Privilege Speech of Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, August 9 2011

Earth Borrowed From Our Children

Rep. Kaka J. Bag-ao, AKBAYAN Partylist

Delivered on August 9, 2011, Session Hall

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege.

Mr. Speaker, the World Indigenous Peoples Day, which we commemorate today, should be a celebration of multiculturalism and mutual recognition of rights amidst diversity and adversity. While the Philippine Constitution and the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) recognize the rights of indigenous peoples, our vibrant ethnicity also chronicles the unromanticized tale of cultural communities who are historically marginalized by our very own state policies.

The policy, which this representation is referring to, is the state perpetrated plunder of our national patrimony which we commonly refer to as the “Philippine Mining Act of 1995.”

Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues, the stories of exploitation of IPs and natural resources by mining companies are not novel to us. It is often considered both a blessing and a curse, that the Philippines holds the 3rd largest gold deposit in the world, 4th largest in copper, and the 6th largest in nickel deposits. However, the bulk of the country’s mineral wealth, timber, and other raw materials are found in the last frontier of lands inhabited and protected by our indigenous peoples. According to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), there are 482 approved mining applications covering 1,046,350.87 hectares in the country. Of this number, an estimated 595,058.11 (56.87%) will cover indigenous peoples’ territories.

This has been the perennial conflict that our IPs have been struggling with since the colonial times. When the state began granting rights of ownership to their ancestral domains, it nevertheless kept ownership of natural resources. When Mining Act of 1995 was passed, the state effectively gave them to foreign corporations in exchange for a measly sum, flattened mountains, dried rivers, poisoned waters and displaced communities.

Its exploitative provisions are patent. The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 allows 100% foreign ownership of mining projects which could use up to 81,000 hectares of land and could last for 50 years. Mining companies are also given priority access to water resources within their concession, and can repatriate all profits subject only to 2% excise tax with tax holidays and deferred payments incentives. It is as if the government is selling our minerals in a bargain sale and even subsidizing exploitation. In 2008, in fact, the reported contribution of the mining industry to the gross domestic product (GDP) is only 1.28%.

While the government imposes this absurd policy of mendicancy, the IPs, on the other hand,become more susceptible to abuse. When mining companies bury their claws to extract our mineral deposits, the Earth bleeds and indigenous peoples bleed with it. Their rights over their ancestral domain were even once characterized by the Supreme Court only as “parochial interests” which according to them should not strangle economic growth (La Bugal B’laan Tribal Association, Inc. v Ramos).

The condition of IPs is the best indicator of this inequity. As the UN Special Rapporteur Professor Rodolfo Stavenhangen reported, the human development indicators of IPs are lower and poverty indicators are higher than those of the rest of the society. Indeed, the billions of profits raked by mining corporations failed to reach the community which has preserved it. The environmental disaster, however reach them first, such as the landslides in Itogon and Mankayan, Benguet Province due to massive ground subsidence, and the mercury poisoning in Sibuyan.

Perhaps, the only right left to IPs against these extractive industries is the right to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). However, the exercise of this right is also subject to restrictions and manipulations. Some mining companies were reported to have obtained FPIC through a group of IPs which were allegedly not representative of their community. The Subanen in Mount Canatuan and the Palawan in Brooke’s Point experienced such classic divide and conquer ploy by mining companies allegedly facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the very agency mandated to protect their rights.

And the exploitation never ends. When mining companies bury their claws to extract our mineral deposits, the Earth bleeds and the indigenous peoples bleed with it, in many cases, literally. Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues, the militarization of mining sites further aggravates abuse. State forces often act as mining security, and are tolerated to employ paramilitary groups. Last June 30, Mr. Speaker,my dear colleagues, the paramilitary group Salakawan killed anti-mining Lumad leader Arpe Belayong and his nephew Solte San-ogan in Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, host to several mining applications.

The Commission on Human Rights issued a resolution in favor of the Ifugao tribe in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya calling for the revocation of the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA) of Oceana Gold but such was not implemented. In 2010, the Ifugaos and the Subanens filed a communication before the UNCERD, but the national government ignored the recommendations of the international body.

Today, Mr. Speaker and distinguished colleagues, our guests, the Subanen leaders from Zamboanga Peninsula in their continued search for relief filed a petition before the Supreme Court for the issuance of a writ of kalikasan to stop mining in Zamboanga Peninsula. Currently, there are 170 mining tenements in the peninsula which would cover 51% of its total land mass. The current law on mining allowed such massive coverage without regard to the apparent damage it would cause.

Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues, repealing the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 is imperative.

A new minerals management law which declares the primacy of the rights of our Indigenous Peoples should be enacted. Their sacred grounds, burial sites, areas inhabited for their subsistence, and communal forests should be declared a no-go zone for mining operations. The FPIC processes should be conducted strictly in accordance with their customary laws. And this representation is sure that a 1.28% GDP contribution, Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, should not be considered an obstacle for these reforms.

Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues, our new minerals management policy should adopt the thrusts of stewardship that our Indigenous Peoples uphold–that the land, as they taught us, should be one day returned to our children, that the resources we have are not commodities but valuable possessions, that there should be preservation, instead of exploitation and that our lands are not properties but a domain where life thrives and from where the entire community benefits.

Thank you very much.

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