July 17, 2024

■  Rimaliza A. Opiña 

ITOGON, Benguet – The community here has found themselves feuding over the application for mining exploration in their ancestral domain.

The Dalicno Indigenous Peoples Organization (DIPO) has accused the Itogon Indigenous Peoples Organization (IIPO) of excluding the group in the consultations called by the Itogon Suyoc Resources Inc., (ISRI) and the latter alleged that DIPO has a vested interest for opposing ISRI’s application.

Both also made threats to sue some of each group’s members for making false allegation posted in social media.

In a community assembly on Feb. 20, the council of elders and officials of IIPO refuted claims made by officials of DIPO and residents of sitio Dalicno in a meeting last week at the Ibaloy Heritage Garden.

IIPO officials said they would not have signed the MOA with the ISRI had they not addressed the concerns raised in the series of consultations and information campaigns the company called as early as 2014.

Ampucao IPO president Paulino Pallay recalled the indigenous cultural communities of Itogon said no to the offer of ISRI and they even signed a resolution of non-consent but after renegotiation, gave their consent.

IIPO officials said ISRI addressed apprehensions on depletion of water sources and displacement of built-up areas by agreeing to declaring these areas, which include some portions of Dalicno, as no mining zones.

This is why out the over 500 hectares mining claim of the company, only 250 ha. will be explored, the IIPO officials and elders said.

A memorandum of agreement was subsequently signed between ISRI and IIPO on September 2023. The MOA has been endorsed to the NCIP en banc which is currently under review.

Some of the terms in the MOA include a yearly royalty fee of 1.25 percent 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; and 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.

IIPO officials and the council of elders confirmed to media who were invited to cover the assembly that the organization has received the P10M goodwill money from ISRI. They said guidelines are in place for the disbursement and liquidation of funds.

DIPO said the MOA with ISRI is too good to be true.

DIPO officials said that while the MOA appears to have agreed to most of the terms of the ICCs, the proviso that requires the community to obtain ISRI’s consent when they plan to start a livelihood is the same as removing their right to their ancestral domain.

IIPO countered, as holder of the mining patent, ISRI has the right to require those that intend to do business within its claim, to give its consent.

IIPO alleged that DIPO’s opposition is not truly driven by their concern for the environment but to protect their interest as they intend to mine at areas under ISRI’s patented claim. “This means they have to apply for a minahang bayan where a permit is hard to obtain,” one official of the IIPO said.

IIPO secretary Daniel Ducayag also belied claim that Dalicno was not represented.

They said even as Dalicno is supposed to be under the umbrella of the Ampucao IPO, they invited a representative of the group in their meetings but he attended only once and their group later submitted their opposition to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples.

IIPO said as an NCIP-accredited group, it is the only organization that can represent the ICCs of Itogon.

Despite opposing views, the IIPO said they are open to dialogue with the DIPO so as to settle their dispute but asked that DIPO should not claim that their opposition is the stand of all ICCs of Itogon.

“Agkaykaysa tayo gamin tano ta kababain nga kasla kakaasi ti Dalicno,” said Lando Diego, a community member who favors the application of ISRI.

The DIPO, meanwhile, is hopeful the NCIP will heed their appeal and hold the issuance of a certificate precondition (CP).

A CP is a document attesting that the free, prior, and informed consent process has been complied with. The CP is a requirement before ISRI can start exploration.