BAGUIO CITY -- While a lot of families are preparing for the opening of classes in June, several townsfolk of Mankayan are barricading the entry of mining equipment in Sitio Madaymen,in Barangay Tabeo in Mankayan, believed to be the site of the largest drilling operations the Goldfields.
Residents of barangays Upper Tabeo, Balili and Bulalacao, have sustained the Madaymen human barricade since late January this year.
Recently, Mankayan folks called on Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company to cease its mining operations in Mankayan, saying the 75 years of mineral extraction has taken its toll on the people not only in this premier mining town but also in the low-lying Ilocos towns of Cervantes and the Ilocos and Abra towns, which the Abra River traverses.
Celebrating Cordillera Day on April 24 in several provinces, the Cordillera Peoples' Alliance (CPA) noted that the celebration in Mankayan drew the largest participation, with nearly 2,500 delegates from four Ilocos Sur towns, Bakun and Mankayan in Benguet, three towns in Abra and two towns in Mountain Province.
The Cordillera Day in Mankayan supported the people's call to stop mining operations by Lepanto, the pullout of the military and the packing up of Goldfields.
Lepanto has allegedly taken a handsome amount from the Australian firm Goldfields as an initial investment for 40% share in its Far Southeast Gold project.
It is not easy for peasant families to prepare for enrolment in June, especially when their engagement in small artisanal mining and swidden agriculture does not yield the needed cash.
It is more difficult now that these poor peasants of vegetable gardeners and small-scale miners have to take turns in sustaining the barricade.
Now that their call is for both Lepanto and Goldfields to pack up and leave them alone, we can foretell a more challenging scenario even after the enrolment period.
The people of Mankayan iterate that Lepanto's tailings caused the pollution of Abra River, one of five major river systems that find their headwaters in the Cordillera mountain ranges. The 75 years of mining copper and gold has resulted in dislocation of farming communities, subsidence of several areas in Mankayan, and the loss of livelihood of both farmers and fisherfolk. The Save the Abra River Movement, a loose alliance, did an earlier extensive research and documentation on these points.
Save the Mankayan Movement also noted the situation of mineworkers, who have to fight contractualization, reduced workloads and union-busting tactics.
Barricading a mining area has been a weapon by land claimants. In the past, the nine-month barricade of Itogon residents permanently discouraged Benguet Corporation from doing open pit mining operations in Keystone, Ucab. Similar barricades were also put up in Barangay Ampucao, Gumatdang and Virac, where Benguet Corporation was planning to mine through open pit. Residents of Itogon supported this local campaign then to stop open pit mining in several sites in Itogon.
Not all of these barricades resulted in the stoppage of large-scale mining operations, though. There was a very daring barricade in Barangay Alang in Tuba, right at the site of the open pit of Philex Mining Corporation. The site is the subsidence area of the company's block-caving operations, where huge amount of earth is being moved from the surface to backfill the open pit resulting from daily ore extraction underground.
The barricades did not stop Philex from doing its operations but earned for the protesting residents a voice in the negotiating table.
One more success story is that of the small-scale miners and residents at the boundary of Ampucao and Virac, also in Itogon. They had to disallow the entry of contracted small-scale everalminers in Benguet Corporations abandoned tunnels because they claimed then that further mining in the said site would cause the collapse of their communities right at the surface of the abandoned tunnels. The organized protest went on for several months until community resources were said to have been depleted and the protesters went out of their way to solicit support to sustain their protest.
It ended with environment and mining company officials agreeing to the bid that the area be mined by locals who knew how to employ safeguards to protect their community.
It is a different story for Mankayan residents because they have decided for a total stoppage of corporate mining operations. Concretely, they wanted drilling equipment out of the site.
This higher call, the protesters say, is precisely preparing for their children's future. # Lyn V, Ramo