MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Saving an Island

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

Saving an Island

The residents of Rapu-Rapu know fully well the importance of unity in struggle. For six years, they have strengthened their organization, maintaining an unwavering stand to continue the fight against big mining companies. They have even taken their struggle to the Internet.

BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN, Bulatlat, Vol. V, No. 41 -

November 20 - 26, 2005

RAPU-RAPU ISLAND - For almost 22 years, Nida Bandal worked day and night in Manila just to make ends meet. She decided to return in 2001 to her hometown, Binosawan, Rapu-Rapu Island, here in Albay (about 600 kilometers from Manila).

In her own inherited small piece of land, she started planting rice and vegetables for her own consumption. Almost everyday, she walks on the shore, enjoying the sea's serenity and picking up various kinds of shellfishes for food.

Her living there, however, is far from peaceful as she has chosen to take part in a struggle. She joined Sagip-Isla (Save the Island), a multi-sectoral organization committed to oppose and fight the operations of the mining company Lafayette Philippines, Inc. and other mining activities on the island.

Origins of Sagip-Isla

Sagid Isla was formed on Nov. 7, 1999, after a jubilee forum discussed the implications of mining activities in the island. Held at the Sta. Florentina parish church here, more than 300 residents from different barangays (villages) attended. Religious groups like the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and the Diocese of Legazpi and other cause-oriented groups supported the forum.

At the forum, the people stressed the need for an organization that will represent the people and express the sentiments of the different sectors comprising the island. They established Sagip-Isla, a community-based organization headed by the church-based Council of Servant leaders in each barangay.

Since its establishment, Sagip Isla members have been conducting education and organizing campaigns in the locality, as well as in the mainland and at national level. The organization has been host to a number of groups doing exposures and immersions in the island communities and at the mining site.

Rapu-rapu residents view documentaries on the ill effects of mining in the Philippines PHOTO BY AUBREY MAKILAN Last Nov. 7, Sagip-Isla celebrated its sixth anniversary. The people gathered for a Eucharistic mass in the plaza. Fr. Felino Bugauisan, assistant parish priest of Sta. Florentina Parish, concelebrated the mass with Fr. Raul Balute, the former parish priest. Behind them was a black cloth painted with the slogan "Save the Island, Save the People! No to Mining!" Even if a police officer was taking their pictures, those who attended were not intimidated.

After the mass, a showing of selected video documentaries was held. Even if it was starting to get dark, the people stayed to watch the video documentaries on social and environmental costs of mining operations in the country.

They could not help booing when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appeared in one of the documentaries. The scene was her visit to their island in 2001 saying, "Uunlad ang Rapu-Rapu," (Rapu-rapu will develop), in reference to the supposed benefits of mining operations in Rapu-Rapu.

Transcending difficulties

Antonio Casitas, 67, now leads Sagip-Isla. Casitas admitted it was not easy to unite the people of Rapu-Rapu. He recalled that during the president's visit, he was actually the one giving out certificates of land transfer to the beneficiaries. He was, however, disappointed to see that the distribution was a sham. After they were given out, he was told somebody would collect them back before the supposed recipients left the stage.

Like Bandal, depressing conditions made him more determined to go on with their fight.

The costly sail of P300 to P700 ($5.50 to $12.82, based on an exchange rate of P54.59 per US dollar) to other parts of the island would often delay their campaign activities. In critical times, they would walk along the shores or sometimes traverse the mountains just to reach other areas.

Even if there was black propaganda labeling his group as subversive and being sympathetic to the New People's Army (NPA), he kept fulfilling his duties. Many times, he would not sign the logbook. Company guards require even residents to log in their names upon entering the area.

"Kung pipirma ako, e di parang sumunod na rin ako sa gusto nila," (If I sign, then it would appear that I am following their orders.) he said

Online struggle

Every arena can be a form of struggle. In the age of cyberspace, the fight against mining in the island has reached the Internet.

In its website at URL, its statement against mining on the island may be found alongside a travel guide and history of Rapu-Rapu.

"Right now in Barangay Pagcolbon, where exploratory drilling is taking place in a 20-hectare lot, environmental destruction is already happening in the cutting of trees, bulldozing and leveling of the hilly and muddy terrain, quarrying of corals, sand, rocks, and gravel" it said.

Aside from calling the attention of the local and national officials, it appealed to all Bicolanos, stating

"The promise of financial benefits now will not compensate the permanent damage of the land, the source of life."

Desperate calls

Bandal was one of those Bicolanos who responded to the call.

"Kahit na bayaran nila ako ng milyon-milyon para sa lupa ko, hindi ko ito ipagpapalit," said the 49-year old old maid. "Kahit na wala akong sarili kong pamilya na paglalaanan ng lupa ko, mas marami pa rin ang nangangailangan sa Rapu-Rapu." (Even if they pay me millions for my land, I will not sell it. Even if I do not have family members who will inherit my land, there are still more people in Rapu-Rapu who need it.)

Bandal admitted that they could not depend on the government to take their side. "Kung sa gobyerno wala na tayong magagawa d'yan, pero tayong mga tao, meron pa kung magkakaisa tayo," (If we cannot do anything with the government, the people can do something if we all unite.) she said.

Meanwhile, a resident who refused to be identified had a more radical take on the issue. "Siguro kung may NPA dito, wala na 'yang mining na 'yan," (If the NPA were here, mining operations would have been gone.) he said.

The man who worked for a mining company somewhere in Northern Luzon recalled that when the people in the nearby area protested the operations of the firm, the operations were immediately stopped when the NPA intervened, he said.

"Kung may kilala lang akong NPA papupuntahin ko pa dito yun para lang mawala na 'yang Lafayette na iyan," (If I know someone from the NPA, I would have asked him or her to come here so that Lafayette would be gone) he stressed.


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