KASAMA Vol. 11 No. 3 / July-August-September 1997 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

In July and August this quarter, WILLY GULAYA and JUANITO MALID travelled across Australia on a speaking tour to publicise the treatment of the B'LAAN people at the hands of the Perth-based Australian company, WESTERN MINING CORPORATION PHILIPPINES.

B'laan Tribesmen Juanito Malid and Willy Gulaya (Photo: Mark Love)

"When we left Mindanao, Western Mining told me not to put them in a bad light here in Australia, but I have to tell what is happening to my country." …Willy Gulaya

Willy Gulaya is the chieftain (clan leader in the Tribal Council) of Pula Bato, one of the B'laan communities that Western Mining Corporation Philippines (WMCP) is negotiating with, particularly because this is where the ore body of WMCP's Tampakan Copper Project is located.

Juanito Malid, the son of a highly regarded B'laan chieftain, spoke on behalf of the Sal'naong Tribal Council.

Sr. Susan Bolanio, a Catholic nun who co-ordinates the Justice and Peace Desk of the diocese of Marbel in Mindanao, translated for Juanito and Willy. Travelling with them were Abba Kuaman, theatre artist extraordinaire, and Moses Havini of the Bougainville Interim Government.

Moses Havini was one of the participants in the 1996 International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) to Mindanao that looked into the impact of WMCP upon the people who live in areas targeted by the company.

From 7-21 December 1996, eleven people from Australia, two from Europe and 21 Filipinos comprised the fact finding team with 14 Filipino organisations sponsoring the mission initiated by the Uniting Church in Australia.

The title of the report of the IFFM's findings, "We feel the pain of our mountain … our identity and culture will be destroyed," is the response of the B'laan on seeing a diagram of how the mountain would be mined.

To launch the report in Brisbane, public meetings were held on July 22 and 25. We heard first-hand from Juanito and Willy of their communities' experiences of WMCP's indigenous peoples policy in practice.

As well as translating, Sr. Susan Bolanio also spoke of her role in assisting the B'laan people in their negotiations with WMCP. Abba Kuaman interpreted the B'laan's message through drama and satire and Moses Havini shared his personal reflections as a participant of the fact finding mission.

Moses said of the IFFM visit to Sal'naong and Pula Bato, two B'laan communities affected by WMCP's Tampakan Copper Project, "We went with our eyes open, we did not go as tourists. We went to see the situation from the eyes of the tribal people and we saw plenty of bad things… I saw the B'laans suffering the stage that I missed when CRA [Conzinc Riotinto Australia] went to my country and started doing exactly what WMCP is about to do in the B'laan's country; that is the early stages of exploration, of exploitation, of political bumbling, of deception, of bribery… And you as Australians have just as much responsibility to know that your corporate citizens, WMCP and CRA, do the right thing by other people."

Moses Havini addresses meeting in Brisbane, July 22 (Photo: Mark Love)

In Mindanao, Australian mining corporations are gaining an extensive foothold in the lands of the Lumads. WMCP has started exploration for its projected open cut mine in the ancestral domain of the B'laans.

After a smooth entry into the lives of the unsuspecting people, WMCP is now drawing unwanted attention. There is rising criticism of the Australian company for causing division among the people and undermining the indigenous political structure of the B'laans. WMCP's critics include the B'laans themselves, the church, local government, local communities, non-government organisations, and the media.

Mural: Bert Monterona, 1997 (Photo: Dee Hunt)

Willy Gulaya spoke about WMCP and the Philippine Government's attitude to the B'laans.

"The basic problem with our Government is our claim for ancestral domain. The Government says that this land is not ours because we have no Title. For us indigenous people, we don't have Titles, we don't operate on the Title system. Our certification is because we have been residing in that place, we have been claiming that land, since time immemorial.

"Another problem we are facing now is the encroachment of Western Mining. I was a worker with WMCP from 1990 until 1994. And because they made many promises to the people with which they did not comply, I decided to leave the company. When the request came to sign the Heads of Agreement, as I am the one to sign as the chief of my clan, I did not sign the agreement because it is not favourable to us.

"There is a standing agreement between WMCP and the B'laans that whenever they are going to put up exploration and drilling in the area they should ask permission from us. Instead, they put up three drilling machines without getting our permission. So I asked them to pull out their machines. I did not leave the area until they pulled out their machineries. That same evening a policeman summoned me to the police station. But I did not go to the station because I was afraid I might be salvaged [summarily executed]. I was so afraid that I hid.

"Because they could not get me to agree, they put up another chieftain instead. That is why there is a split in the community, a division caused by the creation of a new chieftain. During the election they even gave financial assistance to the other group, but I still won at the election.

"Traditionally in our culture, there is no election because leadership is handed down. But when WMC came, election has been introduced to us.

"When we left Mindanao, Western Mining told me not to put them in a bad light here in Australia, but I have to tell what is happening to my country.

"Our place is mountainous. There is nowhere we can move to. It is our last frontier. Our source of livelihood is the land, so if you will destroy the land there is no more life for us. When we were in Perth, we protested in the front of the office of Western Mining and right to our face they told us we have no future. But we said that we survived for so many generations, so why do we now have no future?

"When we went to Olympic Dam, WMC told us they are protecting even the smallest animals. Why is it that in our place they are not even respecting our rights as the indigenous people?"

Willy was firm in his conclusion, "We are asking that you give us your support. We would like Western Mining out from our place."

"Our life is intertwined with the land …that is all we have."… Juanito Malid

Juanito Malid then gave a brief account of B'laan history.

"In the past, our life as the indigenous B'laan people of the area was peaceful, we had no problem with that kind of life. Our problems began when the other people, the lowland migrants from other areas, started coming into our land.

"They gave us cigars, sardines, and we were not aware that they were interested in other things - our land. We thought we were establishing a friendship among each other, until one day they brought in military men and we were pushed upward to the mountains. After that militarisation, logging concessions came into the area. They cut our trees, they polluted our water and the fish were killed.

"The greatest problem we are facing now is the Western Mining Corporation. They want us to change our culture and they want us to follow them.

"In 1995 they asked us to sign an agreement because they are going to give us services like a water system, school, health centre and roads because we are very poor they say, and they want to help us. Because we need all those services and we want our children to be educated, my clan signed the agreement. But in 1996, we became aware that the agreement we signed meant not just schools and services but also that they were going to destroy our water by destroying our land, and to that we resist. So they threatened us with militarisation. They said that this program is with the consent of President Ramos and we have to support the program of the Government.

"Our life is intertwined with the land because we do farming and we earn our living and get resources from the land - that is all we have.

"Western Mining is even causing a split between members of my family. They made my elder brother the chieftain when, in fact, my father is the legitimate chieftain of the clan. They want my brother because he is supporting them and my father does not.

"They are changing our political system of choosing leaders. Leadership to us is determined by who among the people could give the best advice for the betterment of the community. But when Western Mining came they introduced elections which is not part of our traditional political practices.

"We don't believe in Titles because we believe that land is created by God and given by God, and the owner of our lives is the land. We were not aware that Land Titles are important. But when we became aware of the importance of land titling, we asked for the recognition of our ancestral domain. We are asking that our ancestral domain be recognised and that will be our Title."

Juanito concluded, "That is why we are here, so that we can get support from our Filipino communities here in Australia, and also the Australian community. We are bringing this issue to you for support."

Members of the audience wanted to know about the role being played by the Philippine Government's Office of Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC). The OSCC is appointed by the Government to work on behalf of the B'laan. As an agency directly under the Office of the President, it is tasked to preserve and develop the culture, tradition and the well-being of the southern cultural communities. And WMCP seems to have agreed to the OSCC being responsible for acting on behalf of the B'laan.

The IFFM found the officers of the OSCC lacking in their role as protector of B'laan interests, and often its policies seemed to work in favour of WMCP. Specifically, the IFFM Report points out that two Tribal Councils were artificially created by WMCP under the auspices of the OSCC. Tribal leaders were not given the necessary legal counsel in the negotiation process prior to the signing of agreements. And furthermore, the OSCC itself seems ill-equipped to provide legal advice and is compromised by government support of WMC.

Sr. Susan Bolanio, Brisbane, July 25 (Photo: Mark Love)

"Indigenous people are struggling for the recognition of their ancestral domain. Pressure from Australian people would greatly help the indigenous people to live peacefully and with dignity."… Sr. Susan Bolanio

Sr. Susan Bolanio summed up the message of the IFFM and the B'laan thus:

"When WMCP came into their area, the Indigenous People did not even have the benefit of an independent consultant. They were made to believe that the agreements they were signing had something to do with the social services promised by the company.

"WMCP has agreed with the Philippine Government a contract area covering 99,387 hectares in the Columbio and Tampakan areas in southern Mindanao to mine for copper and gold.

"When we were in Perth, WMC told us they are going to mine only 400 hectares. But, there is no official confirmation yet of that information.

"The Indigenous People who live in the area where WMCP is going to mine number around 6,000 individuals. The area in which they are currently drilling is occupied by some 300 families of Indigenous People. The terrain of the contract area is mountainous and there are thousands of farmers downstream who will also be affected.

"The Tampakan Copper Project is currently in the exploration stage which WMCP says will be finished in 1998. They say they will complete an environmental impact statement by the year 2000 and they hope to start their operations in 2004.

"The entry of WMC into the country was brought about by the Philippines 2000 program of President Ramos which invites and woos foreign investors at the expense of the Filipino peoples. The apprehension of the Indigenous People is that if the people resist WMC, a military defence force will be sent to secure the area.

"Nevertheless, the Indigenous People in this area are determined to push out WMCP from their domain. The whole church in Mindanao is supporting the stance of the Indigenous People to engage in development at their own pace and according to their own framework. We are seeking the support of Australians to rally behind the cause of the B'laans to oust WMC from their last frontier.

"You can write to WMC expressing concern about their treatment of the Indigenous People and you can lobby your government to set a code of ethics for Australian corporations about their social responsibility toward their hosts when operating overseas."

The IFFM recommends to the Australian Government:

"Learning from the mistakes of Bougainville and Ok Tedi, carefully monitor its relationships with the government of the Philippines to ensure that actions of Australian mining companies do not repeat the mistakes of the past where Australian companies have operated poorly overseas, especially in relation to the Indigenous Peoples and the potential fallout and tarnishing of Australia's investment image in Asia."

For More Information Contact:

Joy Balazo, Secretary, International Human Rights, National Assembly Office, Uniting Church in Australia, PO Box A2266, Sydney South NSW 2001.
"We Feel The Pain Of Our Mountain… our identity and culture will be destroyed"
Report of the International Fact Finding Mission to Mindanao, Philippines,
7-21 December '96
Published by: The Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, Sydney, 1997
Cost: $10 plus $3 postage
Copies are also available from:

CPCA Brisbane Branch,
Justice Place, 84 Park Road,
Woolloongabba Qld 4102
Ph: (07) 3891 5877 Fax: (07) 3891 6944