February 1, 2023

Indigenous peoples of Itogon, Benguet have requested the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples-Cordillera to stop the planned raising of the tailings storage facility 2 of Benguet Corp. in Poblacion, Itogon.

In a petition dated Dec. 7, the IPs from indigenous cultural communities (ICCs) and other concerned residents have maintained the construction of BC needs to get the consent of the affected communities through the conduct of a free prior and informed consent (FPIC) process.

The IPs said BC has not acquired a certificate precondition or the certificate of non-overlap for the Acupan contract mining project.

“It is respectfully requested that the NCIP-Cordillera to stop or suspend the Benguet Corporation activities to increase the crest elevation at the tailings storage facility as the NCIP has not issued the required certificate of non-overlap or the certification precondition,” the petition stated.

Last October, the BC wrote to the community and Itogon officials stating that issues were already settled among the parties, particularly those at the downstream and concerned agencies.  

BC said it will resume the dam raising activities the soonest time possible in order to conclude it before the onset of the heavy rains and typhoons, adding the dam raising is vital for the protection, safety, and integrity for the safe impoundment of tailings materials to the TSF 2 to avoid overflow.

“This is aimed principally for the protection and maintenance of the TSF 2 integrity and safe operation as well as for the company’s continuous operation to sustain the livelihood component and socio-economic programs being provided to the community,” BC’s legal officer Froilan Lawilao stated in the letter.

The BC added the NCIP-CAR earlier issued a legal opinion declaring that the occupation of the parcels of land where the TSF 2 is located falls within the vested property rights of the company, thus not needing to secure FPIC. It added the dam enhancement to 775 meters is a continuation in accordance with its approved plan.

The dam enhancement is up to a maximum of 775 meters but it will be used only up to 773 meters as the additional two meters will be maintained as a free board. 

On Dec. 10, the community conducted a prayer service at the TSF 2 site, calling also for unity to support their stand against the dam enhancement.

Tinongdan Punong Barangay Edwin Atumpag said the community’s legal counsels are also in discussion with the BC as to the legality of the company’s claim.

Atumpag said it has been a clamor of the community for the BC to repair its old and new diversion tunnels as well as the TSF 2 spillway.

“There have been negotiations in the past, but they have to fix the spillway first.If it’s not repaired it has a tendency to spillover,” he said.

He said he has been complaining in the past of fish kills happening at the downstream areas, stating it could only be attributed to the TSF 2 activities that are above these areas.

Councilor Gerard Cornel, the designated spokesperson of the protesters, said they have been picketing at the area since Dec. 4 as the BC started to conduct the planned dam enhancement.

“We are not saying that we stop mining but it just so happens that the stoppage of the dam raising would affect the operation of the company,” Cornel said.

The protesters also signed a manifesto on Dec. 10 urging for concerned agencies to investigate alleged irregularities in the issuance of clearances and licenses; for the BC to comply in securing other permits/clearances such as: local government endorsements, Protected Area Management Board clearance, building permit and quarry permit.

They also called on BC to complete the dam 2 spillway, enhance and maintain old and new diversion tunnels, pay the unpaid claims affected by the dam construction, implement the social development management programs, pay the national wealth share to the localities, and other agreements and commitment under the past memorandum of agreement.

The manifesto will be submitted to the various concerned agencies for their information and appropriate actions. – Ofelia C. Empian