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March 21, 2008

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Resisting Mining Plunder and State Terrorism:
Baay-Licuan, Abra hosts Cordillera Day 2008

Cordillera Day 2008 or the 24th Cordillera Day Celebration takes places in Brgy. Poblacion, Baay-Licuan, one of the 27 municipalities of Abra province. This is hosted by Kakailian Salakniban Tay Amin a Nagtaudan (KASTAN), the Cordillera Peoples Alliance's Abra chapter, and BALITOK or the Baay-Licuan Takderan Omnu a Karbengan. Baay-Licuan is part of the ancestral domain of the Binongan indigenous peoples.

From the provincial capital of Bangued, which is an 8-hour drive from Metro Manila, and a 6-hour drive from Baguio City, it takes 4 hours to reach Brgy. Poblacion.

Baay Licuan Municipality
Baay-Licuan is bounded in the north by Lacub municipality, to the east by Malibcong, to the South by Sallapadan and Daguioman, and by Bucay and Lagangilang to the west. It is composed of 11 barangays, namely: Bonglo, Bulbulala, Caoayan, Dominglay, Lenneng, Mapisla, Mogao, Nalbuan, Poblacion, Subagan, and Tumalip.

Baay-Licuan is generally mountainous and forested, with an elevation ranging from 200 to 1,400 meters above sea level. The terrain is naturally upland and hilly. The mountain ranges are rich with mineral deposits such as gold, copper and silver. Baay and Licuan were two separate municipalities until these were fused in 1969.

Baay-Licuan's climate is characterized by the dry season from November to April, and by the wet season from the months of May to October. The minimum and maximum temperatures recorded are 23.3 'C and 31.2'C, respectively. Of the total agricultural area, more than half of it is planted with palay, corn, vegetables, and rootcrops, respectively. Fruits and cashcrops (atchuete and coffee) are likewise grown. 2004 data cited in the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan of Baay-Licuan says that vegetable production cannot cope with the demands of the populace, which is 3,812 as of the 2000 population census. Fisheries production also takes place though at small-scale.

Presently, most farmers have minimal lands holdings (0.25 hectares per farmer) and are tenants, thus disabling them from attaining higher farm income. Only 230 farmers were distributed lands totaling 471.3044 hectares from the Land Acquisition Distribution of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)

Government health services in the municipality include four barangay health stations and one rural health unit, attended by one municipal health officer, 1 birth attendant, 28 barangay health workers, and three public health nurses. The leading causes of morbidity and mortality, respectively, are respiratory infection and pneumonia. Nutritional status improved in 2002, with the significant decrease in malnutrition (2nd and 3rd degree), from 9.40% in 2000 to 6.93% in 2004. Not all households in the municipality have access to potable water supply. Thirty six percent of the population still rely on kerosene and pinewood for power, while the 64% of the population have already been energized.

Poverty incidence is high (76.85%), with only 160 households of the 691 households in the municipality above poverty line. There are 6 complete elementary and primary schools each in Baay Licuan, but only one highschool, the Baay Licuan National Highschool. Survival rate in both elementary and highschool is low, at 68.42% and 68.97%, respectively, as of 2004.

The government data cited already draws a picture of the abject state of indigenous peoples for this particular locality, but in reality, it could be much worse.

Brgy. Poblacion meantime has a land area of 510 hectares and a population of 319 individuals (2000 Population Census). Non-farm income (salaries, wages, honorarium and OFW remittances) contributed to more than half the family income (74.30% ) while farm income account for only 25.70% (palay and corn, fruits and vegetables, livestock, poultry and fish).

While rich in natural resources, the economic facts cited, such as the exodus of locals to work as OFWs, poor and lacking basic social services, illustrate the marginalized state of the indigenous communities in Baay-Licuan due to historic government neglect. Now, with the escalation of the Arroyo regime's crisis and implementation of policies contrary to the interests of indigenous peoples, the indigenous communities are bearing the brunt anew in the name of "development", manifested by the surge of destructive projects in indigenous communities and the skyrocketing of prices of basic commodities and services, unemployment, and rising poverty.

Development aggression and Militarization in Baay-Licuan in Abra
Abra province is currently a mining hotspot, with one Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) and 14 Exploration Permit Applications under process and 3 approved Mineral Sharing and Production Agreements. The FTAA, applied for by Lindsay Resources, covers 14 municipalities in Abra and the municipalities of Balbalan and Pasil in neighboring Kalinga province.

Canadian mining company Olympus Pacific Mining Inc. has partnered with local companies AMIC and Jabel Corporation for a 4,300-hectare project at Capcapo mountain, in Baay Licuan with a Memorandum of Agreement entered into in November 23, 2006. This development poses serious threat to the nearby and adjacent communities, who are sustaining opposition to this project. Drilling started in February 2007 without the communities' approval or Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The 41st IB is present in Baay Licuan, particularly the Bravo and Charlie companies. For a time in February 2007, they camped under residents' houses in Brgy. Poblacion, the host community for Cordillera Day 2008, and deployment is increasing as the community resistance against Olympus and large mining is intensifying. The community literally became a military detachment which is already a threat to the security and human rights of the communities. CPA staff attending to ground preparations are being harassed and are maliciously tagged as members of the New Peoples Army even with legal identification that they are members of the CPA Regional Secretariat, KASTAN, and BALITOK.

Dredging of the Abra River has commenced with the operations of the Abra Rio Sand and Gravel Inc., local subsidiary of Australian company Rio Dorado. Abra Rio Sand and Gravel has entered into a 25-year contract with the provincial government of Abra. The said company admitted mining interests also in Baay Licuan, and in the municipalities of Lacub, Malibcong, Tubo, Tineg, Bucay, Bucloc, and Tayum. The company said that the Abra River is a potential resource for gold and magnetite, the latter being used in steel production . Dredging can disrupt river flow patterns and subsequently, the habitat of riverine flora and fauna, such as fish breeding grounds. River spoil or the matter dredged from the river may cause wind blown pollution into the wider environment due to pollutants it could contain. While dredging is usually carried out to reduce flooding of adjoining land, it is only a temporary solution. Upstream, the Abra River is already largely polluted due to mine waste drained into it from the operations of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company in Mankayan, Benguet. Findings by the Save the Abra River Movement (STARM) state that high levels of toxic substances are present in the river, affecting local agriculture and the health and well-being of communities along the river. The mighty Abra River has long since sustained communities along it.

Clearly, Baay Licuan is fast becoming a resource for development aggression with the tide of destructive projects pouring in. As in other Cordillera provinces, such projects were forced into the indigenous communities by deception and misinformation, intimidation and harassment of arising opposition, and consequently, use of military and even paramilitary forces to quell any action against these so-called "development" projects.

But the indigenous peoples of Abra have a history of successful opposition to development aggression and plunder. Also at the time of the anti-Chico dams struggle of the Bontoc and Kalinga peoples, the Tinggians, the indigenous tribal peoples of Abra, also opposed the construction and operations of Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC) which was strongly backed by the Marcos Dictatorship. Crony connections easily allowed the Timber and Pulpwood License Agreement (TPLA) of the CRC, covering 99, 565 hectares of mostly Benguet pine. A sister company of the CRC, the Cellulose Processing Corporation (CPC) was granted a separate TPLA covering 99, 230 hectares, covering Abra, Kalinga, Apayao, Mt. Province, Ilocos Sur and Norte.

The CRC and the Marcos government subsequently employed deception, harassment and brute military force to force the Tinggians to accept the CRC. The governor and mayors of concerned municipalities, like Tineg, were relieved and were replaced with Marcos cronies. But the Tinggians put up fierce and armed resistance as legitimate struggle for survival and defense of their ancestral territory and self determination. Inter-provincial peacepacts were forged for the resistance, as indigenous elders played a significant role in this historic struggle.

Hosting the 24th Cordillera Day in Baay Licuan is recalling the CRC struggle-learning from the lessons drawn from this experience of the Tinggians for the defense of the ancestral domain and resources, as it lives out the history of successful resistance of the Cordillera indigenous peoples against imperialist plunder, state terrorism and aggression. The host communities have an arsenal of experience from the anti-CRC resistance to share to all the delegates at a time that the Cordillera is under threat of massive mining plunder. At the same time, Cordillera Day 2008 will be a solidarity event that will support the host communities' struggle against Olympus and large mining and militarization. Hosting the 24th Cordillera Day was timely, given their situation and issues the communities are confronted with. #

March 20, 2008
Cordillera Peoples Alliance

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