By FINELA MEJIA
QUIRINO, Ilocos Sur — “Let us bind together, tight as a rope, so that we can bring down the big mining companies,” said Ama Felipe Anaas during the Quirino Environment and Human Rights Summit.
With the theme “Protect the Mountains, Fields and Rivers,” 120 participants from various sectors of Quirino, Ilocos Sur discussed environment and human rights issues related to large-scale mining in the said summit last June 8.
The activity resulted in the formation of “Save Quirino Movement,” a municipal-wide network that aims to strengthen the people’s unity in order to launch more coordinated and organized actions in addressing issues of mining and human rights violations.
The summit was organized by the concerned elders of Quirino, including representatives of the Cabaroan Nieghborhood Organization, Lamag Ob-ubo Association, Patungcaleo Improvement Farmers Association organizations, Timapuyog Dagiti Marigrigat ti Madapoy, in partnership with BAMPIS (Benguet, Abra, Mountain Province, Ilocos Sur), Mining Watch and Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA).
To show solidarity with Quirino folks, members of Save Mankayan Movement (SMM) and DEFEND Ilocos also attended the summit to share and exchange experiences with the locals.
History of mining and agricultural destruction
Quirino, Ilocos Sur, is seriously devastated by voluminous toxicities, massive sedimentation and widespread siltation of the Abra River, brought about by historical mines waste from the mining operation of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company(LCMCo). Since the operation of the said firm in 1936, the municipality of Quirino has lost its bountiful and historical fishing ground and vast tracks of highly productive agricultural lands as main source of livelihood.
The ongoing mining operation and expansion of LCMCo and its giant mining partner Gold Fields in Mankayan, the ongoing mining exploration of Royalco in Bakun Benguet, and the two-year mining exploration of Freeport McMoran/PhelpsDodge in Brgy Patiacan, Quirino, spook the people of Quirino that these large-scale mining would likely ravage what remained of their agricultural lands.
Ninety year-old Retired Reverend Pastor Gawaen of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), a resident of Barangay Malideg, mournfully said in his privilege speech, “Manipud tawen 1930, mismo a nakitak ken linak-am ko ti saguday ken kabaknang ti kataltalonan ken karayan. Naurnos ken naragsak ti panagbiag ti umili gapu ti kaadu ti taraon. Maigapu kadagitoy, nagmaymaysa kami nga am-ma yo a siutured a nanglapped kadgiti adu nga sinmaruno a kompanya a nangpadas a sumrek a mangminas iti ili tayo. Agserbi koma a karit kadakayo amin nga an-anak ta saan yo nga itulok ken palubusan ti karkaro pay a panakadadael ti ili tayo gapu ti makadadael ken makadidigra a panagminas.”
Ridge to Reef: mining in Cordillera and in Ilocos
DEFEND Ilocos against Mining Plunder (DEFEND Ilocos) shared the situation of mining in Ilocos and in the Cordillera. Ilocos Region has a total of 85 mining applications at present. The applications are mostly for magnetite mining in the coasts of Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.
Meanwhile, the Cordillera Region has a total of 215 mining applications. Of the operating/completed National Priority Projects of mining industry, two are located in Cordillera – the Lepanto Mining and Consolidated Corp. Teresa Gold Project and the Philex Mining Corporation’s Sto. Tomas II Cu Expansion Project.
During the open forum and plenary discussion, the delegates shared a strong opposition to the entry of large-scale mining in their town. They also declared solidarity with the Save Mankayan Movement’s call to stop Lepanto mining operation, as well as the pullout of Gold Fields in Mankayan.
Small-scale mining (SSM) no longer practiced the traditional way
Alarm regarding the full-blown operation of small-scale mining in Brgy. Patiacan was also raised. The residents called the attention of their kakailians, local officials and concerned government agencies to seriously address the worsening impacts of the abusive method of small-scale mining (SSM) operation in the village.
Certain individuals use complicated instruments, poisonous chemicals and they are currently operating numbers of “Babadan” (leaching pad), resulting in the eradication of the remaining fishing ground and massive contamination of fresh water in Balas-iyan River. Balas-iyan River is the main source of irrigation of barangays Lamag, Patungcaleo, Banoen and Malideg. Early on, villages Lamag and Banaoen have passed resolutions about it.
Xavier Akien of BAMPIS Mining Watch clarified that the ongoing SSM operation in Patiacan and in other Cordillera provinces are different to the method used in traditional SSM.
Traditional SSM is originally practiced in various parts of the region as environmentally friendly, socially acceptable, and non-destructive to their livelihood.
The one-day summit served as an educational forum to the Quirino residents. It helped to strengthen their ranks and resolve in defending their communities. They came up with a unity declaration major basis of unity.