Mt. Pinukis an arena of debate on mining - INQUIRER.net, Philippine News for Filipinos

By Ryan Rosauro
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:06:00 11/14/2010



We don't want the machines to run because that will signal the destruction of our remaining source of water,” declared Subanen woman leader Manuela Patinio.



Her tribe recently rose in protest against a planned mineral exploration in the Pinukis mountain range in Midsalip town in Zamboanga del Sur by Geotechniques and Minerals Inc. (Gami). The company commissioned Construction and Drilling Specialists Inc. (CDSI) to drill for mineral samples.

Gami holds a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) covering 592 hectares of land, which was issued by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) last year.

The Subanen people have been fighting to have the MPSA revoked, with its petition now pending before the Supreme Court. Backed by the influential Catholic Church, they have stopped the entry of drilling equipment into the Pinukis forests since October 5.

“If the miners are able to enter the area, certainly they would be able to stay there until their operations have devoured the mountains,” said Jesus Catamco of the Alliance to Save the Integrity of Nature (Asin).
As the protests unfold, Midsaalip, a frontier town, has become a battleground for the government to rethink its policies on the use of natural resources. Created a municipality in 1964, it grew in the midst of brisk logging activities in the 1950s until the mid-1980s.

As questions hang about mining in Pinukis, Ma. Benita Clamonte, coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) ministry of the Society of Saint Columban, urged the Aquino administration to review existing mining rights to determine the propriety of entering into deals with mining firms.

The national government, through the MGB, grants mining rights subject to the “social acceptance” by host communities of a project’s potential benefits, costs and impact.

In areas occupied by indigenous peoples, where most mining prospects in the country are found, the mining company must get the approval of the tribe, through its traditional authority. This is the so-called Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process overseen by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

Faked consent
For the Subanen in Midsalip, shortcuts in securing the consent left them feeling defrauded. They appeared “to have wholeheartedly accepted” the project but remained clueless about a number of serious concerns, especially ecological impact and their livelihood.

Many of their leaders were duped into giving their nods in exchange for money, said woman leader Wilma Tero. Offers of money also divided the tribe, she said.

An applicant for mining rights then simply gathered those whose loyalties it had bought, had them execute consent “as if they are the only residents of a community,” Taro said. Worse, she said, “they ordain their own tribal leaders.”

She revealed “unimaginable incidents” like one Subanen family with five members as coexisting “timuays” (traditional leaders), which, she said, was unlikely because tribal leadership passes only from one generation to the next. One Visayan settler also became a “timuay.”

“What is so sad is that people in the NCIP know about these, yet they were instrumental in having the faked consent recognized,” Taro complained.

Test case
Clamonte said the fight to save Pinukis was a test case for Midsalip and for the rest of mineral-rich Zamboanga Peninsula.

An MGB mining tenement control map as of December 2008 showed that of the peninsula’s 1.7 million hectares of land, 745,675 hectares or 44 percent are mining prospects, save for over 500 ha covered by an MPSA in Barangay Canatuan in Siocon town, which is an operating mine.

The mining areas include 31,692 ha covered by 10 MPSAs; 196, 254 ha for 45 MPSA applications; over 4,953 ha for an exploration permit; 78,975 ha for four applications for financial and technical assistance agreement and another mining rights instrument; and 433,801 ha for 90 applications for exploration permits.

Catholic parishes in the towns of Aurora, Ramon Magsaysay, Midsalip and Sominot (ARMMS) cited MGB data that showed 14 entities vying for mining rights in 31 of Midsalip’s 33 barangays.

In all, the applications stretch across 19,000 ha of the town’s land size of over 28,000 ha. Three of these applications have graduated into MPSAs, like that of Gami, and the principal mineral prospects are iron, gold and silver. Asin and ARMMS are worried that mining will destroy the town’s critical watershed that supports irrigation for some 1,200 ha of rice fields, which yield some P87 million in farmers’ income yearly.

In the watershed area are second-growth forests straddling five villages, the result of a P4.8-million reforestation project funded through a World Bank environment and natural resources sectoral adjustment loan (Secal) in the early 1990s.

Unanswered questions
Despite the flurry of mining applications in Midsalip, people do not have enough knowledge of the long-term costs and benefits, and their rights as an affected community.

Some truly believe that mining will stir the local economy by creating jobs which are hard to come by in the sleepy fourth-class municipality, but they admit having no idea about how companies like Gami would compensate for the social and environmental impact of their extractive activities.

“We can no longer do anything because they already have the papers,” one “habal-habal” (motorcycle) driver said. Other tribal people talk about plans by a mining outfit to slash Pinukis for its precious metals to “make us very rich.” Patinio said the words were familiar: “You will get rich and own cars; you will have schools and hospitals in your village ... Very tempting for poor communities except that we have realized from our own history that these can be empty promises.”

The greatest unanswered questions of all: “Why does the consent process need to be subverted? And why does government close its eyes on this anomaly?”

Standoff
The government has vigorously promoted the digging up of billions of dollars worth of mineral deposits to pump-prime economic development.

Republic Act No. 7942 or the Mining Code of 1995 extended juicy concessions to companies doing mineral extraction projects like tax holidays and, for foreign-owned outfits, profit repatriation. But the rosy promise of macro-development does not rhyme with the expectations of communities who dread the threat of environmental destruction and their eventual displacement.

“I don’t want to be blamed for destroying the future of my children and grandchildren,” said Tiburcio Tumales, a “timuay,” pointing to the rice fields that could be devastated.

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