October 2, 2023

The recent decisions of the Supreme Court in Cosalan vs. Lepanto and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples vs. Lepanto are manifestations that the judicial system works. These latest rulings placed the IPs of Mankayan on the map worthy of emulation by the rest of the IPs. The IPs of Mankayan’s unpopular opinion before is now the majority battle cry of the greater IP majority.
It can be recalled that in 2014, Lepanto sought for the renewal of its Mining Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA). During the time, Lepanto, which has mined and enjoyed the rich natural bounty of mineral resources within the Ancestral Domain (AD) of Mankayan for more than two decades, was required to undergo the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process before its MPSA is renewed. Parallel to the application for renewal for its MPSA, Lepanto alongside one partner corporation has a pending FPIC process for a separate Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) also within Mankayan. The FTAA application however was met with numerous resentments from the IPs who resorted to concerted mass actions.
Due to the resentments and perhaps fearing that its MPSA might be given the same treatment, Lepanto choose to carry-on their quest for renewal by stretching the technicalities of the law. Boy, it worked because in 2015, the exact year of the supposed expiration of its MPSA, the company was able to secure a “writ of preliminary injunction” from the court which barred NCIP and other government agencies from disturbing the mining operations of Lepanto. Also, in that year, Lepanto was able to secure an arbitral award which downplayed the requirement of FPIC, seemingly extending or automatically renewing the MPSA for another 25 years. Lepanto held on to this award and to the issuance of the injunction. They simply went on with its operation within Mankayan while the IPs were reduced as mere spectators. This horrid scenario went on for eight years until June 2022 when the Supreme Court overturned its subordinate courts and set aside the arbitral award compelling Lepanto to submit itself to FPIC. Another Supreme Court ruling followed suit in March 2023, this time lifting the injunction against government agencies from disturbing the mining operations of Lepanto.
The two separate Supreme Court ruling set a precedent which now forms parts of the laws of land in matters concerning FPIC relative to existing and operating Companies within the IPs’ ADs. With this,companies can no longer dispense FPIC by seeking refuge on the argument that they have been existing and operating prior the enactment of IPRA on 1997.
We deduce that this victory was the fruit of consistent collective actions of the IPs of Mankayan. Their unwavering spirit to pursue their rights as accorded within IPRA, notwithstanding how unpopular they may be before, served as the vital ingredient in their crusade. They may have been classified before as subversive for voicing-out their sentiments via megaphones and painted placards, but look at them now. Sure, they may have been at the receiving end of countless ridicule and harassments, yet who would’ve thought that the prize is sweeter and far valuable than all of ores within their lands. These IPs should now hold their chins high.
There are three big mining companies operating within Benguet whose MPSAs are bound to expire in 2025. The renewal of the MPSAs and the extension of their mining operations now rest in the hands of the IP host communities whether the latter, through the FPIC process, will consent to such. For a mining company who had fairly treated its IP host community as its co-equal partner in the past 25 years of operation, renewal of its MPSA will perhaps be easy. However, the same cannot be said for an abusive and exploitive mining company. Surely, our IPs will seize this opportunity to confront mining companies that have aggrieved them.
Considering the contributions of mining to the economy and environment, I think we all have an inkling of how the IPs of Benguet will dispose of their decision comes the renewal application of these three big mining companies in 2025.
It’s 2023 and none of the three big companies attempted to pursue the FPIC for the renewal of their MPSAs prior to 2025. I’m not jumping the gun here. Yes, the FPIC process this early might still be considered premature. But isn’t a common etiquette for all of us to settle our bills days before its due? I just hope the Mines and Geosciences Bureau will stop the operations of mining companies when their MPSAs reached its expiration. If not, the MGB’s inaction will again be exploited by mining companies as a scheme to drag the FPIC process.
While we wait for that faithful day, expect numerous maneuverings from these mining companies prior to the expiration of their MPSAs. I foresee that they will explore and exploit every opportunity for them to control the FPIC. They might pool funds to ensure their candidates will secure a seat the coming barangay elections. Others may even indirectly push for a re-organization or re-election of the different Ancestral Domain Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPO), while the rest may dip their fingers in the selection of the different Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative IPMRs.
The road was opened by the Mankayan IPs’ vigilance, which in turn, was cemented by the two Supreme Court rulings. Hence, no reasons for us to be apathetic.
Parallel to the collective actions of the Mankayan IPs were legal battles fought by their own fellow IP lawyers worth mentioning, then Benguet Rep. Ronald Cosalan, Baguio Vice Mayor Faustino Olowan, and lawyers Arthur Herman and Jeanete Florita of NCIP.