August 26, 2007. The morning of the second day of the KASAMA sa UP assembly was spent with some indigenous peoples’ rights advocates in one of Benguet province’s open pit gold mines.
It took three packed jeepneys almost an hour to transport all of us delegates to Itogon, Benguet from Baguio City. The open pit mine is operated by one of the oldest and most infamous mining corporations in the Philippines, Benguet Corporation, set up by occupying Americans more than a century ago.
You know, it’s really disturbing how we’ve all been lead to believe that mining will help our economy and our people, but all they’ve done for the past century is to plunder our mineral riches out of the country. Of course, to sugarcoat and compensate for these companies’ exploitation of the local’s resources, destruction of its ecology and the plundering of its riches, they build schools, a few houses and roads which in reality only serve as support infrastructure for further plunder, reinforce status quo and make the people dependent on foreign aid, foreign goods and foreign intervention.
We were told that despite the relatively recent enactment of laws that protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples in the Philippines, it serves little use to the people of Itogon because of Benguet Corporation’s insistence on their immunity due to their incorporation in 1903.
We hiked around the area for more than an hour. When we reached a certain height to view the open pit mine itself, we were told that what we hiked was not really a mountain but a heap of mine debris from all the gold extraction. The open pit mine itself was an attractive scene artificially masking a story of a century of exploitation and ecological destruction.