An Interview with Yê Nida Anggol

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I was first introduced to Yê Nida Anggol back in 2013 when I was documenting the processes involved in the weaving of tnalak. She had a kind face, with a gentle and generous smile. She spoke to me in a Tboli that has its own cadence and rhythm, every word perfectly enunciated. She was a chanter and tnalak weaver, an artist through and through. I wanted to do a more in-depth interview  because during the last time I met her, just as we were starting to pack our things, she chanted to the group a part of the story of Ibid and Kiyol, two comical and folk characters that are inspirations to tnalak designers. I wanted to record the full story so I asked for Jenita Eko’s help in setting up a date with Yê Nida.

I met Yê Nida again in Klubi on February 8, 2017. She was in her traditional fandi, a plaid skirt, and Tboli beads of red and black around her neck. She had on her usual and familiar smile. I greeted her heyu hlafus, good morning, and she greeted me back. We had breakfast together with Jenita and some friendly exchange. After breakfast, she told us that she needed to be back before 10:00 in the morning as she has many chores to finish. I said that we can already proceed with the interview and I promised that it won’t take long.

I introduced myself again to her. I told her that I am a student of Anthropology in Ateneo de Davao, trying to finish my thesis. I told her the objectives of my thesis and I also asked if I may use the quotes from our interview. The customary self-deprecation followed, that she is not worthy, not even educated, nor literate. I told her that I don’t know how to weave the intricate tnalak either, so that makes us even. She laughed at this and gave me her consent, so I thought I must have said the right thing. I gave a sigh of relief and smiled at her. Let’s begin, I said.

I asked her first how she learned how to weave the tnalak and who taught her the art. She answered that she learned it late in her life, in her 20s when she transferred to Sitio Tablo in Lamdalag. Yê Nida explained that a girl normally learns it at a very early age, but she only learned how to weave when she got married to a man from Tablo. Tablo, she explained, was the center of weaving in Lake Sebu. Her sister-in-law taught her how to do all the processes, but she had to start with the tembong, the process of connecting individual abaca strands to make into a single bundle of strand ready for weaving.

I asked Yê Nida where she was originally from. She answered that she was born in one of the villages in S’bu (now called the “poblacion”) the lakeside barangay of Lake Sebu. Her father was a fisherman in the lake, she said, and he also taught her how to fish using the traditional method of dule, or line fishing.

I told Yê Nida that I was curious how the lake was like during her childhood years. Jenita translated this question, and so she was looking at Jenita when she answered this. She was talking in rapid Tboli, and I noticed a certain nostalgia in the way she smiled at the recollection of years gone by. She described the the lake as andô gonon gësëng matahem, which roughly translates as an unobstructed vista, the eyes can see only see lake, mountains, and the sky. She said there were no concrete buildings around the lake before, and no water lilies (fam. nymphaeceae) either that now choke the waterways. There was only the plant lagat, an aquatic plant that blossoms upward from the depths of the lake. There was an abundance of snails and shells which she described as smooth, shiny and semi-transparent, unlike the shells they get from the lake now. The lake itself was crystal-clear, that one can see right through the waters to its bottom. She lamented that with the introduction of tilapia, the pangasius, and the “Korean fish,” the lake, its fishes, snails, and shells have never been the same as before. She observed that the introduced fishes have already killed-off the bonol and the hait, their staple when she was younger. She recalled that when she was a young girl living on the lakeside, they could just ride one of the owong boats and catch some fish for their meals or walk along the shallower parts to pick some shells which they would cook.

Yê Nida said that there were no boundaries in the lake before, everyone can just come in and fish or collect shells. No one owns the lake, the land or the forests, she added. Here she explained that the family of our friend, Jelly Escarlote, was the very first migrant settlers to Lake Sebu. They were considered as Tboli, and not as outsiders. Yê Nida said that everything started out with friendship, and the first families who migrated were very good friends with the Tboli who were living near the lake. But she added that it became complicated when those families started bringing in their other families from Luzon and the Visayas, especially from the Ilocos and Negros provinces.

I thanked her for telling how it felt like before when the lake was that beautiful. I then told Yê Nida that I wanted to know more about the tnalak, the gains and the challenges that she is now facing as a weaver.

I asked her first if there were areas around Lake Sebu that specializes on the weaving of tnalak. Yê Nida answered that the upper barangays, because of their cooler clime, are the areas where there are weavers. These are Lamdalag (proper), Tablo (a sitio of Lamdalag), and Klubi. She added that Klubi, because it was closer to the forests, was and still is, the source of abaca fibers which is the material for the tnalak cloth.

I then asked Yê Nida if she can share to me her experience studying how to weave. She said that after helping out with the tembong, connecting individual strands, her first hands-on experience with the back-strap loom was when she practiced with a small piece of tnalak weaving a bëd hënda design. She appreciated the methods of her sister-in-law, her tnalak mentor, who never once touched her work but only gave verbal instructions and helpful criticisms. Her mentor afterwards taught her how to do the hëmto, the tie-dye method of covering certain areas for dyeing which gives the cloth its signature designs.

Tnalak cloth that they would not use personally were sold to the store called “Local.” This was a store managed by the Sta. Cruz Mission, through Fr. Rex Mansmann. Yê Nida described it as a “buy-and-sell” store and she added that the women weavers can take out small credits from the store. Here Jenita shared that it was Fr. Rex who was the first to classify tnalak according to their quality, but in truth, she said, the Tboli were already classifying tnalak according to their quality and their specific uses. But it was Fr. Rex who introduced the idea that the tnalak has a monetary value. This changed the economic position of the women weavers, I commented to the two women. And they both agreed. Yê Nida commented that the women, before the introduction of the “Local” Store, had no right to the final product of their weaving. The finished cloth were considered as gifts, and the men, usually the father or the husband, would give them to other men [a gift economy].

I asked if the women had a hold of the money they received from selling the tnalak. She answered that with the “Local” Store, the women weavers were paid the money and get to keep them too but this led to some problems at first. The men did not like it, according to Yê Nida, but they persuaded them nonetheless telling them that the women would not have been able to weave if not for the men’s role in stripping the abaca or getting wood for the fire. Yê Nida and Jenita both agree that the women have been empowered economically by the tnalak as an enterprise, but gender asymmetry is still widely felt among Tboli families that women still have to ask men for their consent. But they insisted that the women now have greater rights to the products of their weaving compared before.

When I asked if she ever dreamed of patterns like the “dreamweavers” popularized by different media, Yê Nida said that she had never been visited by Fu Dalu [owner/spirit of the abaca] in her dreams and that it was Bo-i Diwa Ofong who was truly the dreamweaver. Jenita, who is the granddaughter of Bo-i Diwa, commented that the bang gala design came to her grandmother in a dream but they were not clear designs, as was later confided to Jenita. Bo-i Diwa would work out on the several patterns presented to her in the dreams to make one design. Sometimes, Bo-i Diwa said to Jenita, Fu Dalu would even give her instructions on what the designs mean and what they are for.

I asked Yê Nida if she knows of anyone alive who still dreams the patterns, and with a sad note said, “no one dreams patterns anymore.” She added that maybe all the basic patterns have already been revealed and that the weavers now have to work newer ones inspired by the “revealed patterns”.

We ended our interview on this melancholic note. I thanked her profusely for her time and for granting me an interview. My head was still reeling from all the information I received from Yê Nida, but I realized that my heart was heavy form her last statement. The term “dreamweavers” have been synonymous to the Tboli but with the dreamweavers never dreaming anymore, has the tnalak been relegated to another inert cultural artifact?

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Notes on Peace: In Ciudad de Sambuwangan

The rugged coastline came into view as we approached the airport of Zamboanga City, Sambuwangan to the ancient Sama people. This was only my second time to visit this city. The first time was a quick stopover as we transitted for Tawi-Tawi. But this second visit, only days after the ‘Zamboanga Siege’ and with the city still trying to salvage itself from the trauma of those days, brings out various emotions in me. 

Down below us, as we neared land, houses on stilts grew larger, ships lining the coast calls eager young men and women to a better life perhaps in Sabah, while flooded houses also grew more vivid – reminding the plane’s passengers of yet another recent calamity that hit the city.

I searched within me, if I’ve come prepared. Have I read enough materials on this siege? How much do I know of the ethnic diversity in the area, to better understand the situation? How sensitive am I to woundedness? Will anyone be ever really prepared to face such monsters as trauma and grief?

I joined a group from the Ateneo de Davao’s Al Qalam Institute of Islamic Identities and Dialogue to map out the network of collaborators in the Sulu Zone which includes Zamboanga City, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The institute’s aim is to train people from these communities to be peace advocates among their people. I feel really blessed that I am part of this project, even if only in the beginning stages, because this area sorely needs such intervention. I am of the belief that peace in this area is possible, but people from the community must first understand the different circumstances, contexts and present conditions prevailing in the Sulu Zone and beyond it. Peace works, as I understand it must not take on an attitude of imposition, a top-down business that relies heavily on imperial Manila, driven by it’s own notions and prejudices. Instead peace works must take on a participatory approach that depends on a community’s aspirations, narratives, and worldviews. The community itself must aspire and work for it. It may take years, with our generation not seeing its fruition, but at least we rest in the assurance that we haved sowed the seeds of lasting and inclusive peace.

Our group has come to the city of Zamboanga when its wounds have barely healed. Bienvenidos a Ciudad de Zamboanga! declares a poster in its airport, but a heavy sigh is perceptible, as audible as a wall riddled by bullet holes. Scars of the tragedies are palpable: several houses have hung the Philippine flag to show support to the Government Forces, several Sama Dilaut families stranded with their boats parked in one boulevard because their houses are no more, stories of the siege and floods fill hotel lobbies, thousands still in evacuation centers around the city, a mandatory 10:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew, and of course, one will not miss the army men in the city who have become as ubiquitous as dust in a library. It is almost like martial law is in effect. But never have I been more emotional when we finally set foot in barangay Sta. Barbara, ‘ground zero’ of the Zamboanga Siege. 

The morning of October 13, we were invited by Fr. Bert Alejo, SJ to attend what I understood only as just a repainting of a mosque damaged during the siege. I was partly surprised when we were blocked by a group of military, asking us of our purpose in Sta. Barbara. It turned out that the whole area, including Rio Hondo and Sta. Catalina have been cordoned off, quarantined. We had to call Fr Bert while he in turn let the secretary of Zamboanga Mayor Beng Climaco talk to the officer for us to finally enter the area. 

The silence was the first to hit me. It was eerily pregnant in the mid-morning sun. Conversations were hushed and only greetings of welcome from friends punctuate the silence. The mosque, as it turned out, was riddled by bullet holes, its minaret, where two female snipers of the MNLF were positioned, turned into a coarse sieve. ‘Riddled, ‘ I surmised was such an apt word after all. Instead of just ‘being perforated,’ the minaret was a real riddle, an enigmatic piece of that mosque, a riddle of what transpired on September, piercing the sky, perhaps even asking the heavens for answers.

As we gathered together on the rooftop of the Sta. Barbara Mosque sharing that same indifferent morning heat, I felt the unmistakable collective aspiration to rebuild, not just infrastructures but most importantly, relations. Speeches were made, allusions to light conquering darkness were referred to, calls to unity were pronounced, God was called to bear witness and give guidance. Are these not the same pronouncements and prayers of the other group, of the ‘enemy’? I had to make sense of the senseless-ness, if I can. If anyone can.

Several groups joined in the symbolic act of repainting the mosque’s minaret. And as a symbol, several interpretations may be presented: reconciliation of Muslims and Christians, mending the gaps between the two religions, or the conquering of a bitter chapter in the city’s history. A fitting symbol indeed, if we also consider the fact that the mosque was named after a Christian saint.

Perhaps we can also reflect on the name Barbara, from the Greek Barbados and Arabic Al-Barbar referring to foreigners or ‘barbarians’. Who is the real foreigner in Sambuwangan/Zamboanga when Sama, Sama Dilaut, Tausug, Chavacano, Bisaya and other groups call it home? Perhaps the damaged minaret calls us to reflect on how we exclude or marginalize the other, and how this othering has caused so many wounds among our people.

I want to end my reflections on that day with an experience in Fort Pilar.

I went in line to touch the cross near the altar at the Shrine of Our Lady of Pilar. I observed several devotees in the line pointing to a bullet hole in a cement vase. A mother with her child was in front of me and the mother explained to the child that it was a bullet hole from the fighting in September. The child stared at it for several seconds, and I can only begin to imagine the images that passed by his wondering eyes. How many people, on their way to touch the sacred image, saw that same bullet hole and what it represents, and prayed, really prayed for peace?

Teaching Peace, Developing Tolerance, Instilling Sensitivity

I grew up in an extremely pious Catholic city. Every year, thousands of devotees gather in Naga City to show their love to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, bringing with them a multitude of thanksgivings and prayer-requests to Ina. The festivity during the nine-day novena itself has become a cultural icon, the celebrations referring to the city while the city prides in being the steward of this devotion – Pueblo amante de Maria. But looking in retrospect, with me now immersed for two and a half years in the cultures and struggles of Mindanao, I found myself asking questions on religious tolerance and sensitivity, of challenging my worldview as a Taga-Naga Catholic and to reflect on the level of tolerance given to non-Catholics in and around Naga. How, for instance, are we portraying our pagan past in performances like street dancings during the Peñafrancia festival? How much space is provided for the narratology of non-believers in the public discourses? How are we excluding non-Catholics when we institutionalize such religious events? I believe such questions must be addressed in pedagogy.

Developing a curriculum and reforming methods of instruction with a particular sensitivity to diversity in cultures and religions in the Philippine context is an imperative in promoting peace and in pursuing a society marked with respect and acceptance of the ‘otherness’ of the other.

We are in a point in our educational history when great leaps and bounds are being done not only in the adding of two years in Basic Education but also of reforms being done in curriculum and classroom instruction. This is also an opportune time to integrate subject matters or topics relating to peace, and in amending certain topics that have been deemed passé, obsolete or culturally insensitive. Methods of instruction in the classroom must also be changed to cater to more and more plural ethnicities, backgrounds and religions of the students.

For instance, in teaching Grades 6 and 7, a crucial time for transforming attitudes and biases of students, greater emphasis on multiculturalism can be done. This includes, among other things, the use of literary samples from the different ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines in teaching Values Education or in other suitable subjects. In English subjects, literature tends to lean in favor of English writers and Western categories of literature when in fact, there is a treasure chest full of literary gems from the Indigenous Communities which may be carefully translated to English without losing its soul, and not packaged in a Western literary category, but as it is. In this way, students may be able to appreciate the diversity of cultures, and also, of worldviews in the Philippines. 

Religious intolerance may be corrected by choosing carefully the topics, examples and methods of instruction. Students must be given the freedom to express their beliefs in projects, or written compositions, without feeling betrayed by the prejudices in the textbooks or the way the teacher delivered the lesson. This point begs an example. The ‘Moro-Moro’, (which in fact was a type of theater in several Luzon areas) for instance, as a type of Philippine theater play may not be omitted on textbooks but instead used as a jump-off point for students’ personal reflection on their attitudes towards Muslims – a movement towards conscientization that can be strengthened in higher year levels. 

It must also be clear, in the development of curriculum, to refrain from generalizing that the wars in Mindanao have been caused by the gaps in the relationship of Muslims and Christians when in fact, several studies have already concluded that the hardening of ethnic and religious identities were the consequences, and not the causes of conflicts in Mindanao. Students must be given input on the political and socio-economic conditions of Mindanao to better understand how conflicts are triggered and identities mustered in wars. This can be iterated in the Social Science subject and emphasized on Values Education.

How do we teach the ‘Mindanao Problem’ to students outside Mindanao who have never been directly impacted by the many challenges in Mindanao? By putting Mindanao right at their doorstep. I, for one, am a product of an educational upbringing where Mindanao seems to be so far off from my own community. By bringing into the fore how this ‘Problem’ directly and indirectly impacts on the students’ own community, a better interest might be attained. By giving emphasis on Mindanao’s indispensable contribution to statehood and nationhood, ranging from contributions on cultural diversity to economy and contributions to the nation’s collective symbols and narratives, Mindanao becomes a bedfellow to the student who lives in a mountain community in Camarines Sur. 

Instilling sensitivity of the other requires that we move out of the tribalistic frame of mind that is often characteristic of many groups here in Mindanao. This pervading tribalistic attitude is marked by insensitivity to non-members of the ‘tribe’ or group and shuts any sense of the pursuit of the common good, and takes personal and tribal affronts to wars and violence against this ‘other’. It fences in the ‘tribe’ away from the nation and away from the global world, taking into consideration the good of the tribe or even in some instances, only the private, individual good. This lack of the sense of the common good, of this ‘my tribe’ attitude needs to addressed as one of the primary causes of conflicts in Mindanao. A Sama Banguingui youth, for example, can identify his or her role in a globalized world, or identify his or her contribution to nation building. This must be addressed not only in education but also in agencies working for the development of Mindanao like the Mindanao Development Authority. Public interests, the summation of interests of those individuals comprising Mindanao is imperative in any development plans, of which education holds a key role. By addressing the dearth of the sense of the common good in education and development plans, we can imagine a movement from the tribal good and on to a good that serves the nation (or even nation/s in the context of Mindanao) and the global world, which ultimately, serves the community.

A change in attitude is required of every citizen, most particularly the young, if ever this is to be achieved. Here the emphasis is on education, the right kind of education, with its core deeply rooted in forming culturally-, peace-, and environment-sensitive citizens not just of the immediate community but also of the nation and the global world who sees him/herself in the web of human relations. This is an education that is not cold-hearted but is committed to the ethics of care, valuing the other not because he or she is a victim of injustice, but because the other is valuable per se.

Agos at Paghamon

Mga bantang dala ng Sagitarrius Mines sa yamang-tubig ng Gitna at Timog Mindanao

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“Ang tubig ay buhay at kabuhayan.”

Saan pa nga bang lugar sa Pilipinas mas higit na nagkakamukha at nagkakatuturan ang katagang ito kung hindi sa mga bayan ng Timog Mindanao na ngayo’y naging sentro ng tunggalian sa pagitan ng mga nagtutulak ng pagmimina sa bayan ng Tampakan at ang mga naglalayong pangalagaan ang yamang likas at tao dito? Sa isang proyekto na binasbasan ng gobyerno, pitong ilog na pinagmumulan ng tubig ng Timog Kotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, Maguindanao hanggang Kotabato ang nababantaang maapektuhan ng pinakamalaking minahan sa bansa: ang SMI/Xstrata Tampakan Copper-Gold Project.

Maituturing na mga taong-tubig ang mga taga-Mindanao. Sa tubig umiikot ang mga iba’t ibang kultura sa islang ito at kabahin na nito ang kanilang pagkatao’t pagkakakilanlan: Danao, Ranao, Lanao, S’bu, Suba, Kaulo, Pulangi, Agus, Laut, Sug, Salug, E-el… Lahat ng mga ito ay nagpapahiwatig ng tubig sa kanyang iba’t ibang anyo bilang ilog, sapa, lawa o dagat. At sa mga pangalang ito’y makikilala natin ang Min-Danao, Maranao, Maguindanao, Lawa ng Sebu, Manobo na galing sa Man-suba, Taga-Kaulo, ang ilog ng Pulangi, Agusan, mga Sama Dilaut o Badjao, Tau-Sug, Matig-salug, ang mga lugar ng Alab-el at Marb-el na galing sa B’laan para sa tubig, e-el. Tunay ngang sa Mindanao, ang tubig ay siya ring ating buhay at pagkakakilanlan.

Sa bayan ng Buluan, probinsya ng Maguindanao, kakabit ng tubig ang kabuhayan. Dito, sapat ang biyaya ng lawa ng Buluan para buhayin ang pamilya at para mamuhay ng sapat sa pang araw-araw. Ikatlo ang Buluan sa pinakamalawak na lawa sa Mindanao kasunod ng Lanao at Mainit. Pinamamahayan ito ng mga Maguindanao na kung saan tinuturing nila ang lawa at ang pinak ng Ligawasan bilang kanilang cultural heartland – ang sentro ng kanilang pamumuhay, kasaysayan at yamang-kultura. Pangingisda at pag-alaga ng bangus at tilapia ang pangunahing kabuhayan dito. Malayo at hindi makikita ang bulubundukin ng Tampakan dito – para sa kanila isang pangalan ng bayan sa Timog Kotabato lamang ito at ang panaka-nakang kwento na dating sakop ng Sultanatong Maguindanao ang Tampakan. Mangilan-ngilan lamang ang nakakaalam na ang dalawa sa mga ilog na nagsusuplay ng tubig sa lawa ay direktang apektado ng minahan sa Timog Kotabato.  Hindi maikakaila na ang Lawa ng Buluan ay nasa gitna ng mga naguumpugang prinsipyo at interes sa Tampakan.

Ilang kilometro mula sa Buluan ay matatagpuan ang panukalang Tampakan Copper-Gold Project ng Sagittarius Mines Inc. at Xstrata na umaabot sa siyam na libu’t anim na raan at limang ektarya (9,605)ang kabuuang lugar ng minahan o katumbas ng dalawang Lungsod ng Maynila. Maaari rin nating ihalintulad sa dalawang daan at labing siyam na libu’t siyam na raan at walumpo’t dalawang (219,982) palaruan ng basketbol. Matatagpuan ang panukalang dambuhalang minahan sa mga probinsya ng Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani at Timog Kotabato. Aabot sa walong daang metro ang lalim ng huhukayin para makuha ang pilak at ginto ng bulubundukin ng Tampakan – doble sa taas ng Empire State Building sa Estados Unidos. Limang daang (500) ektarya ang lawak ng hukay nito. Bukod sa malaking hukay na gagawin ng SMI/Xstrata ay mayroon ding dambuhalang estraktura o dam na haharang sa mga ilog para gawing imbakan ng mga nakalalasong bato at kemikal mula sa mina.

Para maisakatuparan ang minahang ito, kinakailangang harangin, ibahin ang landas o tuluyang tuyuin ang pitong ilog na nagmumula sa mga bulubundukin ng Tampakan, Kimlawis, Bololsalo, Columbio at Malungon. Apat na sanga-sangang sistema ng mga sapa at ilog ang direktang maapektuhan: ang ilog ng Taplan na umaagos patungong ilog ng Marbel na siyang dumadaloy patungong Lawa ng Buluan, patungong pinak ng Ligawasan na tuluyan namang lumalabas sa Look ng Illana sa Kotabato; ang ilog ng Alip sa Columbio na umaagos patungong bayan ng Datu Paglas sa Maguindanao, papuntang Ligawasan at Look ng Illana; ang ilog ng Padada sa Davao del Sur na dumadaloy papuntang Look ng Malalag; at ang ilog ng Buayan sa Malungon, Sarangani na dumadaloy patungong Look ng Sarangani.

Matakaw sa tubig ang kahit anong minahan, mas lalo na sa isang dambuhalang minahan katulad ng Tampakan Copper-Gold Project. Bawat segundo, mangangailangan ito ng siyam na raan at walong litro (908 L) bawat segundo na kukunin mula sa ilog ng Mal at gagawing walong daang (800) ektaryang dam, na magsusuplay ng tubig para ipanghalo sa mga nahukay na bato na siya namang ipapasok sa tubo na magdadala nito sa baybayin ng Maasim, Timog Kotabato, upang ibenta sa mga kompanya. Ang siyam na raan at walong litro bawat segundo ay pitumpo’t walong libo’t apat na raan at limampu’t isang (78,451) kubiko metro ng tubig sa isang araw – tubig na sana’y nagamit ng libu-libong magsasaka ng Davao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Timog Kotabato at Sarangani. Sa pangambang dulot ng pagbabagong klima o Climate Change, higit kailanman na dapat pangalagaan ang mga natitirang gubat na sumasalo ng tubig sa kabundukan, at ang mga ilog na kabahin ng ating pagkabuhay.

Sa katunayan, nagbabala ang mga dalubhasa sa Manila Observatory at PAGASA na sa loob ng dalawampung (20) taon ay makakaranas ng papaunting pag-ulan ang Timog Mindanao. Tinaguriang buslo ng pagkain o food basket ng Mindanao ang Katimugang Mindanao, at sa harap ng panganib na dala ng pagbabagong-klima kailangan nating tanuning ang ating mga sarili kung alin ang mas importante para sa ngayon at sa darating na mga araw: ang mina o ang pagkain? Ang ginto’t pilak o mga ilog na nagsisilbing patubig sa ating mga bukirin? Ang dambuhalang hukay ng mina o ang mga kabuhayan natin sa ating lawa?

Higit sa lahat, “ang tubig ay buhay”. Siya ay ugat ng pagkabuhay, pagkatao’t pagkakakilanlan. Ngunit magiging tapat lamang ang katagang ito kung magkakaisa tayong mga mamamayan sa pagharap sa hamong dala ng pagmimina. Ang laban para sa tubig ay higit pa sa kahit anong relihiyon, lahi o kulay ng balat. Ang tubig ay biyaya na bigay ng Maykapal para sa lahat, at hindi lamang sa iilang ganid at gahaman sa kinang ng pilak at ginto.

Ngunit magiging totoo lamang na ang tubig ay buhay, kung ang ating mga ilog, sapa, lawa, pinak, look at dagat ay buháy! Tutulan ang pagkasira ng ating katubigan! Tutulan ang SMI/XStrata!

Sa Lawa ng Buluan, Maguindanao

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“Lake Buluan is a lake located in the island of Mindanao, Philippines. With an estimated surface area of 61.34 square kilometers, it is the third largest lake in Mindanao, after Lake Lanao and Lake Mainit. It has an average elevation of 4.5 meters.

The lake is sandwiched between the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat. The lake falls under the political jurisdiction of the municipalities of Buluan of Maguindanao and President Quirino and Lutayan in Sultan Kudarat. The lake actually consists of adjoining marshy basins of the Pulangi, Maanoy, Buluan, Alah rivers, which are all tributaries of the Mindanao River.” (Lake Buluan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Buluan. Retrieved 8 June 2013)

Lake Buluan is threatened by mining in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

“To be” in Klubi

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[All photos were taken in Sitio Lamkua, Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Southern Philippines, with permissions from the elders of Klubi. Photography by Mr. Nikki Ayubo]

For more on  T’boli ethnography please visit: Blotik Ehek (Star of the Sharpening Stone) and Climate Change: When Traditional Knowledge Becomes Unreliable and also K’mohung and Seselong: Cultural Adaptation of the T’boli S’bu to the Fish Kill Phenomenon in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. 

Mineral Reservations and the Schizophrenia of DENR

Republic Act No. 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 states:

“When the national interest so requires, such as when there is a need to preserve strategic raw materials for industries critical to national development, or certain minerals for scientific, cultural or ecological value, the President may establish mineral reservations upon the recommendation of the Director [Mines and Geosciences Bureau] through the Secretary [DENR]. Mining operations in existing mineral reservations and such other reservations as may thereafter be established, shall be undertaken by the Department or through a contractor: Provided, that a small-scale mining cooperative covered by Republic Act No. 7076 shall be given preferential right to apply for a small-scale mining agreement for a maximum aggregate area of twenty-five percent (25%) of such mineral reservation, subject to valid existing mining/quarrying rights as provided under Section 112 Chapter XX hereof. All submerged lands within the contiguous zone and in the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines are hereby declared to be mineral reservations.” (RA 7942, Sec. 5)

In the interest of discussion on this topic, let me enumerate some key points:

  • What specific “national interest” is required to declare a mineral reservation? Are we talking about an economic interest or an environmental interest?
  • What is the primary objective of declaring areas as a mineral reservation? Is it for preservation or for utilization of strategic raw materials?
  • How much shall the government actually earn from mining within mineral reservations?
  • What are the existing mineral reservations in the country?

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary has directed the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) to identify more mineralized areas throughout the country for “possible declaration into mineral reservations.”[2] Secretary Paje said that the additional mineral reservations is a move to “provide equitable access to mineral resources and to generate additional non-tax revenue for the government.”[3]

In a nutshell, the identification of mineral reservation areas has become one of the reforms proposed by the MGB  to enhance revenues.

It is clear from the statements of Sec. Paje that the “national interest” that made DENR  declare more mineral reservations is economic while the environmental interest to “preserve” because of the “ecological value” of the area is side-lined.

One of the confusions which arises in declaring an area a mineral reservation is whether that area will be preserved (as in the case of forest reserves and national parks where forests are left unimpaired for future generations[4]) or will minerals be extracted, utilized and exploited.

One such example of the term Mineral Reservation referring to “preservation” of the environment is Proclamation No. 297[5] by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The area under the mineral reservation is the Municipality of Monkayo, Compostela Valley Province where gold, copper and other minerals are mined. Unregulated small to medium-scale mining operations have, since 1983, been undertaken in that area and in the process, has caused grave environmental, health and peace and order problems in the area. In this Proclamation the national interest stated is to “prevent the further degradation of the environment and to resolve the health and peace and order problems spawned by the unregulated mining operations in the said area.”[6]With that declaration, mining operations in the area have been undertaken by the DENR directly like the PMDC Diwalwal Direct State Utilization Project. However which way one views it, the Compostela Valley Mineral Reservations is a glaring example of not acting until it is too late. To date, violence and impunity still mars the mining activities in that area.

The “national interest” advocated by Sec. Paje and the MGB, compared to the abovementioned Proclamation, falls on the provision “preserve strategic raw materials for industries critical to national development”. What Sec. Paje has in mind then is to declare minerals-rich and mineable areas into Mineral Reservations in order to acquire more non-tax revenues for the government and NEVER to preserve them for their “scientific, cultural and ecological value.”

And how much are we talking about here?

The IRR of the Mining Act of 1995 provides us with the following:

  • Taxes and Royalties
  • Excise Tax: 2% (BIR)
  • Royalty: 5% (Market Value of the gross output)
  • Sharing: 40% LGU
  • 60% National Government
  • Fees from permit applications

The MGB is looking at generating some 6.9 Billion[7]in revenues and royalties nationwide should the mineral reservation program materialize.

There are currently nine mineral reservations in the country located in the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Zambales, Bulacan, Camarines Sur, Samar Island, Surigao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Zamboaga del Norte, and all offshore areas throughout the country. DENR is planning to add 15 more minerals reservation.

It is my opinion that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is suffering from its long-time bout of Schizophrenia. How can one be an agency that protects and at the same time exploits the environment? This program for the declaration of more minerals reservation in the country for the sole interest of its economic value and not for the preservation of its ecological value adds to the growing call for an alternative mining legislation that will finally put the cork to the many loopholes of the Mining Act of 1995.

And when will the DENR and the National Government wake up from their dreams that mining will be the virtual saviour of our economy?

(First posted February 4, 2011 in my blog panaghoytanodlupa.blogspot.com)


[1] Republic Act No. 7942, Section 5, under Mineral Reservations.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Presidential Decree No. 705, Revised Forestry Code, Section 18.

[5] Proclamation No. 297 Excluding a Certain Area from the Operation of Proclamation No. 369 Dated February 27, 1931, and Declaring the Same as Mineral Reservation and as Environmentally Critical Area.

[6] Ibid.

[7] MGB mulls Antique as Minerals Reservation Area,http://positivenewsmedia.net/am2/publish/ Cities_And_Towns_23/MGB_mulls_Antique_as_mineral_reservation_area.shtml

STATEMENT ON ISSUES AND CONCERNS OF ARTISANAL AND SCALE-MINING (ASM) AT THE CONFERENCE ON ARTISANAL AND SMALL-SCALE MINING IN MINDANAO

The Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao held at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) on 15th-16th November 2012 gathered together various stakeholders of the small-scale mining sector coming from different parts of Mindanao and Luzon, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), government functionaries and instrumentalities, local government units (LGUs), people’s organizations (POs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), mass media, international and local technical experts, environmental advocates and the academe. The two-day confab was ADDU’s continuing bold engagement, after hosting the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao (“Mina para sa Nasudnong Interes sa Katawhang Pilipino?”) in January of this year, to generate a minefield of ideas that extends a far wider discursive arena in understanding both the practical and theoretical truths about mining as an industry, and its impact on the environment and on the lives of various stakeholders.  This appropriate form of academic exercise is a concretization of ADDU’s mission as a Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit university that is committed to “engage(s) vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of biodiversity, and the promotion of renewable energy” (cf. ADDU Vision-Mission Statement). To the extent that this conference is convened by the ADDU itself (as a university that seriously wants to engage “…in robust research, excellent instruction and formation, and vibrant community service” (cf. ADDU VM), it therefore proceeds with a core understanding of the specific role that it plays in society―that of a corporate change agent that promotes education as a leverage for effecting social transformation.

Among the more prominent issues that surfaced and were highlighted during the conference were the following: The question of mining in the greater context of environmental justice and the pursuit of the common good; the contribution of mining to the complex problem of environmental degradation;  the relationship between large-scale mining (LSM) and the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM); the economic, social and human costs of mining; the mining of extractable mineral resources vis-à-vis the question of national patrimony; the impact on national laws and local ordinances relative to mining as an industry; and mining as an indigenous practice in areas covered within ancestral domain.

The conference became a venue where critical issues about ASM, as a specific sector of the mining industry, were brought to the fore, discussed by a phalanx of experts and advocates who presented not only pertinent issues on ASM but also cutting-edge technology on how to better improved safety measures on industry practice.  Highlighted in these discussions were concerns pertaining to the use of more modern and safe technology, as well as the ill-effects of using mercury and other toxic substances.  It also provided opportunities for the presentation of case studies on current best operational practices of ASM not just in Mindanao, but as far as Benguet and Camarines Sur in Luzon, notwithstanding the showing of some flagrant practices that wantonly disregard concerns for human rights and the environment, as documented in other mining areas in Mindanao.  But inasmuch as these presentations opened more avenues for thorough discourses on the floor, especially during a series panel discussions after each presentation by a group of discussants, there were pressing and recurrent issues which critically defined the collective sentiments among those who attended the conference. These issues, as agreed and concurrent to by the participants themselves, thus form part of the statement which ADDU, as convenor, declares as a concrete by-product of the two-day conference.

The following twenty-point statements and/or declarations articulate the conference’s corporate position in its bold stance to bring the important concerns pertaining to ASM to greater public consciousness.

  1. The conference declares the need to formally organize the federation of small-scale miners. This move for a more organized confederation hopes to address the greater clamor towards the formal recognition of small-scale miners as a sector.
  2. The conference clamors for the legalization of the ASM industry.  This call is born out of the concern that small-scale miners are often perceived as illegal, as compared to large-scale mining corporations (whether local, multinational and transnational) which―because it operates, by and large, through export-driven economy―is generally perceived as a legitimate sector.
  3. The conference expresses desire to create a nationalized mining industry that will look at the best interests not just of miners but of all stakeholders, including stringent measures to protect the environment from hazards, risks and natural and man-made calamities.
  4. The conference calls for a thorough review of the Central Bank policy on the sale of gold, especially as it applies to transactions made by small-scale miners.
  5. The conference calls for a review of the taxation system of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and its bearing on ASM.
  6. The conference expresses the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942), to be replaced with an Alternative Mining Bill or a People’s Mining Act. This controversial law is said to have favored large-scale mining, notwithstanding its weak mechanisms in protecting the environment from wanton destruction caused by irresponsible mining.
  7. The conference calls for a thorough review of the questionable provisions of Republic Act 7076 or the law on Minahan ng Bayan, and the recently signed and promulgated Executive Order (EO) 79 as this is perceived to be anchored on RA 7942, and therefore, unsupportive of ASM.
  8. The conference calls for assistance extended to Zamboanga and other similar militarized mining areas, and to call for an investigation on human rights violations experienced by members of the local community in these militarized areas.
  9. The conference similarly demands for an end to blatant forms of militarization within mining sites and tenements, and calls for the disbandment of private armies of both LSM and other “big lords” of ASM.
  10. The conference declares its support for small-scale mining operation that is mercury-free.  Corollary to this, the conference also expresses the need to find alternative technologies relative to ASM that are safe and environmentally friendly.
  11. The conference calls for continued lobbying for assistance from line agencies in the government such as the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), as these are appropriate agencies that are better able to assist small-scale miners both in practice and in law.
  12. The conference calls for the recognition of the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in the new and proposed legislation(s) on mining.
  13. The conference demands for the recognition of an authentic free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) instrument issued by members of the IP communities in matters pertaining to their acquiescence in the use of their ancestral land for mining and similar purposes.
  14. The conference demands the strengthening of community livelihood programs in mining areas so that more jobs and employment opportunities could be generated, thus helping the local economy.
  15. The conference demands for the protection of environmentalists and advocates who express and manifest strong opposition to open-pit mining. Towards this end, the conference further demands the passage of a law that protects the rights and welfare of people advocating for the environment.
  16. The conference calls for more support coming from the LGUs to small-scale miners.
  17. The conference calls on the national government to respect the power and jurisdiction of LGUs, particularly in appropriating legislations relative to ASM.
  18. The conference highlights the role of the academe community in providing technical assistance to small-scale miners, as well as in raising public awareness on the mining as an industry.
  19. The conference specifically calls for more international support for ASM as an industry, in the form of continued collaboration through knowledge-sharing and technical assistance through expert know-how in the use of better and safer technology.
  20. The conference supports the establishment of best practice system(s) in ASM for proper and appropriate benchmarking.

Along with these twenty-point statements, the university, through the success and the inspiration generated by the recently concluded ASM conference, continues to promote a comprehensive, holistic and empowering understanding of mining and other environmental issues in pursuit of its university vision and mission.

 

[Proceedings of the Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao will be made available starting March 25, 2013 at the Ateneo de Davao University]

 

 

An Alternative Mining Law, NOW!

Eight years ago, on March 3, 1995, Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was signed into law by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, aiming for the revitalization and liberalization of the mining industry to foreign investment. Mining in the country was further strengthened by the Arroyo administration with EO 270 and 270-A which pushed for the revitalization of the mining industry as a pillar of growth and declares that the vast mineral resources of our country should be utilized for economic development and poverty alleviation especially in the rural areas.

There is a very pressing need to address the devastating effects of mining on the environment and the communities, as even the mining sector acknowledges the fact that mining is an “intrinsically dirty” and we add “wasteful and destructive” industry. In the Philippines, the Marcopper disaster in Marinduque is one of the most notorious examples dramatizing the Philippines’ own struggle with the hazards of mining. In 1993, the collapse of the Maguila-guila dam at the Marcopper mine of Placer Dome, a Canadian owned mining firm, released a flood of metal-enriched silt into Mogpog river. “The flood killed two children, destroyed homes, downed livestock and contaminated farmlands. In 1996, a drainage tunnel to the Boac river burst, filling the river with four million tons of toxic sludge which rendered the river biologically dead.” [1] In less than 20 years, more than 200 million tons of mine tailing were directly spilled into the waters of Calancan Bay.

Not far from my very own home in Bikol, In Rapu-Rapu island, Albay, poor environmental safeguards contributed to at least two cyanide-laden spillages and fish kills within six months of mine commencing operations in 2005. “This had a significant effect on local fisherfolk’s livelihoods, as well as causing fear among communities about eating locally-caught fish.”[2] In addition, neighboring communities consistently raised their concerns about the Rapu-Rapu mine both before and during the period in which it operated.

Philex Mining Corp. (PMC) in Padcal Benguet, which was always hailed as the standard bearer for mining companies, presumed ‘responsible’, recently showed its vulnerability as 20.6M metric tons of tailing spillage drained down the Balog and Agno rivers last August 2012. According to a fact-finding mission report led by CBCP-NASSA (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace), “the spillage is massive. It is 1,300% higher than the Marcopper accident in Boac, Marinduque in 1996.”

The history of Marinduque, Rapu- Rapu and Padcal mines record the failure of mining corporations to hear and address the grievances of local communities who vehemently protest the impacts of the mine on their environment, their livelihood and their lives.

Yet, despite these statistics and experiences, our policy-makers have championed mining as “the virtual savior of our economy” and made it a “pet project” of different administrations and even local governments, working in light of illusory  high revenues for the government. But the so-called “resource curse,” means that many of the world’s most resource-rich are its poorest economically. Adeline Angeles, Chair of the Committee on Environment in the Marinduque Provincial Legislative body, graphically describes the myth of sustainable mining when she mentioned in an interview that, “lots of people can’t think of any possibility for such thing as “sustainable mining” in our island, first because of the geography, we not only believe, we know that it is beyond the carrying capacity of the island. We became the third most denuded province in the entire Philippines because of mining. Out internal water, rivers and lakes have become polluted because of large scale mining for 30 years.”[3]

In developing countries, like the Philippines, mineral-rich provinces continue to have higher poverty incidences despite the operations of mining companies. Instead, mining has exacerbated conflicts, resulted in the displacement of indigenous peoples and other rural communities, heightened the numbers of extra-judicial killings and of human rights violations, and caused and intensified pollution and depletion of natural resources which for generations have sustained livelihoods and defined our people’s ways of life (Macdonald and Southal 2005). We have to mention here the recent violence against the B’laan communities in South Cotabato, Sarangani and Davao del Sur (in the vicinity of the SMI-Xstrata mining proposed site) perpetuated “supposedly” by the military, OUR own military. The cold and brutal murders of Juvy, John Mark and Jordan Capion of Tampakan, South Cotabato, along with Rudy Yalon-Dejos, 50, and his son Rody Rick, 26 of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur all linked to the conflicts brought by heavy militarization in the other – militarization in support, in protection, of the mining investors’ interest.

The promotion of mining, therefore, in this time of crises and conflicts, exacerbated with the reality of anthropogenic climate change, will translate not only to bad investment but also to the waste of what little resources we have remaining. There is an obvious and urgent need to shift our present framework on mining.

Since the passage of the Philippine Mining Act on March 1995, revitalization of the mining industry was enforced shifting government policies from tolerance to aggressive promotion of large-scale mining. Many from the Academe, Indigenous communities, NGOs, POs and environmentalists see the Act as inherently flawed[4]:

–       It promotes the exportation of raw materials without maximizing the benefits of such resources for the Filipino people;

–       It prioritizes exploration, development and utilization of resources over and above human rights, food security and environmental conservation;

–       It grants too much power for decision-making to the President, when resources are the only heritage of the Filipino people, meanwhile disempowering local communities through participatory mechanisms;

–       The law is not consistent with sustainable development;

–       It grants too many incentives for investments, including confidentiality of information, return of investments, tax-breaks, etc.;

–       It lacks systems that would ensure payment and compensation of affected communities and local government units;

–       It lacks systems that would ensure payment and compensation of affected communities and local government units;

–       It fails to provide for punishment and accountability on social impacts, including human rights violations;

–       It fails  to provide a rational and comprehensive benefit-sharing among the stakeholders;

–       It fails to consider the physical characteristics of the Philippines that is not conducive to industries like these, despite the claims that the Philippines has a rich mineral resources, when the country, in fact, is also a rich agricultural country; and

–       It allows 100% ownership and control of natural resources to foreigners.

The policies, principles and provisions contained in the Mining Act of 1995 sorely lack what is needed to effectively respond to the needs of the Filipino people and to survive the current economic and environmental crisis that we together face. House Bil 3763 is proposed to take the place of the current mining law and among others:

–       Guarantees that the exploration, development and utilization of mineral resources are primarily for the benefit of the Filipino people;

–       Prioritizes more viable and more sustainable livelihood choices for communities, giving utmost importance to food security and livable conditions for the peoples;

–       Ensures that the gains from the mining industry would be maximized while preventing or mitigating its adverse effects of the same;

–       Recognizes that the issue on the environment is local and prioritize local participation in decisions surrounding mining; and

–       Protects human rights of communities and individuals and impose harsh penalties for the violations thereof.

House Bill 3763 or the Alternative Minerals Management Bill takes into consideration the decades-long issues, experiences and analyses of different individuals, organizations and communities affected by mining in the Philippines. “It is a tool to elevate the marginalized and impoverished communities through the legal system to force government, transnational corporations, international finance corporations and other countries to face communities, to address the loopholes of the Mining Act of 1995 and stop unjust mining regime and practices in the Philippines”.

We  call for a Pro-Filipino, Pro-Environment Law on Mining!


[1] Ingrid Macdonal and Katy Southal, “Mining Ombudsman Case Report: Marinduque Island,” published 2005: Victoria Australia, p. 3.

[2] Shanta Martin and Kelly Newell, “The Mining Ombudsman Case Report: Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Mine,” published 2008 , Victoria Australia, p. 2.

[3] Macdonald and Southal, p.12.

[4] Culled from the Alternative Mining Bill: In Brief leaflet of the Alyansa Tigil Mina.

Ye Kumu [T’boli T’nalak ]

Ye Kumu 6 Ye Kumu 23

This Ye Kumu, or ceremonial T’nalak cloth often used for weddings, was painstakingly crafted by weavers of the Lake Sebu Women Weavers Association, Inc. (LASIWWAI) in Brgy. Ned, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. [With permissions from Ms Jenita Eko, President of LASIWWAI].

To purchase t’nalak from LASIWWAI, please email me at radabueza@gmail.com for details.