Mining is not forever

(Second of a series)

(This story was funded under the Covering the Extractive Industries: Digging Out the Stories that Matter fellowship program of the Philippine Press Institute in partnership with the Philippine Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative.)

TUBA, Benguet June 16 – Dum-ao also revealed “many of the landed IPs got rich because of the practice of the batog-batog system while many of them pin their hopes to the assistance to be extended by the company and remain poor, thus, the said system stratifies the further divisiveness in the communities.”

In the identification and implementation of the company’s mandated SDMP projects, she emphasized the problem is the practice the ‘batog-batog’ system which is a source of easy income, especially for those who own huge tracks of land in the areas where the projects are implemented. Ironically, she stated that leaders are having difficulty inculcating among the people the importance of having long-term sources of livelihood through livelihood assistance for individuals and groups that build their self-reliance and wean them away from depending on the mines for livelihood. However, the people seem to be adamant whenever the matter is opened for discussions during meetings and planning activities.

For livelihood projects, she asserted that the dole out system must be abolished so that beneficiaries will value the funds given them while for educational assistance, parents and guardians should be required to strictly monitor the compliance of their children to ensure their children reach the needed higher level of education to help their families in the future. “We have witnessed numerous livelihood projects assisted through the SDMP funds fail because the recipients never had the sense of giving value to the project. If concerned government agencies impose stringent rules and regulations governing the return of the funds even without interest, then people will surely value its importance and will work for the success of their funded projects,” she exclaimed.

Dulipas agreed with Dum-ao’s observation, saying that ‘something must be done to address the concern so people will become employers in the future to sustain their sources of livelihood even beyond mine life.”

“The problem lies with the policy of the government and the current system. If Philex wants to leave behind a legacy, there is still enough time to shape up so that the communities that will be left behind will be resilient by the end of mine life,” Dum-ao stressed.

She asserted the legacy Philex should leave behind is that the communities are developed in terms of good infrastructure, sustainable sources of potable water supply, especially for the elevated areas, through long-term water projects, sustainable sources of livelihood apart from agriculture that will translate to increased economic activities in their places and thus generate jobs in the communities.

Dulipas explained in the identification of SDMP projects, the communities, represented by their multi-stakeholder leaders, craft 5-year SDMP plans that serve as a blueprint of the company’s forthcoming annual SDMP plans submitted to the MGB for approval. For Philex, its final 5-year SDMP plan, crafted in July 2017 and submitted to the MGB in November was approved by the MGB-CAR early this year. “We engage the people in  the communities so we believe all  their concerns have been incorporated in this final 5-year plan, the blueprint  of the company’s  SDMP projects but its details will be incorporated in the annual SDMP  plan which result from separate consultations on the prioritization of the projects to be funded from SDMP funds every year,” she claimed.

After the approval of the 5-year SDMP plan, the multi-stakeholder representatives will be again involved in the planning of their annual SDMP plans detailing priority projects to be funded the following year which will pass through a similar process as the 5-year SDMP plan.

Dulipas admitted it was only in 2003 that the company started implementing SDMP projects in partnership with the designated multi-stakeholder representatives of the host and outlying communities.

From 2003 to 2017, Philex provided over P752 million for SDMP priority projects of the host and outlying communities, of which 66 percent was primarily used for infrastructure projects in the said villages while 34 percent was equitably distributed to health, education and livelihood projects.

Engr. Felizardo Gacad, chief science research specialist of the Cordillera office of the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB-CAR) mine safety, environment and social development division, explains the planning of the company’s priorities for SDMP projects is one of the best practices of mining companies in the country because the output are the projects identified by the communities.

“People in the communities identify their priority projects through organized planning and consultation activities with all stakeholders present and they identify which ones will be included in the final SDMP plan for possible funding under the company’s SDMP funds. Projects that will not be funded but are prioritized will be included in the next annual SDMP budget,” Gacad stressed.

He pointed  out the monitoring of the implementation of SDMP projects is done by a multi-stakeholder committee composed of representatives of the MGB-CAR, the company, the barangay and the community prior to the payment of the project costs. Identified defects have to be corrected first before given the clearance for payment by the company. Corrective measures are charged against the retained funds of the contractor or done at the contractor’s expense.

“Generally, we find the implementation of the funded SDMP projects done above board and the defects corrected,” Gacad said.

Gacad emphasized the processes on the formulation of the 5-year and annual SDMP plans are embodied in various orders from the department which concerned sectors are supposed to adhere and the regulators should not be branded as anti-IPs if the necessary regulations are being imposed for transparency and accountability  purposes.

“We not object to whatever processes being imposed in the identification of SDMP projects because what is important to the indigenous communities will be the benefits of development they will derive from the completed projects,” Gabino said.

Aside from fully subsidizing the basic education of children and siblings of its employees and interested students from host and outlying communities, Philex also provides scholarship grants to tertiary and technical-vocational students from the said areas. Through the SDMP, 104 students graduated from college while 99 students are still studying in college and enjoying the scholarship grant, while less than 10 individuals are currently enjoying technical-vocational scholarship assistance.

“We have adopted various strategies to change the mind-set of the people in our host and outlying communities so that for the remaining five years of mine life, they will realize the importance of having sustainable sources of livelihood and we are doing these through relevant livelihood training and assistance to make them more self-reliant once mining operations end in 2022,” Dulipas stressed.

For the first time since the implementation of the company’s SDMP projects in 2003, she claims the company will be conducting a social impact assessment of the SDMP this 2018 through a third party assessor to determine the real impact of the SDMP in the lives of the people within their area of operation and to ascertain weak points that will be the focus of future interventions to assist the communities become resilient after mine life.

Gabino admitted the problems of the host and outlying communities could not be solely attributed to the mining operation of Philex, as continuous increase in population, migration, climate change, deforestation, among others, are contributing factors but what has been glaring for the last three years is the deterioration of the source of potable water supply in the communities located in higher elevation.

She claimed the development of their communities could not have been so significant,  particularly the access roads, public infrastructures, health facilities and assistance, if not for  mining, but the sad part is that their farm produce, their source of subsistence, had been affected because of the limited supply of water compared to the previous years, thus, most of them decided to shift to planting lemon which does not require much water to survive.

“We started experiencing the drastic loss of water in 2015, thus, we are pushing for the implementation of various waterworks projects tapping various sources in the locality so we can sustain our farms since agriculture is our main source of livelihood,” Gabino added.

On her part, Dulipas revealed there are sufficient funds for waterworks projects but the community constituents cannot get their acts together to agree on the priority areas where the waterworks system will be implemented while other similar projects under future SDMP plans will be for the other sitios.

“Before, we had abundant water supply, thus, we were able to sustain the production of our crops but since mining started, our water supply started to dwindle. While we do not totally blame mining for this, we hope our problem will be addressed by the company through the completion of waterworks projects for us to have sustainable water supply even after the mining operations,” Gabino claimed.

Camp 3 Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative (IPMR) Minda Bantasan claims people in the host and outlying communities are slowly realizing the importance of collective decision-making in prioritizing the limited SDMP funds because for some time in the past, most of them were only after their individual interests resulting to more problems than solutions. They are now willing to give in to the implementation of priority projects that bring collective benefit like waterworks, educational assistance, livelihood grants, health  assistance, among others, instead of insisting that the roads fronting their properties be concreted invoking the ‘batog-batog’ system.

Bantasan, who is an Ibaloi, said that indigenous peoples are resilient because they survived the difficulties of life even before the mines, thus, although the impending closure of the mines in 2022 will surely affect their lives, it will only be for a certain period of time because they can adapt.

“We will be able to survive after mine life but we will surely feel the discomfort of being spoiled because we will no longer enjoy the assistance we are currently enjoying from the company, and we may find it difficult to request funds for our priority projects from the government, unlike in the present situation, where we can access funds through the company’s SDMP,” Bantasan stressed.

According to her, elders joining the planning sessions for the identification of priority SDMP projects are now considering increasing the education and livelihood projects because many of them now agree children who get proper education will greatly help their families survive the post-mine life.

Dalmaya Dino, one of the elders in Camp 3, remarked “by allowing the youth to acquire higher education, they will surely have a chance to work outside their communities and earn reasonable income to enhance their family’s living condition and not rely on the company for possible employment and assistance in the future.”

A random interview with people living in the host and outlying communities showed that the implementation of SDMP projects in their communities have benefitted them but the workmanship and the quality of the infrastructure projects are sub-standard. For roads, this often results to the closure of access roads leading to their homes because of landslides. They want a guaranteed higher quality of projects in the remaining years for them to enjoy the fruits of their mandatory benefits from mining. “We agree with the observations of our fellow IPs that the implementation of SDMP projects contributed to the development of our remote villages and also aided in providing sources of livelihood and  guaranteed jobs for us. But we also observed that there were defects in the workmanship in the projects although such defects were corrected,” Dino stipulated.

Engr.  Eulalio B. Austin, Jr., Philex president and chief executive officer, said mining, through numerous forms of assistance over the past six decades, was able to significantly change the living landscape of its host and outlying communities, and has also contributed in improving the living condition of the people in other places, including Baguio City.

He explained that the company has employed thousands of workers from the host and outlying communities over the past several decades and provided millions worth of projects to them, thus, “by having a guaranteed income, almost all of them were able to establish their residences, had their children go to school and ended up gainfully employed, and they were also able to purchase real properties outside the mining communities which some made productive after retiring from the company.”

He underscored that no less than Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan, in his numerous local and international speaking engagements, has time and again reiterated that without mining in Benguet, Baguio could not have achieved its status to date due to the influx of people from the mining communities to study, unwind, transact business and do other activities in the city. “We are committed to closely work with our host and outlying communities for the sustained implementation of SDMP projects because it is part of our mandate to provide assistance for the growth and development of our neighbors. Problems that may arise will surely have their corresponding solutions through consistent consultations with the IPs to make them understand the importance of preparing them for the mine closure,” Austin stressed.

Austin, a Kankanaey from Mountain Province and the first indigenous person to be chief executive of a large-scale mining company in the country, pointed out if only the host and outlying communities strategized well the utilization of the SDMP funds, the contribution of mining to the said areas would have had greater impact compared to the status of these places to date.

He explained it was the communities that identified and planned their projects and the company only provided funds for these. Moreover, even in the implementation of the projects, the people had a significant stake because of the ‘batog-batog’ system and the state of the projects reflects on the people of the communities.

“We leave the matter of settling conflicts among project implementers to the indigenous system of settling conflicts or the so-called tong-tongan with the elders presiding, and we find it to be a well-accepted conflict resolution mechanism that is why when they come to us, they already have an agreement on how to undertake projects,” Austin stated.

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