Benguet Corporation (BC) held a public consultation with stakeholders regarding its mining exploration application in Ilocos Norte at the Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol Auditorium on June 24, 2008. Present during the presentation were BC officials, Gov. Michael Keon, Rep. Bongbong Marcos, SP members, mayors, Bishop Sergio Utleg, and representatives from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Region I office, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), IP communities, NGOs, religious organizations and environmental groups. Mr. Philip Romualdez, BC President and CEO, presented a large-scale responsible mining proposal that would allow it to explore and possibly mine in the towns of Adams, Vintar, Carasi, Solsona and Nueva Era. (Click here to read related story.) In a copy of BC’s Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) application with the DENR-MGB, the project would cover 21,513.37 hectares of land spread out in the 5 towns.

“I want to ventilate the issue openly and I will remain neutral,” Gov. Keon said in his welcome speech.

A group of indigenous people from the remote town of Adams carried banners expressing their opposition to mining. Several individuals voiced out their fears about the possible effects of mining. Bishop Utleg said, “It’s too risky… ” in response to Mr. Romualdez’s presentation. An avid birder, Dr. Petrus Calope, cried out, “Papatayin ninyo ang sagisag ng Pilipinas (You are going to kill the symbol of the Philippines.) He was probably referring to the endangered Philippine Eagle believed to have been spotted in Adams and Nueva Era.

“It’s up to you to decide and find balance for ourselves,” BBM said when it was his turn to speak.

After Benguet Corporation's presentation regarding it's operations for exploration in Ilocos Norte, a "no to mining" banner is posted on the church facing the Adams Municipal Hall

After Benguet Corporation’s presentation regarding its operations for exploration in Ilocos Norte, a “no to mining” banner was posted on the church facing the Adams Municipal Hall

In a privilege speech delivered before the Sangguniang Panlalawigan on July 7, following BC’s consultative meeting with stakeholders, SP member Renato Ma. Peralta relayed the findings of an international fact-finding commission, led by British Member of Parliament (MP) Clare Short, which visited 2 mining sites in Mindanao in July and August 2006 and interviewed government officials, mining corporations and affected indigenous groups. The said commission visited a prospective mining site in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, home to Subanon (riverside dwellers) people and the closed Philex-Libay mining site on the coast of Sibutad, Zamboanga del Norte. The group learned that the homes of more than 10 million indigenous peoples in the country are located in areas with large mineral deposits. It found that 16 of the 24 priority mining projects promoted by the government are located on indigenous lands and the mining activity threatens the local community’s survival. The report cited incidents in which companies violated legal guidelines and “engineered” the required consent of indigenous communities to proposed mining projects. Philippine mining law requires companies to obtain local indigenous peoples’ Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to mining projects. In response to SP member Peralta’s privilege speech, the SP agreed to form a multi-sectoral group that would look into the mining track record of Benguet Corp.

As a group that promotes environmental awareness and advocates for the protection and conservation of natural resources in Ilocos Norte, the LEAD Movement opposes the application of the Benguet Corporation, or any other mining firm, to conduct prospecting or exploration in Ilocos Norte. It submitted a manifesto following BC’s public consultation. The mining industry might mean extra livelihood and income for the said towns and the province, but it may also mean the possible degradation of the environment. Through research about the ill effects of mining, the group found that there is no such thing as sustainable or responsible mining. A fellow mountaineer, who happens to be a geodetic engineer, says, “Metals, like petroleum, coal and water are not regrown, re-made or regenerated once extracted. The process of which these metals are extracted disrupts the topsoil and disturbs habitats, thus altering an ecosystem. It disturbs productive grazing and cropping lands. Contamination of water sources is impossible to avoid. An open pit remains open and when the rains come, that pit, filled with toxic materials such as cyanide and mercury, might get filled to the brim with more rain water, and there would be no way to control accidental run-offs or spillage from that open pit.” Mining might wreak more havoc on the quality of the environment and public health. The building of roads, bunkhouses and parking area for heavy equipments will mean that a chunk of the forests will have to be sacrificed in exchange for short-lived economic gains, maybe 13 years, as metals are non-renewable resources. As Stewart Udall said, “Mining is like a search-and-destroy mission.” When the metals are gone and operations seize, the pits usually remain open and the strip mines don’t get to be rehabilitated. What happened in Marinduque a few years back when the Boac River and Calancan Bay were contaminated with tons of run-offs from the open pit created by Marc Copper and Placer Dome mining firms caused the loss of many lives and their fish catch decreased considerably, thereby affecting the poor fisherfolk.

In late 2008, Itogon in Benguet was in the headlines when a typhoon caused landslides dislocating many residents and entrapment of local miners in the old “no working zone” tunnels of Benguet Corporation.

More than half of the remaining old-growth forests in the country has been lost to mining and other forms of destruction like illegal logging. Destruction of old-growth forests contributes largely to global warming and soil erosion. A part of Adams (and Pagudpud) has been declared a protected area, known as the Kalbario-Patapat Natural Park, in August 2007, under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act of 1992. Adjacent to it is the Proposed Northern Ilocos Norte Natural Park which is approximately 11, 794.19 hectares. The intact vegetation of the site, which is the show window of the remaining Old Growth Forest in Region I, contributes to the presence of perennial water sources,  wildlife habitats, and the unique waterfalls, ponds and springs for its extreme natural beauty. It is close to the subject area (658.68 hectares of land in Adams still included in the Amended Area) presented at the public consultation meeting. The Original Area ( 36,247 hectares) filed by BC on February 8, 2005 included areas in Pagudpud, Adams, Vintar, Carasi, Solsona, and Nueva Era. Even if the DENR-MGB has amended the original proposal and has taken out areas in Pagudpud and Adams included in the Kalbario-Patapat Natural Park and the Proposed Northern Ilocos Norte Natural Park, several important watersheds might be hit directly by the project. Deforestation, siltation and pollution of water systems contribute to the  bigger picture. The world-famous Pagudpud, known for its ivory beaches, is right below Adams; the Pasaleng Bay and the Sinidangan River and its tributaries will be at risk once mining takes place in Adams. Both towns thrive on ecotourism. The crystal-clear water (Bulo River) from Adams passes through the towns of Dumalneg and Bangui and empties into the South China Sea.

The Bulo River is paradise to the children of Adams

View this video that tells the story of Rapu-Rapu Island (in Albay), home to coral reefs, mangrove forests on the shoreline, rich sea grass beds and a high amount of biodiversity.

Click here to view video of Probe TV’s Gameplan featuring the Mt. Palemlem summit which offers the best view of the lush mountains that nestle Adams.

Ilocos Norte isn’t just about old churches and landmarks that bespeak its rich history. It is also proud of its abundant natural wealth – pristine beaches and untouched forests that host a high amount of biodiversity. Help save this wealth for the coming generations to enjoy.

“You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry” ~ Bob Marley