Lepanto Mine in Mankayan

I was up in Mankayan region around the time of “Cordillera day”. Mankayan is located in Benguet province, Cordillera administrative Region. Cordillera day is a festival that wants shed light on indigenous people and their struggle. In Cordillera the mining in that area is the cause of many problems that local comunities face.

The Lepanto mines’ operation at Mankayan started in 1936. It was owned by the Americans until the 1970s when Philippine laws required 60% Filipino ownership of companies. Starting 1936, LCMCo focused on copper mining until they discovered of rich gold deposits in the area in September 1995 and shifted to gold production.

The gold mining operations named “Victoria Gold Project” started in March 1997. In that year, LCMCo produced 3,432.27 kilos of gold valued at $36, 245,852 or P1.47 billion. This gold harvest and the production that continues to the present produced the highest rates of profit since the company started. They are actually known for their lowest production cost on mining gold.

The company employs over a thousand mine workers, not only from Mankayan region. The presence of this company was supposed to create more jobs, improve living conditions and make a fair contribution to the country’s economy. But the people of the communities around it tell a whole other story. This article is about all the problems Lepanto creates, from a women’s point of view.

I met with TBML (“Timpuyog dagiti Babbai ti Lepanto” or “Unity of Women against Lepanto Mines”) who were founded in 2004 after the big strikes for fair wages in 2003. That strike lasted for months and was a tense period for the union and organizers. The wives and children of the mine workers played a significant role in guarding and sustaining the picket lines. They also understood the importance of their role when 23 union officers were jailed an held continuous protests at the police station. Many women got hurt but it did hold them back from organizing themselves.www.bulatlat.com/news/5-17/5-17-strike_printer.html

Next to the mine and his workers, Mankayan mainly consists of farmers communities. During Cordi day I had some interesting sharing’s with peasant women. They told me about how the environment changed in the last 75 years and how these damaged their land, their crops and their health.

Exploitation of labour
First off, LCMC exploits their workers in many ways. In 2003 the majority of workers (1780) were regular employees, now it is down to 600 and all other mineworkers are contractual. The contractual workers get lower wages and are living with a lack of job security. A contractual worker is only hired for 3 months and has to hope for a new contract after every three months. Mine workers earn 270₱ (contractual) and 510₱ (regular) for a 8,5h work day (not including the 2 hours it takes to get at the gate and enter the mine). Considering that it is known that 1000₱ is needed for a decent living. Besides that, the company sometimes holds back their wages or puts the workers in part-time schedules whenever they feel like it. (Numbers provided by KMU organizers and mine workers)

For the women of the mine workers, who are mostly doing some gardening or breeding cattle, it is sometimes very hard to budget their income. They are dependent on the wage of their husband for a big share of the household budget. If Lepanto lays off a worker, does not give a new contract or starts to work with halftime schedules, it becomes the woman’s concern on how to get the children to school or even feed them at the end of the month. The company’s promises of development and a better life with mines around turns out to be empty words.

A lot of the workers also come from other

regions and most of the time their families come with them. It can be hard in the beginning, not having a connection with the community and look for a second source of income. This kind of dislocation also tears up family bonds and makes life difficult for the woman if the man gets no full employment and has to live with the uncertainty that comes with contractual work.

Breaking Union Rights
All workers are aware that a known union officer or member has a higher chance of getting terminated. Since the strike of 2003 the amount of regular workers went down and contractual workers are dependent on the will of the company to re-hire them. These two facts break the union strength because it is almost impossible to organise contractual workers.

During strikes, the company tactic of shaking up the solidarity between workers is withholding of wages and bringing in other workforces. This is, again, very hard for the women living with the uncertainty how to feed their family, while the only thing the workers want is fair wages. Lepanto even closed their hospital to force the strikes to stop, women giving birth that time were not given any medical help.

Since half a year Lepanto management also tries to break the union trough the formation of a company unions (the so called “yellow union”, colour of the president) that makes big promises but have no genuine interest in workers since they are on the management’s side.

Another big women’s concern, they also expressed in this matter, is the discrimination their children face at school if it is know their father takes part in the union strikes. After the strike of 2003, more than half of these children dropped out of school or transferred. This made them also organise themselves in a the youth sector.

Health issues; mine workers
First off, death is always around the corner within the mines. Workers are exposed to noise, heat, vibration, dust, fumes and chemicals such as cyanide and nitric acid. Not to mention the danger of cave-in’s. Workers do not get the necessary safety equipment, only boots and cap, while working in a mine specifically asks for a protecting suit and gas masks. Because it is so hot in there, most of them work only in briefs. A month ago three mine workers died at the hand of toxic gas and lack of oxygen because the companies fails to invest in the BASIC needs of their employers.

Once a year, on their birthday, the workers get a medical check-up by the company but never see the results. No medication is provided if they are sick, even not if it is clear that their illness, for example respiratory problems, come from the mines. Next to that, it is almost insulting, Lepanto medical hospital prescribes paracetamol for TB! This is why the women of TBML trie to set up some medical self-help for the mine workers. That way they can at least have a basic idea of what the health status of their husbands is. But there is a lack of knowledge and equipment to get a clear diagnose for every problem.

Health issues; Farmers (Low lands)
In the low lands, where the Abra river is the heart of life, you find a lot of small farmers. Because of the closeness of water you can see a lot of rice fields just next to the river. It is a very beautiful view of the Philippines with all those shades of green. But Lepanto’s toxic waste crosses these lands which changes that image.

The dirt that is scooped out of the mines is dropped into the river one km before the water reaches the Lepanto “tailing” dam. The dirt flows through the water in the direction of the shafts that supposed to clear the water of all waist. But a two-day series of on-the-spot water sampling at the mine tailings Dam showed mercury and cyanide levels above the maximum safety level set by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the study revealed. www.afrim.org.ph/Archives/2004/Phil%20Daily%20Inquirer/June/16/Study%20on%20ill%20effects%20of%20mining%20wins%20top%20prize.txt

The peasant women of these area’s speak of stomach and intestinal problems (particularly vomiting). Women working in the rice fields lose toenails and get sores on their legs. The rice and other crops sometimes fail to grow, go bad more quickly or, after sampling, seem to contain toxics.

Water shortage and landslides (High lands)
The stories of the elderly peasant women up in the high lands speak of many springs in the area decades ago. Now there is only one left in the area. The springs up in the mountains were an important source of life. The women used to fetch water every day, not so far from their land, to water the field or for cooking and even drinking. Now they have to go further or pay for water from private companies. Mining deep into the mountains and creating more and more shafts make the earth weak and causes the water to sink and the springs to dry out.

The weakening of the earth also causes severe landslides. In 2009 the elementary school in one or the barangay split in half. Also the houses of numerous people around it showed cracks and even couple of them collapsed with the slide.

It is no coincidence that everywhere there are mines, exploration for mines or expansion of mines, there is a new military battalion being deployed. Officially it is for “the security of the people” that the military is presence but they actually serve to protect mining companies. Community testimonies contain human rights violations, vilification of community leaders and people’s organizers plus continuous harassment by the military. During the strike of 2003, when so many women were also guarding the picket lines, military did not withhold to react with violence, which got many of them hurt. Then, and before that, the military was actively helping the mine company to gather Intel on union workers and organizers. They scare the women en interrogate their children about the occupation and whereabouts of the husbands.

Next to this, military have little to no respect for women. In the region there are cases of harassment by name calling, whistling, forced hand petting (which implies the women wants to sleep with them but they force it on them), courting of married women, sleeping with unmarried ones and have no respect for the consequences and so on. These stories are so numerous it is seen as a military tactic to destroy community bonds.

The most severe situations are the vial rape cases. One captain, Army Captain Danilo Lalin deployed in Mankayan region, has raped Isabel, 16, last February. She has temporary amnesia and was not able to finish her studies. Up until now she needs medical attention.(more details, see article in sunstar: www.sunstar.com.ph/baguio/local-news/2012/03/29/mankayan-lasses-cry-rape-vs-army-captain-213712
This was btw not the first 16 year old the captain had sexual encounters with. He has not been arrested and still has his position as captain. During Cordi day the girl’s grandmother told me crying, while protesting in front of a military base, that the life of Isabel is right now shattered in pieces.

The military, the mine company and it management is ruining more lives, every day. They are not backing down, not hearing the peoples voices and are ruining nature in all its forms. That is why the Cordillera People’s Alliance, Save Mankayan Movement, Lepanto Employees Union, Kilusang Mayo Uno-Cordillera(KMU), KATRIBU Partylist (advocating for farmers) and Save the Abra River Movement are calling for a STOP to all Lepanto operation, RIGHT NOW.


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