April 26, 2008

24th Cordillera Day 2008: Resist Mining Plunder and State Terrorism!

The theme for this year’s event refers to the large scale mining by the Canadian mining company Olympus Pacific Mining Inc. and its partners AMIC and Jabel Corporation at Mt. Capcapo in Baay-Licuan, province of Abra. That is why this year's Cordi Day celebration was held at this town, to support the local’s struggle to defend their land, life and resources.

Baay-Licuan is bounded in the north by Lacub municipality, to the east by Malibcong, to the South by Sallapadan and Daguioman, and by Bucay and Lagangilang to the west. It is composed of 11 barangays, namely: Bonglo, Bulbulala, Caoayan, Dominglay, Lenneng, Mapisla, Mogao, Nalbuan, Poblacion, Subagan, and Tumalip.
Baay-Licuan is generally mountainous and forested, with an elevation ranging from 200 to 1,400 meters above sea level. The terrain is naturally upland and hilly. The mountain ranges are rich with mineral deposits such as gold, copper and silver. Baay and Licuan were two separate municipalities until these were fused in 1969.

Baay-Licuan's climate is characterized by the dry season from November to April, and by the wet season from the months of May to October. The minimum and maximum temperatures recorded are 23.3 'C and 31.2'C, respectively. Of the total agricultural area, more than half of it is planted with palay, corn, vegetables, and rootcrops, respectively. Fruits and cashcrops (atchuete and coffee) are likewise grown. 2004 data cited in the Ancestral Domain Sustainable Development and Protection Plan of Baay-Licuan says that vegetable production cannot cope with the demands of the populace, which is 3,812 as of the 2000 population census. Fisheries production also takes place though at small-scale.

The Issue

Abra province is currently a mining hotspot, with one Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) and 14 Exploration Permit Applications under process and 3 approved Mineral Sharing and Production Agreements. The FTAA, applied for by Lindsay Resources, covers 14 municipalities in Abra and the municipalities of Balbalan and Pasil in neighboring Kalinga province.
Canadian mining company Olympus Pacific Mining Inc. has partnered with local companies AMIC and Jabel Corporation for a 4,300-hectare project at Capcapo mountain, in Baay Licuan with a Memorandum of Agreement entered into in November 23, 2006. This development poses serious threat to the nearby and adjacent communities, who are sustaining opposition to this project. Drilling started in February 2007 without the communities' approval or Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). The 41st IB is present in Baay Licuan, particularly the Bravo and Charlie companies. For a time in February 2007, they camped under residents' houses in Brgy. Poblacion, the host community for Cordillera Day 2008, and deployment is increasing as the community resistance against Olympus and large mining is intensifying. The community literally became a military detachment which is already a threat to the security and human rights of the communities. CPA staff attending to ground preparations are being harassed and are maliciously tagged as members of the New Peoples Army even with legal identification that they are members of the CPA Regional Secretariat, KASTAN, and BALITOK.
Dredging of the Abra River has commenced with the operations of the Abra Rio Sand and Gravel Inc., local subsidiary of Australian company Rio Dorado. Abra Rio Sand and Gravel has entered into a 25-year contract with the provincial government of Abra. The said company admitted mining interests also in Baay Licuan, and in the municipalities of Lacub, Malibcong, Tubo, Tineg, Bucay, Bucloc, and Tayum. The company said that the Abra River is a potential resource for gold and magnetite, the latter being used in steel production . Dredging can disrupt river flow patterns and subsequently, the habitat of riverine flora and fauna, such as fish breeding grounds. River spoil or the matter dredged from the river may cause wind blown pollution into the wider environment due to pollutants it could contain. While dredging is usually carried out to reduce flooding of adjoining land, it is only a temporary solution. Upstream, the Abra River is already largely polluted due to mine waste drained into it from the operations of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company in Mankayan, Benguet. Findings by the Save the Abra River Movement (STARM) state that high levels of toxic substances are present in the river, affecting local agriculture and the health and well-being of communities along the river. The mighty Abra River has long since sustained communities along it.
Clearly, Baay Licuan is fast becoming a resource for development aggression with the tide of destructive projects pouring in. As in other Cordillera provinces, such projects were forced into the indigenous communities by deception and misinformation, intimidation and harassment of arising opposition, and consequently, use of military and even paramilitary forces to quell any action against these so-called "development" projects.

The Acivity

This year’s event hosted by BALITOK (Baay-Licuan Takderan Omnu a Kalintegan), and Kakailian Salakniban Tay Amin a Nagtaudan (KASTAN), the Cordillera Peoples Alliance's Abra chapter.
Delegates from the different parts of the country as well as from the different parts of the globe gathered together for his annual event. Although some groups were not able to attend, they sent their solidarity messages, giving their full support to the struggle of the Binongan indigenous people.Dr. Carol Pagaduan Araullo, BAYAN Chairperson also attended the event and gave her keynote speech.

Delegates from the international Community- Shih Hsin University and Hunter School from Taiwan, Irish Human Rights Center, PIPLinks, United church of Canada and others also gave their messages of Solidarity o the people of Baay-Licuan.
Different Workshops were also held during the activity. Some of these were the Basic Mining, International solidarity and Children’s workshops attended by the delegates.

On the second day of the activity, a petition signing was held to oppose the mining activities in the area. The delegates had prepared cultural presentations.

This year’s Cordillera Day celebration was not just another celebration. As I left the venue, I brought with me the smiles of the Baay-Licuan townsfolk, the beauty of the Cordillera, but most of all, the courage of the locals and the other delegates against the giants trying to take away their valued treasure.

Let us support the Binongan indigenous peolples' struggle to defend their right to ancestral domain. As an elder of the Binongan tribe said, “What we are fighting for today is not for us older ones, but for the children, and for their future.”