Despite environmental damage and protests causing many mining companies to leave the Philippines in the 1980s, the Philippines-based Lepanto Mining is continuing its highly controversial operations in Mankayan in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).
What is more, some transnational mining corporations are making deals with the administration of President Gloria Arroyo to get in on the schemes. The latest of these, and one whose recent gold-mining operations have been causing irrevocable damage to the environment, is the Australian mining company Royalco.
Royalco operates gold mines in Sapio of Mankayan Province, south of Anvil Mining’s presently closed copper mines in Paco. Many locals in the CAR have issued complaints and protested these operations, but Royalco’s operations continue — due to the rise in the price of gold.
On paper, it looks as if environmental issues are taken into consideration with the motto “Sustainable and Responsible Mining.” However, seeing the situation with one’s own eyes, as this writer has done, unveils water springs polluted with cyanide and mercury and discolored land masses.
Arguably worse than this is the profit made from the uncompensated farmers who must purchase their water from outside, as well as the indigenous miners whose loss of pride is manifested in repeated stumbling and falling from daily after-hours binge drinking of San Miguel gin, the hands of their quiet little sons being their only lead and support.
Because of protests against her unpopular agenda, Arroyo has “militarized” the CAR, a euphemism for instigating martial law, with stations of the 50th army battalion set up opposite the mines. Lieutenant Avila heads these operations and regularly interrogates the locals, trying to acquire names and information such as who voted for whom in the previous election, as well as breaching privacy with invasion of homes and unwarranted photographic data. A curfew has also been put in place, and locals out late have reported harassment by armed soldiers.
The defense that the Arroyo government uses for such breaches of human rights is that it is simply carrying out counter-terrorism activities against communist insurgents in the New People’s Army (NPA).
Government propaganda posters, however, list peaceful, legitimate organizations such as the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), founding member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organizations (UNPO), and politically progressive party lists such as Bayan Muna, of whom elected Representative Teddy Casino is a member, as pawns of Jose Maria Sison, the exiled founder of the NPA.
Amnesty International has accused the Arroyo administration over the use of death squads, which resulted in the murder of a close friend of CPA Secretary-General Windel Bolinget in late 2006. However, the enforced disappearance of CPA founding member James Balao last autumn shows that this criticism must have fallen on deaf ears. These make up but a small number of a slew of examples of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances.
For the record, the CPA denies any connection with the NPA.
Lepanto and partners have expressed interest in expanding operations into neighboring CAR provinces, including Ifugao, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. It is unrealistic to expect the Arroyo administration to honor the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed in September 2007, which gives indigenous peoples the right to self-determination.