Indigenous tribes want South Cotabato’s copper deposits mined

John Unson - Philstar.com
Indigenous tribes want South Cotabatoâs copper deposits mined
Ethnic T'boli and Blaan leaders in South Cotabato province have fused ranks against a provincial anti-mining law.
Philstar.com / John Unson

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines — Top leaders of the T’boli and Blaan royalties in South Cotabato signed this week a manifesto urging the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to lift a provincial ordinance preventing them from extracting copper deposits in their ancestral domains.

The first to sign the document were Blaan and T’boli datus during a meeting Thursday in Barangay Tinago in Norala, South Cotabato.

The signatories to the manifesto together denounced the nagging opposition of small outsider blocs to the longtime desire of Blaans to have the copper deposits in Tampakan extracted to their benefit.

Foreign and Filipino geologists earlier placed at no less than €5.8 billion (Euro currency) the value of copper deposits in Tampakan.

Tampakan is an ancestral land of the Blaans whose right to utilize natural resources obtainable in their tribal domains is guaranteed by the Indigenous People’s Rights Act, or IPRA.

The IPRA, also known as the Republic Act 8371, provides indigenous people the right to self-determination and autonomy in managing community affairs in their ancestral domains.

The ethnic Blaan Michael Malino, chairperson of Barangay Tinago in Norala, said while their villages are far from Tampakan, they support the call for the provincial board’s lifting of the mining ban in South Cotabato.

“We are hoping that our provincial lawmakers will listen to us,” Malino said.

A number of bais, or women from Blaan and T’boli noble clans in Norala, also signed the manifesto urging provincial board members to amend the local anti-mining law.

The provincial board has been initiating consultations on the issue since last month.

Datu Edmund Ugal, a T’boli, said they are pained by what is for them annoying opposition of small settler groups, virtually non-Blaans, in Koronadal City and in nearby towns to any mining activity in Tampakan.

“These are outsiders. When their ancestors from outside of Mindanao arrived, the Blaans and T’bolis were driven to the hills. The present generation of these outsiders wants the tribal communities to remain poor,” Ugal said while in Barangay Tinago in Norala last Thursday.

Ugal is chairman of the South Cotabato Indigenous Peoples Council for Peace and Development.

He said Tampakan is a government-recognized Blaan ancestral homeland covered by IPRA.

“Why can’t we let the Blaans harness the resources available in their ancestral lands in Tampakan? We want them to have better lives,” Ugal said.

On Friday, almost 20 T’boli datus and bais affixed their signature to the appeal for the South Cotabato provincial board to allow copper mining in Tampakan during a dialogue in the upland T’boli municipality in the province.

Bai Dalena Samling, a tribal leader in Tampakan, told the T’boli datus and bais that a mining operation in their municipality will bail them out from widespread poverty and underdevelopment.

Datu Sanorio Abentong, who hosted Friday’s activity in T’boli town, said he and other datus in their municipality are in favor of mining activities in Tampakan.

Bai Silin Awed, a local tribal leader, said it is only by allowing the extraction of copper in tribal enclaves in Tampakan that Blaan and non-Blaan settler communities can rise from grinding poverty due to longtime neglect.

“We have to give them the respect that they deserve. Let us help them progress in the spirit of autonomy as guaranteed by IPRA,” Awed said.

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