MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Philippines law protects companies, not communities

Published by MAC on 2009-09-14

A Philippines act of parliament, designed to protect Indigenous communities' rights, in several respects is doing the opposite.

That's the opinion of many in the country's northern regions, as they see the government increasing its use of military force to protect the interest of numerous mining companies.

For the Philippines's Tribal Folk, a Constant War Against ‘Development Aggression'

By RONALYN V. OLEA, Bulatlat.com

11 September 2009

MANILA - Aeta leader Nelson Mallari seemed to have unending stories on the plight of indigenous peoples in Central Luzon.

"Mining, military reservation and dam constructions dislocate indigenous peoples in the region," Mallari, chairman of the Central Luzon Aeta Association (CLAA) and secretary-general of Katribu party list, told Bulatlat in Filipino. CLAA's members include Aeta with six sub-tribes, Dumagats, Ilongots and Agta in Pampanga, Tarlac, Aurora and Zambales.

"Places we consider sacred are now up for grabs by mining companies," Mallari said. One of these corporations is the A3UNA.

The A3UNA reportedly began its exploration in Sitio Bucao, Barangay Porac, Botolan, Zambales. "Aetas now have to secure permit from the mayor or barangay captain to have access to their ancestral land," Mallari said. "The situation has been reversed. We, owners of the land, are now the ones asking permission from outsiders."

While the right of indigenous peoples to their ancestral land has been recognized by international agreements and conventions including that of the United Nations, indigenous peoples in the Philippines are being driven away by mining, tourism and other so-called development projects.

More than 70 mining firms are now operating in Zambales with applications for Mineral Production Sharing (MPSA), small-scale mining and regular small scale-mining. Among other mining corporations are DMCI Mining Corp, Arcman, BMCI, Eramin Pyramid, Hermosa Mines, Fil- Asia and Sino-Phil.

Geograce Resource Philippines in Masinloc and the NiHAO Mineral Resources International also operate in Botolan, covering more than 35,000 hectares of land for open-pit mining. Defensor is also linked with mining firms Aprolite in Iba and Golden Harvest Global Inc. Geograce is the company reportedly owned by Mike Defensor, the former executive and environment secretary of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

In Tarlac, the ongoing construction of Balog-balog dam in San Jose town threatens to displace 500 Aeta families, particularly of Aberlen sub-tribe. In another town in Capas, structures are being built for a military reservation in Barangay Sta. Juliana, covering 60,000 hectares.

The ancestral land of the Aberlen is now occupied by elements of the Philippine Army and Philippine Air Force.

Since Mount Pinatubo has been declared an international park, the Aeta living in nearby communities have restricted access to the mountain and its resources.

The plight of indigenous peoples in Southern Tagalog seems no different from those in Central Luzon. Antonio Calbayog of Bigkis at Lakas ng Katutubong Mamamayan sa Timog Katagalugan (Balatik), a regional alliance of indigenous peoples in Southern Tagalog, also blamed mining and other development projects for their woes.

Balatik's members include 12 ethnic groups in Palawan, seven in Mindoro and three in Rizal and Quezon.

In Mindoro alone, there are 99 applications for mining. Intex Resources, for one, covers 9,720 hectares of land for its nickel project in Victoria, Mindoro Oriental and in Sablayan, Mindoro Occidental. Mangyan tribes live in these communities.

Meanwhile, the Agusan Petroleum and Mining Corp. has started its exploration on the 53,000 hectares of land in Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental.

In Rizal and Quezon provinces, the controversial Laiban dam project threatens to displace 10,000 upland residents, mostly of Dumagat and Remontado tribes.

In General Nakar, Quezon, the Tulaog Cave, a sacred place of worship for the Dumagats, has been declared a tourist spot.

Military Deployment

In these areas of so-called development projects, military deployment is inevitable, Calbayog said.

Genasque Enriquez, general secretary of the regional tribal Filipino group Kasalo and from the Manobo tribe, said the militarization of communities in Surigao del Sur aims to pave the way for the entry of mining corporations.

In 2008, the Arroyo government formed the Investment Defense Force (IDF) to protect mining, infrastructure and other development projects from the attacks of rebel groups. The government has also offered to train private guards to protect mines.

In Santa Cruz, Zambales, the Inquirer reported that a memorandum of agreement (MOA), was signed between the Army's 7th Infantry Division and DMCI Mining Corp. to protect at least 3,700-hectares of ore-rich land.

Counter-insurgency

In Capiz and Iloilo provinces, counter-insurgency operations of the military have affected the livelihood of indigenous tribe Tumandok.

Aileen Catamin, leader of Tumandok nga Mangunguma nga Nagapangapin sa Duta Kag Kabuhi (Tumanduk), said that since June, elements of the 47th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army have occupied the upland villages in Calinog, Iloilo and eight villages in Tapas, Capiz.

"Our economic activities are affected. The soldiers restrict our movement," Catamin told Bulatlat in an interview.

Before the soldiers came, the Tumandoks work on their farms from as early as 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day. These days, they are allowed to go to their farms by 8 a.m. and must be home by 4 p.m.

The soldiers, Catamin said, would call for assemblies and urge them to ask the New People's Army (NPA) to surrender. The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

"On June 29 this year, after the soldiers were ambushed by the NPA, the soldiers threw two explosives at our village," Catamin recalled. "Our place is three kilometers away from the ambush site. Luckily, nobody was hurt."

In Barangay Aglinab, also in Tapas, Catamin said that the soldiers used civilians, including children, as shields against the NPA.

In Calinog, Iloilo, the watershed and reforestration projects of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have prevented the Tumandoks from going through their livelihood activities.

Toothless Government Agencies, Policy

All indigenous peoples leaders interviewed by Bulatlat said the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) has been "toothless" in helping them.

Aeta leader Mallari said that whenever they seek assistance from NCIP, they rarely get concrete answers. "In cases of mining, the NCIP officials would tell us there is a national policy [referring to Mining Act of 1995] and that there is nothing they can do," Mallari said.

Mallari added that the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), or Republic Act. No. 8371, actually legalized grabbing of ancestral land.

Mallari explained that provisions pertaining to Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title and the Certificate of Ancestral Lands Title compel them to pay for the land and for taxes to the national government.

"This scheme destroys our collective living and teaches us to be individualists," Mallari said.

Tumandok leader Catamin holds the same view. "Those land titles will not resolve our problem. What we want is to get back our ancestral land," she said.

Mallari said they continue to rely on themselves to assert their rights. (Bulatlat.com)

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