November 26, 2015
By Simon Chambers
In the mountains of Luzon, Philippines, near the community of Mankayan there is a barricade. For over four years, this barricade has been watched over, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, by women from the community.
The women are there with other community members, seven hours per shift, to ensure that no new mining equipment is taken down the road to the mine. They are deeply concerned by the damage that has already been done to their community, their river, their landscape.
Mother Janet is one of the women on the barricade. In 1999, Janet was working in her garden when the ground started to shake. She thought it was an earthquake. She worried about her children, and ran to her house to make sure they were alright. When Janet got to her house, she found a large crack in the ground where the earth had opened up.
Her children were fine, but the potential that her house could have been swallowed by that crack in the ground continued to haunt Janet. Whenever she was working in her garden, she worried about her children. She was not alone in this fear. For the earthshake had, in fact, swallowed up the local school. Fortunately, the children were not inside when the ground opened up.
Elders in the community linked the earth shake with the mine that had opened several years earlier. There had never been land subsidences before the mine opened, but 500 pieces of land subsided in the ensuing years. Their livestock got sick and died after drinking from the local river. Its fish were distorted- rotting alive.
Members of the community approached the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a PWRDF partner working in the region. CPA works with communities to help them to organize, to do research into the issues that face them, and to train and support members of the communities in leadership, so they can stand up for the things that matter to them.
CPA trained women and youth in the community, both the farmers who had lived there before and the wives of the migrant miners who had been brought in by the mining company. CPA also taught the people of Mankayan about their rights, as Indigenous people, to their ancestral lands, and about the Philippine Indigenous People’s Rights Act.
The issues facing Janet and the other people of Mankayan are complex. How much mining is acceptable? Farmers wanted the mine shut down because of the damage to the river, the rice paddies, and to their way of life. The mining families needed the mine to stay open for their own livelihoods to be possible.
CPA and the elders of Mankayan worked to build consensus among the various groups, as mining families came to realize that the mine wasn’t sustainable as the company was running it- it would be exhausted and the miners would lose their jobs anyways.
The people of Mankayan called on the mining company to stop its operations and its plans for expansion. The mining company retaliated, firing 1000 workers, attacking CPA as being anti-mining and anti-development, calling in the military to protect the mine’s interests.
The barricade went up in 2008 and, despite being destroyed by the mining company, despite soldiers firing into the air over the heads of the protesting women on the barricade, they continue to defend their community, their land, and their rights.
Janet and the others are tired from their years of work, but they are strengthened by the international solidarity represented by recent visits by PWRDF staff and a Board member. CPA continues to help the people of Mankayan to build their capacity, to learn about changes in the laws of the Philippines that affect mining, in linking the women with the local media, and more.
And PWRDF is with them, in partnership and solidarity.