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Update on the Philippines: In Baguio

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Outside of Mankayan in Benguet, Philippines (photo by Jack Stephens).

I’m in Baguio, Philippines and just got back from visiting the mines of Leponte in the municipality of Mankayan in Benguet, Philippines.  The last update I had was from day 4 so I’ll just keep this short since I’ll be busy the next few days and don’t have enough time to write a bunch of blog posts on what I’ve been doing.  But once I get a few hours free, I will.

Overall, the three day extersion to Mankayan was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life.  During the three-and-a-half-hour van ride on a narrow road (blasted into the side of a mountain) where the driver dodged oncoming traffic in the thick fog and rain while practically teetering off a cliff I was a little nervous that Mankayan would be the last thing I’d ever see in my life (not to be, though).  But once the van passed over the highest peak of the mountain and broke through the fog what I saw made my jaw drop.  It was the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen in my life.  Watching the lush green hills with fog rolling over the ancient rice terraces all of my anxiety melted away.  At that moment I was in bliss.

After the ride the group entered into the local KMU office for the barangay where the KMU officer gave us a lecture on the current situation in Mankayan and the socio-economic background.

Much of the region is extremely underdeveloped and is heavily dependent on mining and cash crops.  In the barangay of Paco, where we stayed for two nights, there is heavy industrial mining in the area (mainly for gold) by the Lepanto corporation which has affected the general health of the residents and has poinsed much of the Abra river (and Abra itself, much farther north) and the local water sources.  Also, the heavy tunneling (without proper precautions) is causing many areas of Poblacion and Paco to collapse and sink.  Overnight (after years of corrosive tunneling) a local high school collapsed due to the tunneling beneath it by the Lepanto corporation.

The site of the high school collapse with the barangay of Poblacion in the background (photo by Jack Stephens).

As for the mine workers themselves the used to be a company union and then gradually became independent.  They executed two very succesfuly (and month long) strikes back in 2003 and 2005 with guidance and help from KMU.  Eventually they decided to join KMU in 2005 and since then they’ve been battling to make the company hold up its side of their collective bargaining agreement.  The main issues are back pay, no pay, late pay, safety, not supplying the general stores with rice, not paying into a form of social security, and harassment and intimidation of the workers and union officers, plus the militarization of the whole municipality.  But I’ll blog more on that latter.

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