Mankayan indigenous folks call on Aquino to reject Lepanto mining application

“As the affected indigenous peoples community, the exercise of our right to self-determination through the free, prior and informed consent process has been systematically and insidiously curtailed.”

By DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Indigenous Cordilleran communities of Mankayan town, Benguet province have been crying foul over the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement that will pave the way for a new mineral agreement for the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo), widely blamed by tribal folk for the environmental degradation caused by copper and gold mining in their area since 1936.

The Kankana-eys are opposing the application for a financial or technical assistance agreement (FTAA), by the Far Southeast Gold Resources Inc. (FSGRI), a joint venture company of LCMCo with the South African mining company Gold Fields.

A Memorandum of Agreement worth P80 million ($1.7 million) was already signed six months ago, on Feb. 21, by a council of elders from eight out of 12 Mankayan villages and FGSRI – under a process which the indigenous communities said, violates their right to self-determination.

After the February signing, the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous People (ICC/IP) of three concerned villages came out with separate resolutions rejecting FSGRI’s FTAA application, and calling on President Aquino to do the same. The president gives the final approval to a mineral agreement.

In July, the Mankayan municipal council issued a resolution denying an endorsement to FSGRI, echoing the side of protesting communities.

FSGRI aims to convert portions of two of its mineral production sharing agreements (MPSA) into an FTAA, to expand its copper-gold mining. MPSA 001 covers 305 hectares while MPSA 151 covers 82 has.

The Save Mankayan Movement (SMM) had condemned the MOA as a “sell-out,” and submitted a letter of opposition during the Feb. 21 signing ceremony.

On Aug. 11, SMM members submitted a letter of opposition to the central office of the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). The group also submitted the resolutions of “non-endorsement” issued by the Mankayan municipal council, the Teeng di Mankayan (Kankana-ey Indigenous People of Mankayan), the Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous People (ICC/IP) of the Mankayan Ancestral Domain, and of the villages of Tabio, Bulalacao and Colalo.

The village council of Bulalacao, which along with Tabio comprise the mining site, also issued a “non-endorsement” to the FSGRI.

The resolutions said the MOA violated their rights as provided in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and local laws, such as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) or Republic Act 8371, and the Mining Act of 1995 or Republic Act 7942.

Both laws require project proponents to get the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the affected indigenous community before any undertaking in their area.

Indigenous groups such as the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) had long criticized the NCIP for being “biased” in favour of companies, instead of serving the interests of the indigenous communities.

“From the start, we have expressed that we don’t want an expansion of mining here in Mankayan,” Lilian Fellao of SMM told Bulatlat.com. “Lepanto has been there for 77 years, but there is still no development in the host community,” she said, at a protest on Aug. 11 in front of Congress.

Since 2011, Mankayan residents have opposed FSGRI’s expansion, and barricaded its drilling site for a year. In turn, the company filed criminal and civil charges the residents. The criminal complaints were dismissed, but the civil charges are still being heard in court.

‘Resolution of non-endorsement’

The Mankayan municipal council, through a resolution issued on July 7, rejected FSGRI’s FTAA application, after voting 2-5, with two abstentions.

The council committee on natural resources and environmental protection, chaired by councilor Joseph Denver Tongacan, said in its report: “The flaws in the FPIC process and in the MOA are serious violation of the laws RA 8371 and RA 7942, and likewise, violates the rights of our constituents and the Te-eng or native Kankana-ey residents of Mankayan.”

The committee on land use plan, chaired by councilor Jules Tanglib, said the FSGRI project covers areas already declared as watershed, communal forest reserve, residential, commercial, agricultural, and for small-scale mining. School zone, churches, bridges and provincial roads were also covered.

The ICC/IPs’ resolution cited one of the implementing rule of IPRA which requires the consent of “all affected ICCs/IPs communities,” for a project that affects “two or more ancestral domains,” such as in the case of the FSGRI.

“Our processes, institutions and leadership systems have been ignored in the FPIC process,” they said.

The resolution pointed out the different ICC/IP bodies that should have primary role in the FPIC process: the ato (subvillage), at-atoan, (village) and kalangan (municipal). These are indigenous political structures where consensus is built and decisions are made and carried out, said the resolution.

Instead, two “alleged representatives” from each of the eight communities signed as the supposed “council of elders,” or Coel, which the ICC/IPs questioned.

“As the affected IP community, the exercise of our right to self-determination through the FPIC process has been systematically and insidiously curtailed,” said the ICC/IPs.

The resolution added that the MOA does not give “fair and just benefits for the community, in return for giving a big portion of our ancestral domain, our minerals, our waters, our land, our air and our trees, and almost all resources.” The P80 million stated in the MOA is to be divided among the eight villages that signed.

The Mankayan ICC/IP pointed out that the villages of Bulalacao and Tabio are the actual host communities, but the NCIP field-based investigation team showed bias when it included “neighboring villages” which are not within the area to be covered.

Under the MPSA, the government is considered owner of the minerals and gets shares in the production, or two percent in excise tax in metallic and non-metallic minerals. Under the FTAA, the company is given 100 percent ownership of the minerals for 25 years, renewable for another 25. The company gets a tax holiday for five years, or even longer, to “recover pre-operating expenses.” Fees, royalties and other payments will only be made after the recovery period.

The MOA is a prerequisite for the NCIP to be able to issue a certification precondition (CP) for the FTAA. The FTAA, if approved by the president, lasts 25 years, renewable for another 25. The NCIP is yet to issue the CP. (http://bulatlat.com)

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