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November 17, 2008

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Unite and march forward in the struggle against
foreign-backed, large-scale mining!

Message to the Bakun Community
Mines Unsafety Week Celebration
Gambang, Bakun, Benguet
November 15, 2008

By: Satur C. Ocampo
House Deputy Minority Leader
Bayan Muna Party List Representative

I thank you for the privilege and honor to be invited to join the indigenous people of the Cordillera in the celebrations of Tribal Filipino Month and the Mines Unsafety Week here in Bakun!

Bayan Muna salutes our brothers and sisters in BaKUN-Aywanan, Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network (BMAAN) and the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) for persevering in the struggle to defend our lands and communities against foreign-backed, large-scale mining in the region.

The CPA has correctly pointed out in its historical researches that large-scale mining has been destroying our indigenous communities and the environment since the 19th century, when the Sociedad Minero-Metalurgica Cantabro-Filipina de Mancayan took over one of the traditional copper mining sites and logged the forests of northern Benguet for mine timber and smelter fuel.

In the first and second quarters of the 20th century, large mining operations almost erased the watershed of southern Benguet. Mining has polluted surface water bodies, underground water and caused the abrupt halt to the development of wet-rice culture in this area. In the last three decades, mechanized mining has blasted, stripped and leveled entire mountains in Mankayan, Kibungan, Atok, Tublay, Itogon, and Tuba towns. By the end of the 20th century, large-scale mining ruined 20,000 hectares of agricultural land in Benguet.

Many of the large mining companies folded up in the 1980s and left the areas permanently damaged. But Lepanto and Philex continue to operate.

Today, there is an avalanche of mining claims and permit applications that cover 117,000 hectares in all 13 of the province's municipalities and Baguio City. This represents about 44 percent of the total land area of Benguet.

More foreign miners coming to rake in profits

American, Australian, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Japanese, South African, Swiss and other mining firms want to come into the region to get the minerals strewn across the lands of the Cordillera peoples. Allow me to mention just a few now in Benguet.

Reports reveal that Lepanto is now expanding from Mankayan to Bakun, Buguias and many other towns in Benguet, Ifugao, Mountain Province, Abra, Apayao, Ilocos Sur. Lepanto has tied up with the Canadian company Ivanhoe Mines, the British multinational Anglo-American, one of the four largest mining companies, and Chinese mining investment firm Zijin.

Philex Gold is also expanding from Tuba, having applied to mine parts of La Trinidad, Tublay, and Atok. Philex also wants to mine Nugget Hill within the Philippine Military Academy reservation in Baguio City!

Aside from these known foreign mining giants, 37 other corporations are now undertaking start-up physical and social preparations for their mining projects in Benguet. Most of them have yet to get their permits or agreements required by law for the implementation of these projects.

But two Australian firms - Bezant Resources and Anvil Mining - are now mining with approved government permits in Mankayan and Itogon, respectively.

Another Australian firm, Royalco Resources, received approval - under very questionable circumstances - for one of the Exploration Permit (EP) applications that target ore deposits in Mankayan, Bakun, Buguias, and Kibungan. The approved EP is for Royalco's 986-hectare mining project (EP 005 CAR 2008) mainly for gold and copper mining in Gambang, Bakun.

Your opposition to the entry of mining because it harms your green gold - vegetables and other food crops - motivated Bayan Muna to file House Resolution 742, now pending in the House Committee on National Cultural Communities. The resolution seeks an investigation into the alleged irregularities committed by the concerned government agencies that issued the Certificate of Compliance and the Exploration Permit to Royalco, despite opposition to mining in Bakun.

Pattern of mining firms' entry into our communities

The experiences of Benguet and many provinces in the country have taught the people about the dangers of permanent damage caused by large-scale, foreign-backed mining to the local people and the environment. The lessons of environmentally-disastrous mining projects in Albay, Eastern Samar, Marinduque, Mindoro, Palawan, Romblon, Zambales, Zamboanga del Norte and in your province have convinced some bishops of the Catholic and Protestant Churches and local government units (LGUs) to endorse community positions against large mining projects. Some LGUs have outrightly rejected mining projects such as the case of Nueva Vizcaya; and put in place mining moratoriums such as Capiz, Mindoro Oriental and Puerto Princesa City.

But foreign mining firms and their local conduits use legal shortcuts, deception, bribery and other illegal acts to gain the free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) of affected peoples and eventually launch large-scale mining operations. They promise local communities access roads and road improvement, livelihood projects and education scholarships, prioritization of locals in the hiring of mine workers, health and other social services supplemental to those provided by government, et cetera.

In many recent cases, mining companies identify and approach elders and leaders, offer them good-paying jobs, contracts, honoraria. They also offer large sums of money to landowners or occupants. There are reports that they connive with some officers of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to facilitate the accomplishment of the long list of legal requirements for a mining project.

Other companies employ violence, including the use of the police and military to quell communities who oppose mining as seen in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, Rapu-rapu, Albay and Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. Mining firms are emboldened to do these because it is the policy of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration to develop the mining industry at all cost.

Forge greater unity to defend our national patrimony and way of life

The national patrimony is for the development and benefit of our people. Our minerals should be used for national industrialization and not given away to the profit-hungry mining transnational corporations. Mining should be done with respect to the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral domain and self determination.

The history of the Cordillera people is one of struggle to defend your way of life. We must raise the level of unity to ably defend our patrimony, surmount the unethical, illegal and criminal actions that mining corporations commit in the pursuit of their destructive projects.

The challenge is to consolidate our efforts and expand to all the local communities threatened by the entry of mining projects across the Cordillera.

Your continuing struggle has inspired communities and tribes in other areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to resist the entry of mining projects endorsed and shepherded by the Arroyo government.

Government officials, mining executives and the general public need to clearly understand our stand. Only in unity and struggle can the people effectively gain strength to pressure local government officials, national government agencies, foreign and local mining companies to respect our opposition to large-scale, foreign-backed mining projects.

We hope that our small effort in Bayan Muna will help you in your campaign to preserve your lands, your way of life, your ancestral domain, your right to self determination as a people.

Onward with the struggle!
Mabuhay kayo!

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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