House to probe irregularities in royalty payments to Mamanwa tribe

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/2 Feb) – The House of Representatives will conduct an inquiry on the alleged irregularities concerning the multimillion-peso royalty payments made by a mining company to the Mamanwa tribe in Claver, Surigao del Norte.

The national cultural communities committee of Congress’s lower house has called to task the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) for its alleged involvement in the irregularities after tribe leaders claimed that unscrupulous officers of the NCIP regional office had pocketed part of the royalty payments paid by Taganito Mining Corp., according to a press statement from the office of Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, who chairs the committee.

In a press statement dated Feb. 1 and posted at the House of Representatives’ website, Baguilat quoted tribe leaders as saying that some officers of the NCIP regional office in Surigao pocketed part of the royalty fee “using deception and coercion.”

The congressman claimed that in a marathon hearing conducted at the Surigao del Norte provincial capitol hosted by Gov. Sol Matugas, it was revealed that over P71 million in royalties have already been paid by Taganito, representing the share of the Mamanwa living in the area in the revenues generated by the nickel mining company.

Critical questions were raised in the hearing, according to Baguilat, as to where the money actually went, with different groups of Mamanwa claiming that they have yet to receive their royalty payments.

“We have to find out where the money went because it rightfully belongs to the Mamanwa in the area who have to be the first to benefit from their sacrifice in allowing the mining operations to start in the first place,” the committee chair assured.

Two years ago, members of the Mamanwa tribe staged a “human barricade” for almost a month along the highway of Taganito in Claver, Surigao del Norte, demanding their right to one-percent royalty from the gross output of the operations of four mining firms there.

A tribe leader demand before the NCIP on their share for allowing the mining companies “to ruin our lives and our ancestral domain.”

The hearing was attended by a number of concerned congressmen and Mamanwa leaders.

“The issue has to be addressed to prevent possible violence that may arise,” said Baguilat who, along with Rep. Arlene Bag-ao of Akbayan party-list, took turns chiding NCIP for getting part of the funds for the so-called administrative costs of the NCIP regional office.

Under the Mining Act, mining companies such as Taganito have to secure the free informed prior consent (FPIC) of affected indigenous peoples in mining sites such as the Mamanwa before they can be granted a license to conduct mining operations.

Also under the Mining Act, those who grant their FPIC are given one percent of mining revenues. The royalty is supposed to be used in the development of infrastructure and provision of improved social services to the affected communities, Baguilat said.

“Unfortunately, the mining royalty which was supposed to benefit the Mamanwa has instead led to more misery and dissension among the usually peaceful indigenous peoples,” Baguilat lamented.

He stressed that his committee intends to uncover alleged irregularities in the conduct of the FPIC and the management of the royalty fund as well as to broker peace among the squabbling Mamanwa. (Rico Biliran / MindaNews)