Wednesday, 16 February 2000

A community speaks out
By Gina Mission

The fight is long and hard, but the wait for official action seems to be even longer.

...On October 19, 1999, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Manila received all documents pertaining to the people’s initiative launched by the people of Didipio against the operations of the Climax-Arimco Mining Company (CAMC).

...An initiative is a legal process in which registered voters of a local government unit may directly propose an action or enact an ordinance for their community, or amend any act or ordinance of their sanggunian. In Didipio, the initiative is intended to take back the consent granted by the sangguniang bayan to CAMC's open-pit gold/copper project.

...Both the 1987 Constitution and the 1995 Local Government Code provide for the people’s right to a local initiative. In line with the law, Comelec, within 30 days receipt of the initiative documents, was to set the date for a plebiscite approving or rejecting the company’s mining activities. But after almost four months of waiting, the people of Didipio have yet to hear from the Comelec.

...And they are asking: "Is something wrong?"

A dot called Didipio

...Last December, Didipio landed on the front pages of newspapers as he crash site of a plane of Asian Spirit bound for Isabela. These days, it is making news of a different news.

...Possibly smaller than a dot on the map, Didipio is a farming barangay in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, peopled predominantly by Ifugaos, Bugkalots, and Kankaney.

...Like most tribal communities in the Philippines, Didipio has the unmistakable look of the wilderness. It is green, remote, and mountainous. And it is the site of CAMC’s proposed 765-hectare open-pit Didipio Gold/Copper Project.

...CAMC, a 100 per cent Australian-owned company, holds one of only two existing Financial or Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA) in the country. The other FTAA holder is Western Mining Corporation.

...The agreement gives CAMC the right to explore and exploit mineral resources in a 37,000-hectare area covering 15 barangays of Kasibu municipality and at least three barangays in Cabarroguis and Nagtipunan towns of Quirino. Didipio is one of those covered by CAMC's FTAA, which was granted just a few days before the passing of the Mining Act in 1995.

Voices of concern

...Residents of Sitio Dinauyan, Cagat-Surong, and Bae-Verona whose farms will be inundated by the proposed mine's tailing dam, oppose the project.

...They aired their concern over the effects of the mining project in an interview conducted by Mary Sagapan of the Diocesan Social Action Center of Bayobong, Nueva Vizcaya and translated by Tanya Hamada.

..."I have not yet seen the mines, but I know that the threat is what they refer to as the proposed tailing dam. This land is our life. If they
build the tailing dam, where will we get what we now live on? That’s
why mines are destructive," said 67-year old Andres Limating of Sitio Surong.

...Dina-on Cut-ing, of Dina-uyan, said: "We do not like mining because if our water source dries up or goes under, what will we drink? Where will we get water for our terraces, the small ones that we have built? Where will we find food for our bodies? We are looking for people to help us because if it were only us, they (the authorities)  will not pay attention."

..."With land, even if it is small, if you are industrious, you will be
able to eat. There is camote, gabi, and rice. If you plant vegetables,
that is plenty to live on. What about money? Even if you have a lot of
money, if there is no rice, will you chew on your money?" Cut-ing added.

...Even young people are apprehensive. "If you ask me, I cannot see the good that it will bring Didipio, or to us, the youth. The company says it is good, but for me, I have seen nothing in it that will bring us long-term livelihood," said Julian Inlab from sitio Surong.

...Over the residents' objections, the sangguniang barangay (barangay council) of Didipio entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with CAMC on April 1999, consenting to the open-pit mining operation of CAMC in their community. When the objectors to the project learned of the MOA, they submitted to the council a petition denying CAMC's proposed project.

...When the Didipio council failed to act on their petition, the objectors invoked their right to an initiative, and under Comelec supervision, obtained 109 signatures in support of the anti-dam campaign, well above 10 per cent of the total number of Didipio's registered voters as required by law.

...The Didipio initiative is the first in the Philippines that is invoked
against a mining company.

..."It puts to test whether, under the present dispensation, the people have an active and effective role in our system of governance or they are merely the passive recipients of grand government-approved projects," said lawyer Marvic Leonen of the Legal Rights and Resource Center (LRRC).

...In a solidarity statement, Minewatch Philippines-Bantay Mina said:
"The Didipio people issue is multi-faceted--embracing human rights,
environment, socioeconomic and political issues. It is also an
international issue involving the dawn of transnational corporations’
dominance in the Philippine mining industry, as it is already evident
nowadays. But most of all, it is an issue of Life. Land defines them: it
represents the totality that informs and interweaves with their
spiritual, social, political, and subsistence-oriented economies."

Counter petition

...But CAMC did not take the opposition sitting down.

...To counter the 109 signatures secured by the proponents of the initiative in Didipio, CAMC submitted to the Comelec on November 11, 1999, a counter petition entitled "Petition for the Adoption of Resolution Affirming and Attesting to the Genuineness and Veracity of the Concurrence to the Memorandum of Agreement Between Barangay Didipio and Climax Arimco Signed on April 28, 1999."

...The counter petition has 311 signatories, including those of the barangay officials who earlier signed the MOA. As indicated in the title, the petition proposes that the Didipio council adopt a resolution affirming and attesting the validity of the MOA.

...The Legal Rights and Resource Center, however, asserted that the 311 signatures in the counter petition were gathered without Comelec supervision and were therefore invalid.

...In addition, the proponents of the mining project reportedly were not informed of the signature-taking. There were reports that at about the time barangay officials were soliciting signatures to the counter petition, CAMC’s community relations officers were asking for bio-data from registered voters of Didipio with promises that they would be considered for hiring by CAMC this year.

...It was in 1989 when Didipio residents first noticed foreign visitors in the place as part of a team involved in mining exploration. A few years later, the visits became regular until one day the residents woke up to a constructed bunkhouse for CAMC officers and employees at the foothills of Dinkidi Hill in Sitio Bacbacan.

Jobs and promises

...Jobs were given in an obvious attempt to soften possible resistance to the company's activities. Residents and barangay officials were hired as contractual employees of the company until finally, except for one councilor, all barangay officials agreed to the CAMC operations in Didipio.

...With employment came sweet promises of development for Didipio, such as the construction of roads and a school, the availability of electricity for Didipio, and even additional income for the local government. But obviously something hidden came with the jobs and the tantalizing prospects of progress.

...The April 1999 memorandum of agreement between the barangay council and the CAMC was signed without the consent of or consultation with the community.

...Barangay officials who signed the MOA have refused to give a
final copy of the public document to concerned community members. The copy that was given to the community did not carry the signature of the notary public and had several blank annex pages. To Leonen, these are signs that the document was "questionably executed."

...Opponents of the project also point out that the 100-per cent foreign ownership of CAMC violates the 60-40 Filipino-foreign ownership clause expressly provided in the 1987 Costitution. Also, while the FTAA under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 allows up to 100 per cent foreign-owned entities to exploit Philippine mineral resources, CAMC’s FTAA was obtained before the Mining Act was enacted.

..."The people from Arimco say that they are not forcing us (to accept the project). So why do they keep asking questions and nterviewing us?" asked Cut-ing in the interview by Mary Sagapan.

Harassment denounced

...In sympathy with those opposing the mining project, the Diocesan Social Action Center of Bayombong issued a statement condemning CAMC.

..."We denounce the harassment, threats, deception, and bribery being done by various mining companies upon our community leaders, especially those in Didipio, to prevent them from speaking for their community’s behalf," it said.

..."They claim they will not use any chemicals (in the mining operation),'' Cut-ing said.``I asked how it is possible to use water only. They answered yes, they will only use water. I do not believe them. I do not know what they use but when we went on a visit to a mining site, there were reportedly some kids who died while bathing along the river. And some animals died too.''

..."I experienced working for Arimco, but I observed that the company showed favoritism toward some workers. They did not give equal treatment. From that you can seethat when they begin operation, they will not give equal treatment to our community," Limateng said in the same interview.

..."It seems that our own elected officials are first in line in approaching them (Arimco). So we are looking for people who will help us," said Alfredo Cuting from sitio Camgat-Surong.

...What they're seeking is assistance in pushing through their initiative against the mining project. They are disappointed that the Comelec seems to be taking its own sweet time in acting on their petition.

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