Going against the Goliath: Philippines

Article excerpt

Philippines

(From "Going Against a Goliath," by Nora O. Gamolo, in Defending our Future, a publication of GABRIELA, a Filipino women's coalition, for the 1992 Earth Summit.)

Up north in Itogon, Benguet, small miners and their families are engrossed in a David and Goliath struggle against Benguet Consolidated (BC), the Philippines' biggest mining company, in which the government has partial control. BC wants to start open-pit mining operations in Itogon, a venture that the people are vehemently against.

The women are at the forefront of the townspeople's struggle. Just like the protesting Kalinga women who dammed the Chico River Dam project, the Igorot women of Itogon are the most visible at the barricades, which have been set up, since July 1991, to prevent the company's operations in the area. "Dagiti babbati ti nabileg iti struggle itan (The women are the powerful force in this struggle)," said Helen, a housewife and an active member of the United Concerned Citizens of Ucab (UCCU).

The women, not the men, form the barricades. " ... apno malapdan iti gulo. Ti lallaki, haan unay nga agbarbarikada to napudot ti security kanyada' ( ... to avoid trouble. The men do not join the barricades for security reasons)," explained Leonor. She regularly joins the barricades set up in Keystone, one of the areas in which BC wants to start its open-pit mining operations in Itogon. Her reason brings to mind that, in the Philippines, an unarmed dissenter would most likely be accused of involvement in activities declared by the government as illegal, which invites--and justifies--police and military action against them. In the case of the protesting menfolk of Itogon, they are being accused of complicity with the New People's Army, military arm of the underground political coalition National Democratic Front.

The Itogon women have arranged their household and community schedules to enable them to join the barricade. Every day, there is a group who keeps vigil at the mining site. Here, they huddle their children inside a makeshift tent. Every time BC's bulldozers roar to life, a signal of the resumption of digging operations, they run towards them to bar the path.

What is the BC? What is open pit mining and why is an entire town against it? Formerly an American-owned company, BC started its mining operations in Itogon in 1903. Through the years, it opened several mining districts and entered into joint management contracts with other mining companies in the area. In this way, BC developed a monopoly over all mining claims, with no other serious competitor but the small miners in the area. The profitability of BC operations is underscored by the fact that BC is the largest mining company in the Philippines, and the seventh largest in the world!

BC now covets the Antamok Gold Project (AGP) in Ucab and Loacan, Itogon. Its pit area alone covers 93 hectares of land, excluding the areas covered by the mill, tailings disposal system, diversion tunnels, open channel, housing and other related structures. BC estimated that in 1989 its profits from the AGP operations alone will be at least P4.1 billion ($180.56 million). It envisioned contributing to the foreign-exchange starved Philippines about $28.4 million and P121.7 million yearly in taxes.

All in all, seven out of nine barangays of Itogon are directly affected by these projects. Located 15 kilometers east of the famous Baguio City, the town is home to about 62,000 people who depend largely on small-scale mining for their needs and comforts. In 1988, the Philippines' Department of Environment and Natural Resources listed 3,405 pocket miners and 1,050 gold panners in this area. Until very recently, more than 6,000 people worked the mines of Benguet Corporation and its subsidiary, the Itogon-Suyoc Mines, Inc.

BC operations will see the displacement of entire communities by the open pits, water dams, the mill, road constructions and the support structures of the project. …