Environmentalists, Lumads gear up vs entry of mining firms in Bukidnon

Documents furnished to MindaNews by the Diocese of Malaybalay also revealed that eight of these firms have applications in Malaybalay City where there is an existing no-to-mining resolution passed by the municipal council on March 4, 1998. (Malaybalay became a city on March 22 of the same year.)

Two of the firms, Indo-Philippines Resources and Orex Mining Corporation, are multi-national firms with substantial interests in other mining ventures in the country.

Indo-Philippines previously owned a stake at the Sagittarius Mining project in Tampakan, South Cotabato. The firm has applied for exploration rights in Barangay Sinuda, Kitaotao town while Orex Mining has a pending application in Impasugong, all in Bukidnon.

Ernesto Tajones, coordinator of the diocese's Basic Ecclesiastical Community said the Church, aware of the environmental degradation caused by logging in the 1970s, will also vigorously oppose the entry of mining firms in Bukidnon.

"The mining issue will be a big test for us and the politicians in Bukidnon. We hope we can replicate the success of the environmental movement in the 1980s and 1990s," Tajones said.

Then environment secretary Fulgencio Factoran cancelled all logging permits in Bukidnon and declared a moratorium covering the entire province following protest actions in San Fernando and Wao towns in the 1980s.

The entry of the mining firms, however, is seen as another serious threat to the environment and Bukidnon, known as the food bowl of Mindanao.

The Malaybalay Municipal Council passed Resolution No. 3432 on March 4, 1998 stopping all mining explorations and activities in its jurisdiction following the entry of mining firm Bunaventure Corporation.

The resolution warns that any mining activity "will cause massive siltation and will ruin the rice lands of Malaybalay, Valencia and Maramag; and will damage the hydro power plant of the National Power Corporation in Maramag."

The city government also approved on July 15, 2003 an environment code which prohibits mining in any part of its jurisdiction.

The code was amended on Oct. 18, 2007 but it has retained its anti-mining provisions. During the workshop where it underwent amendment, City Mayor Florencio Flores Jr. declared that the city government will never approve any mining application at least under his term as local chief executive.

Tajones said existing mining applications are eyeing the Pantaron Mountain Range which stretches from San Fernando town in Bukidnon all the way to Mt. Balatucan in Misamis Oriental.

"The mining firms will destroy the life of Mindanao. Pantaron Mountain Range is Mindanao's watershed. This is the source of Pulangi River," he said.

He said the headwaters of Pulangi River lie not far from Barangay St. Peter, 56 kilometers west of Malaybalay where Goenerite Mining Corporation wants to mine nickel and copper.

He said the last time he visited the area where Pulangi River starts, the place was still pristine "surrounded by green forests and moss."

"Pollute the headwaters and Pulangi River will cease to give life to thousands of farmers from Misamis Oriental all the way to  (Southwestern) Mindanao," he warned.

Pulangi River is the only river system that cuts through Mindanao Island from Tagoloan River in Misamis Oriental to Rio Grande in Cotabato City.

Domingo Hingpit, St. Peter Barangay chair, said the provincial government of Bukidnon and Malaybalay City are opposed to the entry of mining firms for now

He said section 2 of the resolution states that "no mining project will be approved unless there is public consultation to be conducted with the local government units and affected residents."

He said is that the mining firm has to get the approval of the Bukidnon provincial government, Malaybalay City government and affected barangay unit before they will be allowed to mine and explore.

"If one of the local government units does not approve then their application is out. It only needs one strike to doom the project," he said.

"If the Lumads give their consent, we in the government can not do anything. We represent only the voice of the people," he added.

Hingpit said this is the reason why it is important that the Lumads band together and sign petitions if they want to oppose the entry of mining firms.

"We can act on their petitions and our position would be much stronger since we acted on behalf of the Lumads," he said.

The 1998 Malaybalay Municipal Council resolution also stated "that the LGU will stand united and actively participate in organizing people power blockade by forming picket lines, barricades and other non-violent confrontations."

And this provision might be put to test in Barangay St. Peter where 200 Lumads and Christian settlers gathered Thursday and Friday after they received reports that Goenerite Mining Corporation has sent their men to take soil samples in the surrounding mountains.

Lumad elders are also agitated that the firm allegedly sent people to entice their followers and other settlers to give their consent to its mining operations.

Talaandig tribal leader Datu Salaysay gazed at the mountains surrounding this farming village before he spoke at the gathering in Sitio Mahayag.

"I am alarmed by the news that a mining firm will operate here. How can I stop them now that I am an old man," he spoke through an interpreter.

He said he does not want the mountains which he referred to as "our friend, our life, and our home" destroyed by the mining firm.

"Can a cassava plant grow on its ashes? Will the birds fly again over these mountains," the old man asked.

Salaysay's plea for unity was warmly received by the Lumad youth and other tribal leaders who came from as far as Pangantukan town and barangay Mirayon in Talakag town, all in Bukidnon province.

They also tackled the issue that a group allegedly sponsored by Goenerite Mining Corporation has formed a different set of tribal leaders and are gathering signatures for the mining firm's approval.

"Have pity on us, lowlanders. While you can go back to your provinces, we have nothing except these mountains," said Talaandig woman leader Lorie Docion.

"We have welcomed you when you first came here to settle, respect our way of life," she said.

Datu Geodoro Sulda, leader of the Lumad group Upakat Te Meginged Te Keretungan He Ebpengimbee-tasan (UMKE), said that Lumads who still follow their way of life and culture would not be swayed by "promises of jobs and prosperity."

"What is money for the lumads? We have been around long before Spain and Islam. We are still the same people," he said.

Hingpit assured the Lumads that the St. Peter barangay council will oppose the entry of Goenerite Mining Corporation.

He said the mining firm personnel led by a certain Roman or Rogel Santos deceived them when they came on two occasions, on March 4, 2007 and Oct. 11, 2007.

"They told us they only want to take soil samples to find organic fertilizers," he narrated.

Teodoro Lailay said he agreed to be the guide of Santos' group on the two occasions so that he can learn what they were really looking for.

He said the group picked up numerous rocks not soil samples as they explored the surrounding mountains in St. Peter.

"I got suspicious and reported the matter to barangay captain Hingpit," he said.

Another guide, Dante Lipandan, said the group insisted they were looking for organic fertilizer and promised they would give the villagers some.

"I told them we have no need of fertilizers because our soil is still very rich," he said

A few days after the group left, they came back with officials of the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Region 10 in tow.

Lailay's son Jan-jan said that this time the MGB officials announced the plan of Goenerite Mining Corporation to mine nickel and copper in the mountains around St. Peter and Sitio Mahayag.

He said the MGB showed them film clippings of prosperous mining communities and 'smiling' mine workers.

"They showed us the prosperity but when I asked them about the ill-effects of mining, they brushed aside my question," he said.

The logbook at barangay hall showed that the signatures of Liza Manzano, head of MGB information office of DENR-X based in Cagayan de Oro City headed the team that went to St. Peter on Oct. 11, 2007.

Carl Cesar Rebuta of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) Cagayan de Oro said the entry of the mining firm will depend on the resolve of the St. Peter residents.

"It really depends on their capacity building on how they can organize themselves and stay united," he said.

For now, Rebuta said the biggest stumbling block of Goenerite Mining Corporation is the March 4, 1998 resolution of the Malaybalay municipal council unless it will be revoked by a new and favorable resolution.

"But the firm will have to court St. Peter barangay council and face an enlightened Lumad," he said.

Rebuta said there may be enough time for the Lumad to get organized.

St. Peter has a population of 2,104. Only 419 are lumads, the rest are Christian settlers. Its main product is rubber and corn. It is a Class B barangay earning P700,000 in Internal Revenue Allotment. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)