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May 3, 2008

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Binongan Elders Seal Unity Pact for Defense of Land and Life in Cordillera Day 2008

Fires were lit in the makeshift kitchen in small patch of cleared ricefield, overlooking the wider payeo where Cordillera Day 2008 is being celebrated One by one, or in two's, with some leaning on their canes, men and women elders of the Binongan indigenous peoples in Baay Licuan settled themselves near the fire, to share stories, discuss and debate on matters that concern them. Panglakayen, mananakem, papangat. Coffee is brewed to accompany the long hours of discussion. The moon lends light, rising in full over the mountains of Brgy. Poblacion. A little over 1 AM, as our elders are accustomed to long hours of discussion and debate, they bind themselves in a Unity Pact in opposition to large and destructive mines in Baay Licuan (Katulagan Ti Panglakayen Ken Mananakem, Papangat Ti Tribo Ti Binongan Kontra iti Hegante ken Makadadael a Panagminas).

"This event is both historical and significant, as it marks the indispensable role of indigenous elders to defend land and life, and uphold indigenous peoples' right to self determination", said Cordillera Elders Alliance (CEA) Deputy Secretary General Johnny Sawadan in a press conference with Baguio media last week.

"In our struggles against destructive projects, such as the Chico dams in Mountain Province and Kalinga, and Cellophil in Abra, and against militarization, our elders have been at the forefront of these", he added. In the anti-Cellophil struggle, several pacts were sealed through the elders, and this helped wield further unity among the Tingguians until they triumphed against Cellophil. One concrete example is the Bucloc-Tubo-Malibcong Unity Pact as a result of the Interpeace-pact Partners Gathering in Bangilo on Sept. 28, 1975.

The Pact
Clad in their indigenous attire, the elders stood proud and resolute as they presented the seven-point Unity Pact before the 3,000 delegates of the 24th Cordillera Day celebration on April 24.

Knowing what destruction large mines can do to the land, the people, and their future, the elders specifically articulated to continue its struggle against Olympus Pacific Mines until it leaves in peace the people of Baay Licuan, and prevent other large mines from entering the Binongan ancestral domain. The Pact strongly states that they do not recognize and respect the Mining Act of 1995, as it has legalized the plunder of resources of indigenous communities, especially in their ancestral domain.

Other points in the pact states continuing vigilance against further attempts to violate the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of the concerned communities, and any attempt to manipulate the acquisition of this in the light that from the start, the Binongan communities have already made clear its position against the entry, exploration/operation of Olympus. The pact is continuing, solid proof to the earlier petitions and resolutions that Baay Licuan communities and people's organizations have made and submitted to the company, its conduits AMIC and Jabel, and to concerned government agencies and institutions.

Ernesto Quinto, an elder and leader of BALITOK (Baay Licuan Takderan Omnu a Karbengan), the host organization of Cordillera Day 2008, stated "what we, people of Baay Licuan want, is to use and manage our own resources, and this we can do through traditional and small-scale mining."

Earlier in February, in a dialogue with some officials of the municipality and the affected barangays, Misah Blando of the Sangguniang Bayan articulated the same alternative of small-scale mining for the people of Baay Licuan to have control and use of their mineral resources. # AT Bengwayan/Cordillera Peoples Alliance

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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