indigenous peoples

IP, environmental groups hit NCIP for easing Benguet mine’s FPIC 

Sherwin de Vera

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IP, environmental groups hit NCIP for easing Benguet mine’s FPIC 

WASTE CATCHMENT. Benguet Corporation’s Tailings Storage Facility 2 in Sitio Batuang, Virac, Itogon town, is one of several tailings dams constructed during the heyday of the company's operations. The company closed the dam around 1990 but recommissioned it and raised its height by two meters in 2014 to accommodate the waste from contract mining operations in Acupan and Balatoc.

Sherwin de Vera

Lawyer and IP rights advocate Mary Ann Bayang slams the CEB decision, and notes that mining, whether small or large scale, is an extractive industry that should be under the regular FPIC process

BAGUIO CITY – Indigenous peoples’ rights advocates and an environmental group slammed on Monday, May 22 the decision by the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples En Banc (CEB) to ease the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process for a mining company in Benguet.

In its March 16 resolution, the CEB’s approved the use of Section 24 of the Revised FPIC Guidelines, which refers to non-extractive and small-scale activities, for Benguet Corporation’s Certification Precondition (CP) application for its special mining permit (SMP) in Virac, Itogon town.

The document said the Cordillera regional office presented the company’s application with the request to consider the following circumstances: the SMP is for a one-year operation, renewable for another year; it has a 60-40 partnership favoring the community’s indigenous people, and the council of elders’ has endorsed the project.

“The revised FPIC guidelines is silent on these kinds of application,” the CEB said, referring to the SMP.

The body also considered the recommendation of the Legal Affairs Office and Ancestral Domains Office.

The NCIP issues the CP to attest that project proponents have undergone the mandatory FPIC and received the community’s consent.

But lawyer and IP rights advocate Mary Ann Bayang described the CEB decision as “is not applicable and logical.”

The period covered and the elders’ endorsement do not change the nature of the operation, she stressed.

“Mining is an extractive industry, whether small or large scale and should be covered by the regular FPIC process,” she said in an online interview on May 22.

Bayang added that the guidelines is not “silent”.

She pointed out that Section 19, which governs extractive and exploitative operations, does not distinguish  if the operation is only for a year or longer.

Projects under Section 19 require a longer and more rigid FPIC process. These include a review of the proceedings from the regional to the national office and deliberation of the CEB before issuing the CP.

Why ease the process?

“If we take the regular FPIC process, it might take longer than the period for the operation, which is only one year,” explained lawyer and NCIP Cordillera director Atanacio Addog on May 19.

Addog said the resolution was supposed to be an internal document.

The director said the project will still undergo FPIC, but simpler than the usual process for projects under Section 19.

“The company will still have to present the project to the community, they still need to secure the consent and enter a memorandum of agreement before we can issue the CP,” he clarified.

Instead of being reviewed by the CEB, the regional office will assess the FPIC proceedings and issue the CP. It will then be transmitted to CAR and Region 1 Commissioner Gaspar Cayat for concurrence before they forward this to the chairperson for confirmation.

Addog also dismissed fears that the resolution is a bad precedent mining companies can use to circumvent the FPIC process.

The lawyer said they would review the CP again after one year and change the process for the FPIC depending on their assessment.

“BC’s situation is different, it is winding up its operation, no more large-scale production, and it is only the Acupan mines operating under the contract mining agreement with the community,” he added.

Dangerous precedent

Indigenous peoples’ rights and environmental groups called the resolution “dangerous” and a move to “water down” safeguards provided by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997.

The law mandates the conduct of FPIC for projects inside indigenous peoples’ ancestral domains.

“This is a dangerous precedent. It further erodes the little safeguard the IPRA offers,” said Cordillera Peoples Alliance Secretary General Sarah Dekdeken during a May 19 interview.

Dekdeken said the decision was not unexpected, noting that this is not the first time NCIP made questionable decisions favoring project proponents.

“It is not surprising for NCIP to push for leeway like this to accommodate big business, especially with officials like Cayat and Addog, who are both facing allegations and legal complaints for manipulating the FPIC process,” she said.

Cayat faces grave misconduct and malfeasance complaints filed by indigenous peoples in Sison, Pangasinan, before the Ombudsman.

They alleged that he influenced the issuance of the Certificate for Non-Overlap for the renewal of the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement of the Northern Cement Corporation without an FPIC process.

Meanwhile, Addog is among the respondent in the complaint filed by residents of Kabugao, Apayao. They accused him and personnel of the NCIP Apayao office of manipulating the FPIC for the Gened 1 Dam, a Pan Pacific Renewable Power Philippines Corporation project.

On the CEB decision, Jon Bonifacio, national coordinator of Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment, said, “The move watered down the FPIC process to facilitate the needs” of the mining company.

“Across the country, in many projects, the NCIP has routinely run roughshod over the FPIC of IPs and acted as lawyer and facilitator of big mining and other corporations. This last resolution is the final proof of this,” he added. –

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