April 18, 2024

A community in sitios Dalicno, Tangke, Simpa, and an area called “Camp Lolita”, all in Itogon, Benguet, appealed to the central office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to review their opposition regarding the mineral production sharing agreement application of Itogon-Suyoc Resources, Inc. (ISRI).

FOR OUR CHILDREN’S CHILDREN — An elder from Dalicno Itogon, Benguet explained in a community gathering in Baguio his opposition to the application for mining exploration by the Itogon Suyoc Resources, Inc. in the ancestral domain of Itogon. — Rimaliza Opiña

The appeal to the NCIP central office is their group’s attempt to stop the impending signing of the NCIP-Cordillera of the memorandum of agreement between the Itogon Indigenous Peoples Organization (IIPO) and ISRI, which formalized the indigenous cultural communities’ consent to the mining firm’s Application for Production Sharing Agreement (APSA) 103 covering 581 hectares at barangays Ampucao, Poblacion, and Virac.  

The NCIP is the third party to the MOA, which will confirm if ISRI complied with government processes on consulting affected indigenous cultural communities about mineral exploration in an ancestral domain.     

The MOA has been signed between IIPO and ISRI in September 2023. However, the petitioners who call their group the Dalicno Indigenous Peoples Organization (DIPO) filed at the NCIP-Cordillera in August 2023 an appeal saying the mining company did not consult them when they too, will be impacted by the exploration.

The NCIP-Cordillera however, dismissed their appeal in October 2023, prompting the group to bring the issue to the NCIP central office, which later directed the regional office to review the issues raised by the DIPO.

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the municipality Itogon, and the province of Benguet have also been informed about the opposition.

DIPO is opposing ISRI’s APSA on three grounds: portions being applied for are built-up areas, possible depletion of sources of water, and to avoid a repeat of the tragedies in sitios Camanggaan, Batuan, and Antamok where lives and properties have been sacrificed due to ground subsidence as a result of mining.

“Delikado ta diay quarry ket idiay ngato santo diay babbalay ket idiay baba,” said Romy Agno about his apprehension of a landslide if ISRI will finally be permitted to explore, during a community meeting at the Avong of the Ibaloy Heritage Garden in Baguio City last Feb. 13.

Elder Domingo Layta also lamented that IIPOs giving its consent has divided the community. “Agkakagulo daguiti taga-Dalicno gapu dayta,” he said in the same gathering.

DIPO members and elders in the community said they are opposing APSA 103 so that the younger generation will still have a place where they can live.

They also said those who gave their consent should not be swayed by benefits as contained in the MOA, for in the long-term, they are bound to lose more. 

“We would not want our homes, our lives and most especially the lives of our children be put in danger,” the over 100 signatories to the petition said.

Meanwhile, ISRI said all processes to obtain the consent of the ICCs have been complied with.

In a statement, the company alleged those opposing are small-scale miners, financiers, and gold buyers who are only protecting their interests. 

ISRI said the issues raised by DIPO should have been ventilated during the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) process, not when the final terms of the MOA has been negotiated and was already due for signing.

ISRI added beginning 2014, the company dealt with an NCIP-recognized IPO and all throughout, all concerns they raised have been addressed, ultimately ending in the drafting and signing of the MOA in 2023.

ISRI said DIPO have been invited in these consultations but they only attended in the initial consultation but not in the succeeding consultations.

“True to our goal, the MOA contains win-win provisions for the Itogon ancestral domain and ICCs/IPs, residents of Itogon and the company,” ISRI said.

A copy of the MOA that the Midland Courier obtained shows that host ICCs/IPs are entitled to receive a yearly royalty fee of 1.25 percent from the company based on annual audited financial statement. Sixty-five percent will accrue to the ICCs/IPs of Ampucao, Poblacion, and Virac, and 35 percent to the other barangays of the Itogon ancestral domain.

The host ICCs/IPs will also receive a one-time goodwill money of P10 million upon signing of the MOA, P2.5M financial assistance to the ICCs/IPs of Ampucao, Poblacion, and Virac, three college scholarships for the host ICCs/IPs for the duration of the MOA, annual subsidy of P300,000 to the IIPO but will stop upon payment of royalty; P2M assistance for the construction of the IIPO building.  

ISRI also committed that no one will be displaced as it will not conduct mineral exploration at areas designated as no mining zones, which are already built-up areas.

“It is not just five months of the negotiations attended by representatives of the IP organizations in the nine barangays. But considering all the months spent on information and education campaign and consultations in all barangays, that’s five long years of work. Considering that the FPIC process started in 2014, the FPIC process is nine years and counting,” ISRI said. – Rimaliza A. Opiña