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August 11, 2008

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La Trinidad, Benguet?Some 230 representatives from the different municipalities of Benguet province gathered on August 7 in a conference to discuss community issues and concerns on large and destructive mining and share experiences and lessons from successful struggles, which resulted to the formation of the Benguet Mining Alert and Action Network or BMAAN. The conference resulted from an urgent need for collective action for the people of Benguet to respond to the mining issues of the province, being primarily affected by these. It is also timely, as an expression of celebrating the International Indigenous Peoples Day which falls on August 9.

The was organized by the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Itogon-Inter Barangay Alliance (IIB-A) and the Danggayan dagiti Maidadanes nga Umili ti Mankayan (DAMAYAN).

As collectively decided by its members, the BMAAN will serve as a venue for "sharing knowledge and skills for monitoring and documentation; planning and coordinating common activities and learning from our shared experiences and using the lessons to plan and conduct further actions.

Mining Liberalization in the Cordillera

CPA Deputy Secretary General Santos Mero discussed the Cordillera mining situation while focusing on current mining applications, exploration and operations in Benguet after sharing the history of large mining in the province.

Mero explained that 66% of the region's total land area is covered by various mining applications on top of the existing large mining operations, such as Lepanto Consolidated in Mankayan and Philex Mines in Itogon. Mero added that five of the 23 priority mining projects of the GMA administration is located in the Cordillera, namely: Teresa Gold Project, Far Southeast Project and Victoria Project all by Lepanto in Mankayan; Project 3000 of Itogon Suyoc Mines, Pacdal Copper Expansion Project by Philex Mines, and the Batong Buhay Project by the Philippine Mining Development Corporation. Except for the Pacdal Expansion Project and Far Southeast, the other projects are already in operation. Except for Batong Buhay, the rest are located in Benguet.

Mero noted in his discussion the presence and operations of transnational mining corporations in Benguet such as UK-based Anglo-American (with Philex Mines, Lepanto, Cordillera Exploration, and Northern Luzon Exploration Company); Australia-based Oxiana/Royalco whose FPIC acquisition in Bakun is under question; Anvil Mining Company (Australian), which now owns the Itogon Suyoc Mines in Sangilo, Itogon; Ivanhoe Mines from Canada which has a 12% share from Lepanto; Bezant Resources (UK) with an ongoing exploration at Guinaoang and Bulalacao in Mankayan. Bezant also owns 60% of Crescent Mining also in Mankayan; Metals Exploration PLC or MTL Philippines (UK) with applications in Atok, Tublay, and Bokod, and Columbus/Magellan Metals, also with applications in Bokod.

Foreign mining companies in other provinces include Terra Nova Exploration/Wolfland (Canadian), which has exploration activities in Tabuk, Kalinga. The US-based Phelps Dodge has partnered locally with Makilala Mining; Olympus mining company (Canada), which violated the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of the Binongan communities in Baay Licuan, Abra; Golden Valley Exploration (Australia) also in Abra and Oceana Gold/Climax Arimco (Australia) which has partnered with Copper Fields for operations in Apayao.

Municipal representatives shared updates on ground developments, such as in Brgy. Gambang in Bakun on their opposition to Royalco's mining interests and question to its FPIC acquisition. Representatives of Mankayan and Itogon shared the lessons and gains from their successful struggles against Lepanto Mining, Benguet Corporation and Philex Mines.

In another important discussion, CPA Secretary General Windel Bolinget discussed the FPIC and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as an added instrument for the assertion of the FPIC.

"The FPIC is not merely a process but a basic inherent right of indigenous peoples that entails genuine participation and decision making of the IPs?that is, right to accept or deny their consent to any project in their territories", Bolinget stressed. He added that "Free, Prior, and Informed translates to nawaya, kasakbayan/umuna, naipakaammo a pammalubos.

The conference ended with greater commitment for coordination, communication and concerted action towards strengthening the new formation. # AT Bengwayan

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