Impact of mining and people’s resistance in the Philippines

31 July 2015 - 3:45am

War on Want’s Graciela Romero participated in the four-day visit to the local communities in a ‘learning and solidarity mission’ organised by Centre for Environmental Concern and Cordillera Peoples Alliance. During the visit, community and grassroots leaders as well as a municipal Councillor commented on the environmental damages caused by the Lepanto mine in the Cordillera of the Mankayan municipality in the Philippines.

Land and rivers have been polluted with heavy metals such as mercury, cyanide and lead. Thousands of hectares of land have been lost to the mine as five dams carrying chemicals from the mine continues to flood ancestral land used to cultivate rice. Despite the devastation caused by the Lepanto mine, Gold Fields Corporation seeks to expand gold exploitation in the region. The Council of Elders from various communities expressed their disappointment as the Free, Prior and Inform Consent has been used to legitimise mining expansion in their territories. A municipal Councillor presented an official journal stating that the Mayor of Mankayan had negotiated on behalf of the indigenous people ignoring their decision to reject the mine. The Councillor also stated that there is a conflict of interest as the Mayor is part of the company’s board of directors.

The Council of Elders from the Barangay (village) of Balili were extremely fearful because of the risk of further criminalisation against community leaders and militarisation of the region as a result of their opposition to the mine. There are 123 people facing criminal charges and 24 more civil charges from the Lepanto company. Workers who participated in a strike against the mine were fired. A community leader, wife of one of the strikers, is facing criminal charges and has to attend legal hearings every month since 2014. She said: “I fear that my house is going to be demolished and my kids will be expelled from the school.” (She asked not to be photographed or her name mentioned). All community leaders accused are supported just by one lawyer who is working on a voluntary basis.  

Despite people’s plight against the company and strong military response to mobilisations and strikes, the issue that stood out from the visit to the communities was that people united have managed to prevent new mining explorations. The new expansion of the Gold Fields Corporation was stopped by around 500 people barricading the entrance of the mine for about a year. One of the men who participated in the barricades said: “we were there, day and night, women and men.  It was women who stood at the front line of these barricades. They were the ones who hold the front without responding to the violent attacks of the army and the company security forces.”

A similar victory was won by around 1000 people barricading the entrance of the company Royalco Resources Ltd. The company seeks to take over the highlands where vegetable production is the main livelihood of thousands of farmers.  Also in the low lands of the municipality of Quirino Ilocos Sur, small scale rice growers have been successful in reclaiming and restoring land through collective work.

Every community leader that we met during the four-day mission said: “we will continue defending our water and land and we hope you will support our struggle from wherever you are.” 

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