MALITA, Davao del Sur―The town of Malita in the province of Davao del Sur is often perceived to be a “quiet town” by many outsiders. This is often interpreted as Malita being a peaceful and tranquil place. However, quiet cannot always be equated to peace and tranquility. The town of Malita is a case in point.
Legenda Mines, a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation, has recently made its presence felt among the Tagakaulo community in this town, which has made many concerned and fearful. I have been working with the Tagakaulo community in Malita as a missionary for more than a year now. The Tagakaulo is a Lumad tribe in the provinces of Davao del Sur and Sarangani. Their name means “those who dwell at the head of the river.”
Members of the Tagakaulo community residing in Barangay Pinalpalan, Malita were visited last July 4, 2012 by a group from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) of Region XI. Accompanying them were a number of provincial and municipal government officials. They were to carry out a consultation with regard to the application of Legenda Mines to conduct mining explorations in Malita; the area to be explored included Pinalpalan. Despite the mandate of the NCIP to promote and protect the rights and well being of indigenous peoples, I was appalled to hear them speak like shareholders of Legenda Mines during the consultation. And to think that they themselves were Tagakaulo! Most, if not all, of what they presented to the people were the advantages and benefits that could be gained if mining were to be allowed in their barangay. Even when queried by some school teachers about the destruction mining could bring to the environment, members of the NCIP were adamant and insisted that the people had a lot to benefit from mining. They also added that the seven other barangays of Malita and of the adjacent town, Sta. Maria, had responded positively to the application of the mining firm. But when voting came, the NO won over the YES vote, 250 to 125; the people had spoken and were clear that they did not want Legenda Mines in their barangay!
Regrettably, that was not the end of the story. On July8, 2012, the barangay chairperson of Pinalpalan called for an emergency meeting of the whole barangay, which took place at two in the afternoon. The agendum was once more the application for mining exploration of Legenda Mines. The chairperson and his council were hell bent on convincing those who voted NO to revise their answer to a YES. The barangay officials pointed out that rejecting the application of Legenda Mines would bring nothing but difficulty to their barangay. They claimed that Pinalpalan would be left behind in terms of development because it would not be a recipient of the benefits that the surrounding barangays would receive if mining were to commence in their area. They were clear that the barangay would eventually be affected by the destruction that mining would bring but they asserted that it would be a better alternative if they at least benefitted from it. They were emphatic that if the people insisted on their rejection of Legenda Mines, their barangay would no longer benefit from future projects from the municipal government; the officials further added that the people would no longer be able to count on their help in their time of need. After having made their point crystal clear, they instructed those who previously voted NO to sign a document changing their vote to a YES. Many signed out of fear; only a few stood their ground.
I was there during the public consultation and I had nothing but admiration for the people of Pinalpalan for having had the courage to stand their ground against Legenda Mines. I was not there for the emergency meeting and was only informed of what had taken place a few days later. The documentation of the meeting was brought to me by a member of the basic Christian community there who had hiked for hours just to see me. He had risked a lot in coming to the mission station to inform me of the events in Pinalpalan but he knew it was the right thing to do.
So many questions have been bothering me lately due to those events. Was Legenda Mines Inc. directly behind the action taken by the barangay officials? Did NCIP, provincial and municipal government officials have a hand in all this? And, will the NCIP accept the results of the action taken by the barangay officials as the free, prior and informed consent of the Tagakaulo community of Pinalpalan? Were the members of the other barangays consulted by the NCIP also coerced? Dangerous questions that are in dire need of clear answers.
To make things worse, San Miguel Corporation Global Power Holdings on July 27, 2012, has officially announced its plans to build a coal-fired power plant in this quiet town of Malita supposedly for the benefit of the people. One does not have to be a genius to see the obvious that the purpose of the coal-fired power plant will primarily be to provide the energy needed by the mining firm when it becomes operational. It is worthwhile noting that the proposed project is to rise in a plantation also owned by San Miguel Corporation.
If this town is perceived to be quiet, it is not because it is peaceful. It is more like the quiet before the storm; something is brewing in this quiet town of Malita. (Fr. Joey Gánio Evangelista, MJ)
Intelligent discussions and exchange of views on issues are encouraged among our readers. Anyone can post comments or feedback about the news, features or stories uploaded in this site. However, the editorial board reserves the right to edit comments for clarity and brevity. The use of foul language, personal attacks or hate campaign on a person or an institution is not tolerated in this site. Likewise, promoting one's own agenda or interests (such as those that are commercial or political) through this site is discouraged, hence will be deleted.