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June 6, 2005

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CPA Denounces Statement of Lepanto's Villaluna that Igorots are Unggoys and Patay-Gutom

Lepanto’s Resident Manager Augusto Villaluna uttered “ang mga Igorot ay mga unggoy, ang mga Igorot ay patay gutom” in his desperation to thwart the strike of Lepanto mineworkers. Lepanto has essentially declared the Igorots as their enemies by issuing such discriminatory statements.

We condemn and denounce Lepanto’s discrimination and oppression among the Igorots. This irresponsible statement has made public Lepanto’s anti-Igorot sentiment and Villaluna’s complete disrespect for Igorots, who happen to be at the forefront and leadership of the strike.

Lepanto’s corporate officers should be reminded of people like Jun Labo and Carlos P. Romulo who were condemned by the Igorots because of their discrimination over these people who deserve respect and honor. Lepanto and its arrogant Resident Manager must learn from history and recognize that they have profited much from the resources of the Cordillera people in Mankayan, Benguet since Lepanto started operating in 1936. They are strangers who come and exploit our lands and have the nerve to discriminate and lambaste us in our own home and territory.

In this respect, Lepanto and Villaluna owe the Igorot peoples an apology. These greedy capitalists should retract this derogatory statement. Otherwise, they must keep out of the Cordillera and be condemned as enemies of the Igorots. In fact, this statement by Villaluna has challenged the wives and children of Lepanto mineworkers in a protest rally against the company on May 31. Also, this fueled strike which exploded in the early morning of June 2 after seven months of negotiations and deadlock for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Since then, the strike has totally paralyzed the underground mining operations of Lepanto.

If the Lepanto leadership will not promptly instruct Villaluna to issue a public apology, such discriminatory remarks would lead to Lepanto’s downfall and expulsion from the Cordillera as this becomes a converging issue among Igorots for broader unity and action against Lepanto’s discrimination and destruction of our resources. We cannot tolerate this discrimination and exploitation. Justice has to be served.

Like in their February 2003 strike, the workers’ issues and demands are plain and simple. They are merely requesting for a little increase in their wages for their family’s survival given the series of skyrocketing prices of basic goods, commodities and services. In fact, the workers’ demand for a P29-P29-P33 increase does not even qualify for a living wage considering that wages of workers have long been left unattended and neglected both by government and capitalists. Lepanto must give what is due to its workers. After all, it is the workers’ sweat and blood that brings superprofit to Lepanto. It is the workers that made Lepanto the biggest gold mining company in the country today. By all indications, Lepanto has the capacity to grant the workers’ demands for wage increase and benefits. They have even announced raking in profit from their Victoria and Teresa projects. Besides, if the company is losing, why has it filed on January 12, 2005 three separate applications for Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA), each having a land area of 81,000 hectares covering the provinces of Benguet and Ilocos Sur and extending as far as Nueva Vizcaya? Instead of allotting first a budget for the wage demands and benefits of workers, Lepanto diverts its capital for new and huge mining exploration projects at a time when the negotiation for a new CBA is going on. The strike is legitimate and just as the last recourse of workers to demand justice and living wage.
Lepanto has placed Mankayan under a reign of terror by requesting the deployment of more troops from the 54th Infantry Battalion, CPLA integrees and CAFGUs to augment the police and security forces of the company. The militarization of Mankayan is deplorable. The striking workers, their wives and children are civilians calling for little additional pay. They are not armed combatants. As the objective of deployment in the area, the military will be used to disperse, harass, intimidate and create more chaos to the lives of these long exploited workers and their families. To serve and protect the voracious Lepanto capitalists, the 54th IB and their bloodthirsty CPLA integrees and CAFGUs would result to massive human rights violations worse than what happened in the February 2003 strike violent dispersal by the Philippine National Police. The workers appealed to Igorot soldiers and police for compassion as all of them are Igorot brothers and sisters seeking survival.

In another hopeless effort to bust and suppress the strike, the management issued termination orders against officers of the Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) and leaders of the striking workers. In the past strike, this did not affect the determination of the workers to win. They challenged the management and countered its dirty tricks and maneuvers in their just struggle. To further intimidate and force the workers to put down their strike, Lepanto employed a very inhuman tactic by pushing hospital employees to go on vacation leave thus leaving hospital patients, workers and communities’ health and life in great danger. What a barbaric and inhuman way in the name of corporate greed!

With the strong support of indigenous and peasant communities affected by Lepanto’s mining operation, the workers remain resolute in their strike. As demonstrated in the February 2003 strike that brought Lepanto to its knees, the firm solidarity of workers and peasants against Lepanto inspires the strike to win. We are called upon to support the striking workers of Lepanto. With the discriminatory policy statement of Lepanto’s Resident Manager Villaluna, the company will surely earn the fury of Igorots. They should be considered persona non grata in the Cordillera. Time and again we have to fight this discrimination and oppression at the hands of Lepanto and the few ruling elite. Time has come we have put an end to this injustice. After all, we maybe the unggoys of the Cordillera that should control and decide of our own mountains and forests!

Windel Bolinget
Secretary General

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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