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BARRICADE VS LEPANTO DEFIES NCIP-LED POLICE Guns versus pine wood, police versus women and children

August 30, 2012 ·  , http://opinyon.com.ph/index.php/columnist/read/barricade-vs-lepanto-defies-ncip-led-police-guns-versus-pine-wood--police-versus-women-and-children

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[This article is based on a field trip hosted by the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), which leads the opposition against large scale mining and supports small- scale mining in the Cordillera mountain province.]

ON JULY 24, 2012, a composite of about 30 armed policemen and Lepanto Mines security guards led by National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) officers surrounded the human barricade of Ibalois and Kankan-eys at the firm’s drill site in Barangay Tabios, Municipality of Mankayan, province of Benguet in the Cordillera.

The barricaders reported that Mankayan NCIP Sheriff Lydon Kolbonga and NCIP-RHO-CAR regional officer Brent Masweng gave a deadline of 20 minutes for the 60-odd barricaders to open up the fence. The barricaders, mostly women and children, defying the guns, picked up large pieces of pine used as firewood for cooking. As Lepanto guards started to pull out a fence post, young barricaders grabbed their crowbar, and they backed out in spite of being under cover of guns. They texted supporters from nearby communities and their number swelled rapidly within 30 minutes to about 180. The armed group was stopped dead in their tracks by indigenous people’s power. An elderly Kankan-ey woman said they would rather die than yield their sacred ancestral land.

How women can defy guns with pieces of wood is based on history. The highly-organized Igorots of the Cordillera have resisted outside mining incursions since pre-history, which were met with successes and failures – failures to stop giants like Lepanto, Batong-buhay, Philex from coming in; successes in establishing corporate-free people’s small scale mines. To date, not a single large scale mining firm is operating within the Mt. Province. The Ibalois-Kankan-eys of Itogon have a thousand year old sustainable environment-friendly (chemical free) small scale mining culture that can be adopted as a model nationwide today.

The barricaders explained that they were protesting the drilling in fear of sudden loss of drinking and irrigation water and the sinking of an entire elementary school and portions of a Church due to extensive tunneling a few years ago. Lepanto increased their tunnels rapidly when they shifted from copper to gold mining. There were reports of deaths of workers due to poor safety standards. In their greed, Lepanto started to mine in-between mined-out sand-filled caverns, removing supporting beams, causing extensive collapse and deaths.

Lepanto’s Underwater Mining has no EIA
Lepanto could not mine below the sea level at 640 meters because sea water would undermine their tunnels. In 2010, Lepanto struck a 40-60 deal with a US firm, Gold Fields, which specialized in highly-technical under-sea-water mining. The project was delayed by strong opposition from workers because of inadequate ventilation. Workers sometimes went straight to the hospital after coming out of the two existing tunnels. It was reportedly the third exhaust pipe being drilled that was met with a human barricade.

Environmentalists are questioning if Lepanto can legally mine under the sea, which they argued needed a new EIA.  To ascertain its safety, the highly secret Gold Fields under-sea mining needs to be revealed. Will this cause sea water to mix with existing fresh water tables and destroy agriculture on a massive scale? The Lepanto mines are surrounded by extensive vegetable and rice farms, which is the heart of Benguet’s agricultural economy. Residents in the area have the right to know if their lands and even their lives are in danger. In a recent incident, sea water reportedly exploded into the tunnels from below due to high pressure.

There are no known moves by the MGB-DENR to question or investigate Gold Fields’ operations.

The heavens cry out for vengeance against greedy large scale mining firms, backed up by Noynoy’s infamous EO79, which rape the land of ancient people, and leave the poor poorer. Our mining laws are essentially pro-foreigner, pro-rich, anti-poor and anti-Filipino. It is also anti-agriculture in a land with an agricultural economy nourishing 70% of Filipinos nationwide.

This article has been sent by email to Malacanang, NCIP, DENR, MGB, CBCP, NASSA, PCM, concerned mining firms, various national and international NGOs, and local and national print media.

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