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November 20, 2007

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The Illusion of Mining Safety

Statement of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and Kilusang Mayo Uno-Cordillera
on the Occasion of Mining Safety and Environment Week

The worker's plight
Julio, (not his real name) has worked as a miner for the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo) for the past 20 years, receiving a minimum wage of a little over P400 to feed a household of eight. For the past 20 years as a miner, his and his family's life has not progressed much. This June, during drilling and blasting underground, he was struck by falling rocks, leaving his right leg fractured. A brace has been affixed to his leg to support him, until he completely recovers. The company did not offer any assistance during his hospitalization. He laments that his daily wage as a miner was never enough to feed his family, how much more now that he is unemployed and lives on a P200 daily allowance from his employees' compensation. "Awan ti naipundar ko iti 20 tawen a panag trabahok isunga awan maipatawid ko kadagiti ubbing nu di diay bunga koma ti panangikaradap ko kadagiti ubbing a makaeskuwela".

Official data from the LCMC reports that only from January to March this year, there are 21 underground accidents from drilling, blasting, and charging explosives, and 39 surface accidents from operating machines through fabrications, among others.

The Lepanto Employees Union-NAFLU-KMU had recently won its hard-earned victory in its Certification Election (CE) to represent the 1,600-strong workforce of the LCMCo in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations with the management for 2007 to 2010. The workers' salaries were deliberately delayed at the start of the petition for CE. This was ploy to further repress the union that had worked for the recognition of the miners' basic rights and welfare, and risked life and limb in the 2003 and 2005 strikes to have their just wages and compensation against the profit-driven, exploitative and capitalist LCMCo. The protest against the LEU after their victory in the CE by the LRFEU (Lepanto Rank and File Employees Union)-NAMAWU could be another delaying tactic towards the CBA negotiations.

Damages to local agriculture
Residents of Malideg in Quirino, Ilocos Sur reported a 30% decrease in the yield of traditional rice varieties especially since the accumulation of industrial mining and pollution. For a community previously known to be the rice granary for a much larger sub-region, the yield drops are attributed to several reasons: siltation of rivers, deterioration of soil quality, stunted growth, and diseased plant varieties. The cropping area has been reduced by as much as 50% as the sediment of thick, black, or cement-like soil continuously piles up in the middle of riverways, forcing water to flow into the cropped sections of the flatlands.

The drop in rice yields was first observed in the 1980s as a result of the typhoons between 1988 to 1989, which led to the destruction of LCMCo's Tailings Dams 1,2, and 3. It was reported that LCMCo was made liable for the destruction of the rice fields due to siltation and hardening of the soil because of the sediments, thus making the land unfit for agricultural purposes. Before LCMCo's establishment in 1936, residents of surrounding localities reported high yields of indigenous crops.

The indigenous peasants in Mankayan, Benguet, downstream Quirino in Ilocos Sur no longer look upon their ricefields with hope for bountiful harvests, only dejection with the knowledge that the soil that has sustained them for years will no longer bear life for coming generations. Aside from its pollution, the mechanization of large scale corporate mining is bound to displace some 20,000 indigenous peasants from traditional small-scale mining and about 130,000 peasant households from agriculture.

Mining haven
The Arroyo regime's mining liberalization program identifies 23 priority mining projects nationwide, five of which are located in the Cordillera region: The Batong Buhay Project in Kalinga, the Far Southeast, Teresa Gold, Itogon Gold and Pacdal Extension Projects in Benguet. In the 1980s, around 21,000 hectares of ricefields were destroyed as a result of Batong Buhay Mines' mine wastes. Massive protest from indigenous peasants forced Batong Buhay to close then. Current mining operations and various pending applications (125 pending applications as of 2007) total 66% or 1.2 million hectares of the region's total land area of 1.8 million hectares.

Nine Mineral Sharing and Production Agreements (MPSAs) and four Exploration Permits (EPs) were approved. Large scale corporate mining has ravaged the Cordillera region with 81 years of LCMCo's operations, 49 years of operation of Philex Mines and almost a hundred years of Benguet Corporation's mining operations.

Violations to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) and indigenous peoples' collective rights
Large scale mining is a clear form of development aggression, imperialist plunder and oppression of indigenous peoples, and sectors such as the workers and peasants. Contrary to claims of its development contribution and economic progress, affected indigenous communities and others have become impoverished and deprived of their land and resources, which is a material base of their existence.

The aggressive entry of large scale corporate mining operations without the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous communities is a blatant disregard and violation to the territorial integrity and self determination of indigenous peoples. Of recent, violations to the FPIC of indigenous communities took place in Itogon (Anvil Mining), Kalinga and Apayao (UK-based Anglo-American's Cordillera Exploration Inc. or CEXI), and in Mankayan, Benguet (Crescent Mining Development Corporation).

Anvil still has plans to embark on drilling in Ampucao even with the firm and strong opposition of the people therein. In February 2006, CEXI has managed to acquire a certification of compliance to FPIC process from the National Commission Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and that the communities have given there consent despite the opposition the Apayao communities have registered as early as May 2005. CMDC's exploration permit in Mankayan was approved in August 2006 and will expire this 2008. Even with Mankayan Mayor Galuten's order to stop the exploration, the company continued after 3 days and is even convincing local residents to join the workforce. Promises are also allegedly being made by CMDC management to affected stakeholders.

Large scale, corporate mining has only bled our indigenous communities dry of their resources. It has violated and disrespected the collective rights of indigenous peoples in the name of development that benefits the government, local and foreign capitalists. It has never given back to the indigenous communities it has robbed of its life.
Large-scale mining also violates the rights of indigenous peoples to freely determine their economic and socio-cultural development with the ownership, management and development of their natural resources. Likewise, the destruction of their subsistence economies and particular livelihood activities by large scale mining is a direct threat to their food security. With the Arroyo regime's imposition of large-scale mining through its mining liberalization policies, indigenous peoples' socio-cultural and political systems are outrightly disrespected and disregarded. In cahoots with the government, corporate and transnational companies have heightened the national oppression of indigenous peoples.

Capitalist mining is not safe
The very nature and basic character of large-scale corporate mining is it's being capitalist-oriented for corporate greed and profit driven. The safety, social accountability and responsibility it harps on remain a myth, an illusion, and a deception. Large-scale corporate mining systematically violates the collective rights of indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands, territories and livelihood resources. It does not care about the irreversible environmental impacts and disasters and it puts the safety, working conditions and just and living wages of workers as secondary. It has no concern on national development and sustainable livelihood of the people.

As long as mining is based in the context of the Mining Act of 1995 and GMA's priority agenda in the sellout of our national mineral resources and patrimony towards mining capitalist plunder, large mining in the Philippines will never be safe as it is destructive, oppressive and exploitative. It greatly contributes to global warming and climate change, to the destruction of our planet.

Our experience in the Cordillera, the rest of the country and the world proves beyond doubt how terribly unsafe and destructive, oppressive and exploitative and destructive is the global mining and Philippine large mining. Benguet and the Cordillera region have always been regarded by the State and national government as a resource base for plunder and historically sacrificing the true owners of the land, the Cordillera indigenous peoples. Several decades and hundred years of corporate mining did not improve the widespread poverty and underdevelopment of the communities which long hosted these destructive large-corporate mines.

The urgency of the situation necessitates our collective action against large-scale corporate mining before we end up a phenomenon of mining destruction and have no future. We must resist corporate mining; heighten environmental defense and collective struggle to defend our ancestral land, life and resources as we build upon a sustainable mining alternative that is truly environment-friendly, safe and community beneficial; that will serve as great potential for self reliance and national development.

We must continue to demand for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995, and work together towards a safe and people-oriented mining industry.

The workers must continue strengthening its unity and class struggle with the peasants and broader society against the oppressive, destructive and exploitative mining in the Philippines. We must not be deceived by the misinformation and deception of big mining capitalists and the corrupt government, which benefits from this system of mining. ***

Published with financial contribution from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
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