Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 2, Number 29              August 25 - 31,  2002            Quezon City, Philippines







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A Bane Called Victoria

“Five kilometers yonder is a gold mine called Victoria.”

This sign greets visitors of Barangay Bulalacao, Mankayan, a town in the mountainous province of Benguet in northern Philippines and host to the mining activities of Lepanto Consolidated Mines Corporation (LCMCo). For newcomers, the sign is an indication of the town’s rich resources and progress. Not for the people of Mankayan. Part of an indigenous tribe called Kankanaeys, the lives of Mankayan residents have been in danger since Lepanto started its underground copper mining in 1936 and gold mining in 1995.

By Audrey Mary Beltran and Ara Fordan
Bulatlat.com  

A landslide brings death and destruction in this mining village. Photo by Cordillera People's Alliance

Mankayan has a total land area of 16,336 hectares or five percent of the total land area of Benguet. It is composed of 12 barangays namely, Balili, Bedbed, Bulalacao, Cabiten, Colalo, Guinaoang, Paco Palasaan, Poblacion, Sapid, Tabeo and Taneg. Poblacion serves as the center for  commercial and administrative centers of the municipality.

Rich resources of minerals, forests, agricultural lands and water could be found within Mankayan boundaries. Reserves of gold, copper and silver are found of Lepanto and Suyoc. Tributary streams of Abra River like Mankayan River, Guellong Creek, Imbanguila River, Suyoc River and the Apaoan Creek are the main sources of irrigation for the agricultural needs of the farmers of Mankayan. Forest resources are to be found within the municipality, part of the 12,855 hectares of forest that cover Mankayan, Bakun and the adjoining  Ilocos Sur Province.

The victoria gold

The 1998 Company Report of LCMCo. states that the company is the number one gold producer in the country. Its shift from copper to gold mining was brought about by the discovery of a gold vein in September 1995 a kilometer south of its mining operation.  According to the LCMCo., this is the only major gold find in the Philippines for the past two decades.

Calling it the Victoria Gold Project, LCMCo.’s gold mining operation, mined out 106,648 ounces of gold and 71,155 ounces of silver from a daily tonnage of 1,300 tons in 1997, its first year of operation. By the end of the year, there was an increase of 1,500 tons per day. By 1998, there was a 32 percent increase in gold production.  The continuing gold extraction averages at 3,240 tons of gold per day.

But while the LCMCo. has been promoting its Victoria Gold Find and boasting of how it will haul millions of pesos for its stockholders, communities in Mankayan started to experience the damaging effects of LCMCo.’s mining operations.

A bane to the people

According to Fernando Mangili, secretary general of Alyansa Dagiti Pesante iti Taeng Kordilyera (Alliance of Peasants in the Cordillera Homeland or APIT TAKO), the silt from the mine tailings have buried hectares of productive agricultural land being tilled by farmers. It has also led to the destruction of the Cervantes and Abra River and other water tributaries, resulting in the death of aquatic life.

The LCMCo. uses an average of three tons of cyanide per day in their mining operations, according to Albert Diego, secretary of the Colalo Residents Organization (CRO) and one of the convenors of the Mankayan Against Lepanto Expansion (MALEX).  The flow of such toxic chemicals in the past has found its way even to farmlands, lessening the land’s productivity.

Recently, the LCMCo. was granted perpetual water rights to six of the nine rivers in North Benguet.  This is to enable LCMCo. to generate the 500 metric tons of water it needs for gold processing. 

With the company targeting to produce 2,500-5,000 tons of ore per day, Mankayan folks expect mining activities will heighten even more in the next months.  The company has in fact been using 76 Load Haul and Dump (LHD) machines and three jumbo drills. 

Meanwhile, environmental destruction has already reached a massive scale with the continued aggressive project implementation.   

“The most evident effect of LCMCo’s mining is the Colalo tragedy in 1999 when a landslide occurred, killing Mr. Gomez and sinking the Mankayan Elementary School,” said Diego. Gomez was a resident who volunteered to retrieve school equipment but died while inside the school building. His body was never found.  

Diego added, “Another clear proof is the sinking of the Poblacion. Aside from this, cracks on the walls and floors of our houses could be evidently seen. We blame Lepanto for all of these tragic events.”

Also affected by  mining operations and mine tailings are Tadian and Bauko in Mountain Province; Cervantes, Quirino, San Emilio, Santa, Bantay and Caoayan in Ilocos Sur; and Tubo, Luba, Manabo, Bangued and Lagangilang in Abra.

Meanwhile, mine workers who are paid the minimum wage are facing massive retrenchment with the mechanization of mining.

 “Stop Lepanto’s expansion!”

Last June 29, in response to the worsening situation of the people, about a hundred peasants, small-scale miners, gardeners and workers from Mankayan; Tadian and Mainit villages in Bontoc, Mountain Province; and Cervantes, Ilocos Sur convened in a Peasant Summit and formed the Mankayan Against Lepanto Expansion (MALEX). MALEX intends to campaign for the immediate stop of Lepanto’s expansion and its operations.   

 

“We have already gone through 66 years of mining operations,” said Mangili. “It has wreaked havoc to the environment, livelihood and properties of the residents. In 66 years, only Lepanto has gained from the mining (operations), not the people. We must stop Lepanto’s expansion!”

MALEX believes that relocation is not the answer to the suffering of the people of Mankayan. Instead, it strongly pushes for the end of LCMCo operations in the Cordillera and in the country.  In a resolution passed during the summit, MALEX also called for the junking of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 that paved the way for further liberalization of the mining industry.

“What the people want is to stop the operation of LCMCo. before it extracts all our resources, put our lives in further danger or, worst of all, put an end to our existence,” said Diego.

“This is our ancestral land and it is our duty to protect it. Our ancestors gave us this land and we should give this to the next generations,” said Manong Julian, a resident of Guinaoang.

MALEX also demands compensation for the destruction of property and loss of sources of livelihood due to the sinking of land and landslide.

Symbol

During the National Minority Week last August 12-16, MALEX joined the contingent of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) and the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan sa Pilipinas (KAMP) in a protest caravan against development aggression and militarization. 

Their first stop was the LCMCo.’s national office in Makati. Mankayan residents were supposed to deposit bags of silt in front of the LCMCo office as a symbol of their protest. They were however shoved by policemen who tried to prevent them from getting near the main door.  In their anger, members of the indigenous group threw the mine tailings and silt at the steps of the LCMCo’s office.

"That is just a bit of the garbage Lepanto has been dumping on our ancestral lands. We are just returning it to them,” said Windel Bolinget, CPA secretary general. Bulatlat.com


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