Shaving one’s head, saving the environment
Text and photos by Gina Mission

Indigenous women have their heads shaven ... save their environment.

irst, four women who defied their indigenous cultural practice of having long hair and had their heads shaved bald. The men followed suit.

___At a mass rally in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in Quezon City, indigenous peoples (IPs) from all over the country government’s "wanton disregard of their demands to protect the environment." Men and women volunteered to have their heads shaved to dramatize what they called "the rape of our mountainsides and the residing communities by mining firms." Amid shouts of protests, Anita Bernardo, an Igorot, showed a photo of the barren mountain where the Antamok Gold Project in Benguet operates an open pit mine.

___"Just like these women," Bernardo said, referring to the already bald women, "this mountain is already bald. And like these women, a barren mountain doesn’t look too good. For how long can we remain silent?"

___Other protesters joined Bernardo, and later everybody was chanting "Mina- ibasura!" (Junk mining operations!)For Environment Secretary Antonio Cerilles, who they claimed as a "bitter pill to a dying environment," they chanted: "Salot!." (Menace!)

___But after many things were said and the protest adrenaline subsided, they had only one demand: stop large scale mining operations in the country.

___"We don’t want another Caraga or Lanao," said Luis Redulfin, an Igorot from Nueva Vizcaya. Just recently, both Caraga and Lanao regions were flooded, its farms destroyed after days of heavy rains.

___Philippine Greens, an environment NGO, identified five "evils" which large-scale mining industries illustrate. "The government-mining collusion reeks of corruption. They use State power not against firms violating people’s rights and polluting the land, but against popular opposition to mining," said its secretary general, Roberto Verzola.

___Large-scale mining, according to Verzola, enriches those who already wallow in wealth while at the same time wrenching control over the land away from the IPs. "Mining firms crush, grind and chemically process millions of tons of soil and rock to get a few tons of metal and other minerals. More than 90 per cent of the original material is discarded as mine tailings waste, which are often dumped into rivers – poisoning the waters, silting river beds and irrigation canals, destroying agricultural lands, and polluting shore waters," Verzola continued.

___In addition, mining firms are reportedly using private security agencies against communities. "They set up check points, build fences, and harass people," Verzola added.

___Unregulated mining operations, according to the protesters, not only displace indigenous cultural communities, but also denies them of their source of livelihood and destroys their culture. Protesting the mining operation of Climax Arimco Mining Company, residents of the sitios of Dinauyan, Camagat and Bae all in Barangay Dipidio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, said that the construction of the mine tailings dam and the diversion tunnel in the area is adversely affecting them.

___"Since our stay in the area in the 1950s, we have toiled hand in hand with our brethren migrants, have had a peaceful life and have constantly been improving the area which has now become part of the vegetable bowl of the province," lamented Peter Dupayat, a barangay councilor of Kasibu.

___But since Arimco’s operation eight years ago, Dupayat said, it has successfully encroached on their land without the prior informed consent of the people. "They misled most of our local leaders to believe that their mining activity is sustainable and will truly uplift the economic status of our people," he said. Such misinformation, according to him, created internal squabbles and factions among their people. "They exploited our uninformed tribe members through false promises and ‘grease’ money they provided some of our leaders thereby subjecting them to the wishes of the mining company."

___Kasibu, an eastern upland municipality in Nueva Vizcaya, covers 30 barangays populated by both the indigenous Bugkalots and various migrants from other upland communities that were affected by giant development projects like the Ambuklao Dam and large scale mining operations in the Cordillera Region. It is located along a network of low-lying hills and mountains straddled by narrow fertile valleys collectively called the "Marampang." Its hills and mountains are the natural geographic defense of the province from the onslaught of typhoons coming from the Pacific Ocean. Its agricultural production includes rice, ginger, citrus and other high value vegetables.

___The discovery of high-grade gold and rich deposits of copper and other minerals in the area has registered Kasibu in the list of areas in the country being applied for mining giants such as Climas Arimco, Red Earth Mining Corporation, Dalton Pacific Resources, Inc., and Lasseter Resources Corp.

___Fearing forced dislocation, the local residents filed several petitions and letters to Cerilles and the local government units (LGUs) in Nueva Vizcaya. Among the issues they raised in their petitions were the sustainability of the local communities’ livelihood vis-a-vis the mining operations, and the absence of consultation with affected communities, and in cases where they were consulted, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as well as the mining companies did not listen to their stand but instead went on with their projects.

___But according to the protesters, all their efforts have been met with silence.

___"We decided to hold this mass protest precisely because we want the government to listen to us. We will not settle for a deaf ear," explained Igorot Lucas Buay.

___And for Thelman Gapang, a Mandaya from Davao City, the battle to protect the environment is on. Now bald, she has resolved to fight in her own way and with other IPs, to wage a strong opposition against mining and illegal logging. "I’ve defied the Mandaya practice of having long hair for women. My hair for me is very important but I allowed it to be shaved. I don’t think there’s any sacrifice I cannot do," she said.

CyberDyaryo | 1999.03.11