We gather this Cordillera Day 2008 to strengthen our unity, reaffirm our commitment and carry on the militant struggle of our people in defense of land, life and resources. We mark the 24th Cordillera Day with greater resolve to resist mining plunder and state terrorism and to fight for and secure our individual and collective human rights against the backdrop of a regime clinging to power through state terror and hell-bent on the sellout of our national patrimony. At this time of severe national crisis, we resist mining plunder and state terror, and intensify our struggle for self-determination and genuine national democracy.
The National Crisis: Understated extreme poverty
The state of the nation is one ridden with graft and corruption involving the illegitimate President Arroyo and First Family with top government officials, an unbearable economic crisis, and state policies directed at the subservience of the Arroyo regime to US imperialism, leading to further impoverishment of the Filipino people.
The corruption of the Arroyo regime was exposed to the public with the series of scams amounting to billions of pesos that could have been used to deliver basic social services to the citizenry: the Fertilizer Scam involving P728 million, the ZTE- NBN deal involving US$329 million and recently, the Swine Scam involving P1.6 billion, which is now under question by the Commission on Audit (CoA). The firm involved in this latest scandal is Quedancor, which is directly under the Office of the President and has a P5 billion loan from the Land Bank of the Philippines. These amounts in question are suspected to have gone to bankroll Arroyo’s campaign in the 2004 presidential elections – the one she stole by plain cheating and lying. We have not forgotten the illegitimacy of the president, extrajudicial killings and her crimes against the people and the country.
While the regime rants about economic growth, concrete economic indicators and the very condition of our people say otherwise. Even the government’s National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) asserts that Malacañang’s claim of an improved economy is false. In 2006, poverty incidence grew to 32.9% (equivalent to 27.6 million people of the country’s total population of 89 million, compared to the 30% report made in 2003. Note that this was computed based on a poverty threshold of P15,057.00 annual per capita income, or an absurd estimate that a Filipino needs only P41.82 to survive daily. With this limited reference to poverty threshold, poverty incidence in the country is actually much, much worse.
Another counter argument to Malacañang’s claim of improved economic growth is the unemployment rate, which was a record high from 2001-2006: 11.4% unemployment rate and 18.5% underemployment rate and the continuing exodus of OFWs in search of jobs abroad. If jobs were created at all during this period, these were mostly poor quality, low paying and insecure jobs or placements for jobs abroad.
The 2006 Family Income and Expenditures Survey (FIES) further states that the richest 20% of families, or some 3.5 million families, account for 52.8% of the total family income. The income of the richest 10% was 19 times that of the poorest 10%. Low wages, for which government is responsible, are made even weaker with high prices of commodities due to neo-liberal policies aggressively promoted by the state. The Oil Deregulation Law and the value added tax (VAT) on oil and power automatically ups prices of other commodities.
Another burning issue illustrating the economic hardship pervading Filipinos is the problem of hunger manifested by the rice crisis. The double-fold increase in rice prices has made it unaffordable and inaccessible to majority of the Filipino people, to think that rice is our staple food. Again, this is a result of neo-liberal policies and government’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which has tightened the grip of imperialists over Philippine agriculture for their greed and superprofit, putting us vulnerable to widespread hunger and agricultural bankruptcy. It made the Philippine economy more import-dependent and export oriented. It is also a result of land-use conversion (from agriculture to industrial and residential use) and crop conversion (from rice and corn to high value crops and biofuels for export). The regime does not prioritize strengthening our agriculture by supporting the local rice production, which is a glaring and basic need. Instead, it sees that food can be availed of in the world market, even though imported rice is more expensive at an average of P40/kg compared to local rice due to freight costs and tariffs. Thus we now see long queues of people lining up everyday just to be able to buy the cheaper NFA rice sold at P18.25 per kilo.
All these indicators and scenarios show that the lives of Filipinos are far from improving, but are in fact plunging deeper into poverty as the few ruling elite and top government bureaucrats are getting richer.
Cordillera: Imperialist plunder of resources
Cordillera indigenous peoples are doubly affected by the economic crisis plaguing the nation. As indigenous peoples, they continue to confront national oppression manifested by aggressive plunder of their ancestral domain and gross violation of inherent, collective and individual human rights.
By virtue of the Mining Act of 1995 and the Arroyo regime’s mining liberalization agenda and National Minerals Policy (NMP) touted as a solution to offset its economic setbacks, the Cordillera region was offered for plunder and exploitation for local and transnational is being plundered and exploited both by local and transnational mining corporations. Such is the case in Kalinga where Makilala and US-based Phelps Dodge operate, in Apayao now being claimed by Cordillera Exploration Inc. and UK-based Anglo American, in Abra being explored by AMIC and Canada-based Olympus Pacific Minerals, to name a few. It is alarming that 125 pending mining applications cover 1.2 million hectares or 66% of the region’s total land area. Nine Mineral Sharing Agreements and four Exploration Permits were already approved.
The impacts of large-scale mining are concrete and have resulted to devastating environmental disasters and further national oppression: displacement of indigenous peoples from their ancestral domain and irreparable damage to the environment. Indigenous peoples have been dislocated from their traditional livelihoods since mining concessions took over their lands, either forcefully or by deceit. Dams and mines have displaced indigenous communities and violated indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and cultural integrity. Corporate mining has also led to land destruction and subsidence, including water loss.
Food insecurity is an accompanying impact of large mines with the destruction of ricefields, and pasture lands, and the whole agricultural livelihood of indigenous peasant communities. Biodiversity along the Abra River, for instance, was significantly reduced due to minewaste expelled into it and its tributaries by Lepanto Mines. Loss of biodiversity causes a breakdown in the food web, and ultimately, threatens the food security of the communities. In Benguet province, siltation of rivers is a serious problem. Philex’s tailings dam collapsed in 1992, releasing 80 million tons of mine tailings and causing heavy siltation in the irrigation systems downstream. Ricefields were submerged in silt one meter deep after another tailings dam collapsed in 2001.
Philex’s open pit mining and Lepanto’s bulk mining generate at least 2,500 metric tons of ore and tailings per mine daily. These toxic wastes are usually impounded in tailings dams. But when pressure in the tailings dams builds up, these are drained such that the tailings eventually find their way into water systems, polluting and silting rivers and adjacent lands.
Looming threat in Abra
If not immediately confronted, such impacts could happen in Abra, one of the mining hotspots in the region. In Abra alone, there are 14 Exploration Permit applications under process, three approved Mineral Production and Sharing Agreements and one Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) application. The FTAA applied for by Lindsay Resources covers 14 municipalities in Abra and the municipalities of Balbalan and Pasil in Kalinga province.
Meanwhile, the right of the indigenous people in Baay-Licuan to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) was grossly violated by Olympus Pacific Minerals. This Canadian mining company did not secure FPIC from the Binongan people prior to exploration and drilling in their ancestral domain at Capcapo mountain. The people had no prior knowledge that there was a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) approved and issued to the local subsidiaries in April 1998. Now, the communities are opposing the mining exploration of Olympus and its local conduits AMIC and Jabel, which continued to operate despite petitions filed by the communities as early as March 2007. Olympus only stopped its operations in August 2007 due to sustained community opposition forcing the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to defer all exploration activities due to lack of FPIC. The affected communities are now stepping up their opposition with the continuing submission of petitions since March 2007 to the NCIP regional and provincial offices and local government units.
The dredging of the Abra River is also underway with the operations of Abra Rio Sand and Gravel, Inc., a local subsidiary of Australian company Rio Dorado, which has admitted mining interests in the communities of Baay Licuan, Lacub, Malibcong, Tubo, Tineg, Bucay, Bucloc and Tayum.
Militarization and State Terrorism
Militarization in the Cordillera is heightening with the aggressive entry of mining projects. Five of the Arroyo regime’s 23 priority mining projects are located in the region. As such, where there is large and destructive mining, there are human rights violations especially when there is resistance by communities. Indigenous communities opposing the entry of large mines are militarized to sow fear and terror, and eventually silence the opposition.
Today, Abra is heavily militarized with the presence of the 41st Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Escalation of human rights violations is expected in the face of mounting community resistance to mining operations. Community leaders are being harassed and branded as NPA guerillas or supporters, making them open targets as “enemies of the state”. This gives license to the military to attack and violate the rights of civilians engaged in legitimate activities, such as defending their ancestral domain.
The Cordillera region is among the secondary priority areas in the implementation of Oplan Bantay Laya II (OBL II). The Task Force Montañosa was created in November 2006 for “counter insurgency” operations. Composed of the 41st IB, 50th IB, 54th IB, 53rd Recon Coy and the Philippine National Police-Regional Mobile Group-CAR, it operates along the boundaries of Abra, Mountain Province, and Ilocos Sur, where there are both significant human rights violations and several large mining applications.
The impacts of militarization on indigenous communities are grave. Economic dislocation is a concrete result in areas where military operations are employed to squelch community opposition. Military detachments are set up within the communities. Many communities could no longer attend to their farms and animals or hunt for fear of the military. In worst cases, as experienced by Cordillera indigenous peoples in 2006 at the height of the state’s Oplan Bantay Laya, community leaders advancing a just and legitimate cause, like Markus Bangit and Albert Terredaño, were killed in cold blood by agents of the state and summary executions as in the case of farmer-hunters like Etfew Chadyaas by the military.
Resist Economic and Military Aggression
Today as before, we rally with our Tinggian brothers and sisters against the aggressive invasion into their homeland. We remember their fierce resistance in the 1970s against the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC), a logging operation backed by the Marcos dictatorship. Let us be resolute in the pursuit of our struggles, as we observe Cordillera Day 2008.
A Tinggian who testified against Cellophil during the Permanent Peoples Tribunal in Antwerp, Belgium in October 1980, said: “Don’t mistake us. We are not backward-looking people. Like others, we want development and we want to improve our lives and the lives of the next generations; we want better education, better health and better services. But we want to control this development in our land and over our lives. And we demand a share both in decision-making and in the benefits of development. We do not recognize the right of the Marcos regime, or the World Bank, or anyone else, to steal our lands, forests and other resources. We do not recognize their right to dictate to us or to exploit us. We believe in the justness of our struggle. We are ready to fight and defend our land with our lives”.
And so we shall be in the continuing defense of our land, life and resources.
Agkaykaysa a lumaban para iti pagilian! Fetad to Defend the Cordillera Homeland!
Scrap the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the National Minerals Policy!
No to large mining in the Cordillera! No to the plunder of our resources and patrimony!
Cancel the MPSA of JABEL and AMIC and Revoke their MOA with Olympus!
Stop Extrajudicial Killings and Militarization in the Cordillera!
Junk WTO! Agriculture out of WTO now! Importasyon ti Nateng, Isardeng! Importasyon ti bagas, Isardeng!
Oust Gloria Macapagal Arroyo!