BY ROGER M. BALANZA
We find it timely to write about Indigenous People because Davao City is celebrating this month the 2011 Kadayawan Festival, the festival of thanksgiving for bountiful harvest and in honor of the city’s tribal communities, their customs and tradition.
While the Kadayawan, like other Philippine festivals, has been invaded by the virus of commercialism, it is worthy to note that its original indigenous concept has remained. The Hiyas ng Kadayawan (Festival Gem) search, for example, has limited contestants to girls with indigenous and Muslim roots.
Kadayawan, and other festivals anchored on concepts on the indigenous, however, should not be viewed as a mere celebration for IP (lumad) culture and tradition. Its spirit should extend beyond—to year-round concerns for lumad welfare, particularly education. Not only in Davao but elsewhere.
In South Cotabato indigenous people are hoping for President Aquino’s intercession in resolving the issues preventing them from benefiting from mining investments in the area after the provincial board enacted an environment code disallowing open pit mining. Tribal communities see the environment code as stumbling block to their aspirations as a people.
Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI) plans to mine for copper and gold in its $6 billion Tampakan project but its operation could be derailed by the environment code.
BLAAN CHILDREN. Their future hitched to progress and development to be contributed by the mining industry to South Cotabato
With the threat of derailed progress of South Cotabato and consequently to the IPs, progress that SMI could bring, the IPs are raising up their arms against the provincial government.
The IPs’ future is not the only thing at stake here. Even their rights. Despite strong IP support for SMI, the voice of the lumads is not being heard. The IPs of Tampakan have ancestral domain rights over part of the project area.The IP right over ancestral domain is enshrined in the Indigenous Peoples Right Act (IPRA). The right allows IPs to enter into agreements with business, sharing part of profits from company operations.
SMI, to the IPs, is an angel from heaven to bring progress to tribal villages and the financial capacity to send their children to school.
The Blaans, the IPs ofTampakan, however, see hope in a recent order of President Aquino for authorities to find a compromise on the mining issue in South Cotabato.
It is through SMI that their children now will have access to health services and education, with SMI around.
But even as SMI faces stormy weather before it can operate, the company already has sent more than 8,000 Blaan students to school as scholars. Its corporate social responsibility, infact, includes adult education for the tribe, which is much welcomed by the uneducated elders.
SMI is expected to employ some 9,000 workers in its construction stage and over 2,000 when the mine starts full swing operations. Lumads would be given preference, which should be a reason why the IP communities are up against their provincial government for passing the environment code that threatens the SMI operation.
To the IPs, work means not only food for the table but also education for their children.
Even South Cotabato governor Arthur Pingoy concedes that education has been the biggest beneficiary from the presence of mining companies in his province.
Governor Pingoy highlights gains in the education programs of his administration citing support from the mining companies and other private companies.
Our shortage of 15,000 chairs for all public schools in the province has already been bridged through the efforts of SMI and other companies, the governor said.
SMI is proponent of the proposed Tampakan Copper-Gold Project hosted by South Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Sarangani, and Sultan Kudarat. It is said to be potentially the biggest single foreign investment in the country.
In a recent sustainability report released by the company, SMI has declared supporting 19,000 elementary, high school and college students for the year 2010 alone, in the form of tuition and other school fees and monthly allowances and has provided salary support for teachers within its proposed project area.
The report also declared that SMI has invested PhP135 million (USD3 million) in 2010 as part of its Corporate Social Involvement (CSI) initiatives including education, health, livelihood and enterprise-building programs.