COMMENTARY: Legenda Mines and the Tagakaulo of Malita, Davao del Sur

DIGOS, Davao del Sur (MindaNews/19 July) — Legenda Mines, a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation, has made its presence felt among the Tagakaulo community in Malita, Davao del Sur, and has made many concerned and fearful. I have been working with the Tagakaulo community here in Malita as a missionary for more than a year now. The Tagakaulo is a Lumad tribe in the provinces of Davao del Sur and Sarangani. Their name means “those who dwell at the head of the river.”

Members of the Tagakaulo community residing in Barangay Pinalpalan, Malita were visited last 4 July 2012 by a group from the National
Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) of Region XI accompanied by a number of provincial and municipal government officials. They were to carry out a consultation with regard the application of Legenda Mines Inc. to conduct mining explorations in Malita; the area to be explored included Pinalpalan. Despite the mandate of the NCIP to promote and protect the rights and well being of indigenous peoples, they sounded more like shareholders of Legenda Mines during the consultation! Most, if not all, of what they presented were the advantages and benefits that could be gained if mining were to be allowed in their barangay. Even when queried by the people about the destruction mining could bring to the environment, members of the NCIP were adamant and insisted that the people had a lot to benefit from mining. They also added that the seven other barangays they had already consulted had responded positively to the application of the mining firm. When voting came, the NO won over the YES vote 250 to 125; the people had spoken and were clear that they did not want Legenda Mines in their barangay!

Regrettably, the story did not end there. On 8 July 2012, the Barangay Chairperson of Pinalpalan called for an emergency meeting of the whole barangay, which took place at two in the afternoon. The agendum was once more the application for mining exploration of Legenda Mines. The chairperson, together with his council, tried very hard to convince those who voted NO to retract their vote and change it to a YES. The barangay officials pointed out that rejecting the application of Legenda Mines would bring nothing but difficulty to the people.

They claimed that Pinalapalan would be left behind in terms of development because it would not be a recipient of the benefits that the surrounding barangays would receive if mining were to commence in their area. They were clear that they would be affected by the destruction that mining would bring but they asserted that it would be a better alternative if they at least benefitted from it. They were emphatic that if the people insisted on their rejection of Legenda Mines, their barangay would no longer benefit from any project from the municipal government; the officials further added that the people would no longer be able to count on their help in their time of need. After having made their point crystal clear, they called those who previously voted NO to sign a document changing their vote to a YES. Many signed; only a few stood their ground.

I was there during the public consultation and I had nothing but admiration for the people of Pinalpalan for having had the courage to stand their ground against Legenda Mines. I was not there for the emergency meeting and was only informed of what had taken place a few days later. The documentation of the meeting was brought to me by a member of the basic Christian community there who had hiked for hours just to see me.

I am gravely concerned by the events in Pinalapalan and am bothered by so many questions: Is Legenda Mines Inc. directly behind the action taken by the barangay officials? Did NCIP, Provincial and Municipal government officials have a hand in all this? And, will the NCIP accept the results of the action taken by the barangay officials as the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the Tagakaulo community of Pinalpalan? Dangerous questions that are in dire need of clear answers. (Fr. Joey Ganio Evangelista, MJ [Missionaries of Jesus] is assigned at the Indigenous Peoples Apostolate of the Diocese  of Digos in Davao del Sur)