrangement on July 11, 2006, thereby expanding its investment resources.


A JOURNEY OF FAITH AND HOPE

Crucial to the struggle against commercial, large-scale mining in Didipio is the persistent actions against it by community residents themselves and other non-government organizations (NGOs) and people’s organizations (POs).

On September 7-10, 1999, the residents organized themselves to form the Didipio Earth Savers Multipurpose Association or DESAMA. Since its formation, DESAMA spearheaded different forms of struggle against large scale mining in the area, from protest actions - pickets, rallies -- to people’s initiative up to filing of legal sanctions. Likewise, NGOs like the Diocesan Social Action Commission (DSAC) of Bayombong, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement-Nueva Vizcaya, Tribal Cooperation for Rural Development (TRICORD), Legal Resource Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK), the Alliance of Community Development Advocates (an alliance of nine NGOs and other individuals) and the TFDP have supported and continued to extend its support to DESAMA’s efforts thru the years. Consider these events:

On May 7, 2003, DESAMA, with the support of Bishop Ramon Villena, DSAC, and the Legal Resource Center/Kasama Sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK), filed a petition to the Supreme Court for Prohibition and Mandamus to enjoin the public respondents from any application for FTAA. They also petitioned the SC to declare as unconstitutional the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (RA7942) and to cancel the FTAA issued to CAMC.

But despite opposition of various groups, the DENR issued an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) to CAMC/APMI on August 11, 1999 and then a revised ECC on August 6, 2004. Likewise, in October of 2004, the provincial governors of Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, along with DENR-MGB Regional Offices, CAMC and other NGOs signed a Memorandum of Agreement on the Contingent Liability Rehabilitation Fund (CLRF). Anti-mining advocates denounced the flawed process in the issuance of the revised ECC and the CLRF Memorandum.

In 2004, DESAMA made an effort to get the most number of barangay councils to make a resolution against large scale mining. DESAMA members trekked the rocky, muddy road of other barangays to hold IECs (Information, Education, Communications) activities. Of the thirty barangays of Kasibu, twenty six (26) barangay councils made a resolution rejecting the operation of APMI’s gold-copper project. In addition, the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) also made its anti-mining resolution.

By June 20, 2005, A People’s Mining Summit was held at the New Public Market, Poblacion, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. A joint project of the Office of the Kasibu Mayor, Hon. Romeo Tayaban and ACDA, it aimed to clarify issues and concerns about large-scale mining and its effects on local host communities. Resource speakers from CAMC, concerned government agencies and development workers/NGOs/POs gave their opinions on the issues regarding large-scale mining. About 1,000 people attended the said activity.

In a historic action of the Sangguniang Bayan (SB) of Kasibu, majority of the SB members voted not to endorse the APMI’s project, by a vote of 6 to 4, last August 8, 2005 regular session. This was the second time the CAMC/APMI failed to get the endorsement of the SB for its project.

But while majority of the barangays and the SB of Kasibu rejected the mining operation, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) of Nueva Vizcaya meanwhile supported it, with unanimous vote of 12-0, on September 7, 2005. With this SP action, Tolentino Inlab, the present Chairman of DESAMA and barangay councilor of Didipio, said: “with this SP action, the responsibility of the barangay council has been taken for granted. We do not want the municipal, provincial, or even the national government to decide on our behalf. It is our barangay in Didipio that is directly affected, not the municipality, not the provincial, not the national government. We must be the ones who should decide what happens here in Didipio. If we don’t want our barangay to be mined, then they should respect this decision. If the SP members want mining, let the Provincial Capitol be the first to be mined. ”

On September 14, 2005, 1,500 protesters, spearheaded by DESAMA and ACDA, marched from St. Dominic Cathedral to the Provincial Capitol, Bayombong and held an indignation rally in front of the SP Hall. The Mayor, Vice-Mayor, the six SB Kagawads gave their support to the rallyists and expressed their sentiments in supporting agriculture and the citrus production as an alternative to commercial large-scale mining. The indignation rally was also supported by the Malabing Multi-Purpose Cooperative, a cooperative of citrus growers/producers in Kasibu.

On March 8, 2006, about 150 DESAMA officers and members filed a petition for Mandamus at the Regional Trial Court, Provincial Capitol, Bayombong. Bishop Ramon Villena and the LRC/KsK lawyers accompanied the petitioners which marched from St. Dominic Cathedral to the provincial capitol. A thanksgiving mass was officiated by Bishop Villena after the filing.


A JOURNEY OF HOPE DESPITE DIVISIONS

The journey of faith, hope and struggle of DESAMA and others are far from over. The community of Didipio has been polarized into pro- and anti-mining groups. Animosity between the two groups is obviously felt as Lorenzo Pulido shares:

“I have my house built in Sitio Bacbacan. Bacbacan is the sitio next to Dinkidi where the company wants to mine. This is a strong pro-mining sitio. In 2002, I planted a lot of squash to sell to the market. At that time, the mining company was conducting a signature campaign. During the signature campaign, I was afraid because many people were pro-mining and I would not sign despite their coaxing and intimidation. Sometimes, they would look at me and spit. To prevent such confrontation, I would take the long way home when I went to mass or meetings, just to avoid conflict with my neighbors. At that time, there was also an agreement between Barangay Alimit and the company to build a road from Alimit to Didipio.

When my squash was ready for market, I harvested three truckloads. I wanted to take my squash to market so my family can have money to buy what we needed and to support my children who are in school. The pro-mining residents in Bacbacan said because I didn’t support the mining operation, I could not use the road the company has provided. They prevented me from loading my produce and left laughing at me. So the squash I harvested rotted and I cried. What am I going to give my family now?

My son who was in college had to stop because there was no more money for school fees. Now, I have stopped planting squash. I only plant food enough for my family to eat. My neighbors say that if the mine does not push thru, we should give them food because we in the anti-mining group have stopped the mine and therefore prevented them from receiving work at the mine.”

The division the company created within the community has also affected relationships within the family. Roldan Cut-ing, former DESAMA chair relates:

“When the mining company came, even in our family, we are fighting inside the house just because of mining. In fact, my parents asked my older sister to go abroad just because she is pro-mining and this was causing conflict in the house. My parents borrowed money so she could go abroad. I feel so sad. She is my sister and just because of arguments about mining, there is conflict and now she has gone away.”

Mining companies often do not count the social costs, like these stories, they would bring to communities like Didipio. Aside from the threat to the very existence of indigenous and non-indigenous people’s alike in Didipio -- which is very, very real -- their indigenous culture is greatly affected.

While the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted through a majority vote the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, Switzerland on June 19-30, 2006, the IPs in the area have yet to see what and how this will change their situation.

It should also be noted that other mining companies like the Oxiana Mining and Occidental Mining corporations are present in the municipality of Kasibu. Areas threatened to be affected by the two companies are the nine barangays of Muta Valley and six barangays of Kongkong Valley. Two POs on these areas are also organized - KIRED, or Kasibu Inter-tribal Response for Development and KOVENANT or Kongkong Valley Environmentalist Association for the Protection of Nature. But theirs are different stories and experiences to tell…

DESAMA. ACDA. KIRED. KOVENANT. These evolved of the people’s journey of faith, hope and struggle.

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