After several years of government inaction on the siltation of Mainit Lake in Agusan del Norte – blamed for destructive floods around the area – the Mamanwa tribe now pins its hope on a people's tribunal to pressure the government to address the problem.
For the Mamanwa, the Asian People's Land Rights Tribunal, which was set to hear their grievances for Jan. 16, is the answer to their complaints that seemed to fall on deaf ears of concerned government agencies.
The Mamanwas are among the several indigenous communities living around Mainit Lake affected by recent floods.
Pastor Randy Catarman, elder leader of Mamanwa, said the recent floods is due to siltation, which he said, is caused by the mining exploration of Mindoro Resources Limited (MRL) at Sitio Dinarawan and Barangay Bunga in Jabonga in Agusan del Norte.
“Dati kahit isa hanggang dalawang linggo ng ulan, balewala lang. Ngayon kahit isang araw lang, baha na. Umaabot na sa ibang bahay. Ngayon, halos 80 porsyento na ang baha. Aabutin ng isang buwan bago bumaba yun dahil barado na yung labasan ng tubig,” he told GMA News Online Wednesday.
Recently, many parts of Agusan province were flooded due to heavy rain brought by a low-pressure area (LPA).
The mining exploration, which started in 1997, has been suspended with the expiration of MRL's permit last November 4.
Unfortunately, the siltation caused by the exploration over the years has already adversely affected the lake.
“Dependent ang Mamanwa sa Lake Mainit. Hindi lamang hanapbuhay ang inaasa namin sa lawa kundi pati ang kultura namin,” said Catarman.
He said they tried bring their concerns to local government officials, who have not offered any solution to the problem aside from insisting on digging a hole through the mountain to make way for a hydro-power plant.
“Parang pinabayaan na nila, walang programa. Ang tanging alternative nila sa baradong outlet e bubutasin yung bundok para gumawa ng hydropower plant,” he said.
Lake Mainit, the fourth largest lake in the Philippines, is sacred to the Mamanwas as it is their most valuable resource handed to them by their forefathers. Its destruction, according to Catarman, is grave violation of their customary laws, culture and traditions.
The Mamanwas, composed of 67 households, has a pending ancestral domain claim since October 2008 with the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) on the 8,000-hectare terrestrial and laskeshore areas, including a portion of Lake Mainit.
In July 2008, the Dinarawan Indigenous Peoples Organization (DIPO), of which the Mamanwa tribe is a member, passed a resolution opposing the entry of MRL in their sitio.
Their position was also submitted to the Office of the President, NCIP and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The Mamanwa tribe has yet to receive a positive response. Meanwhile, MRL got an additional exploration permit issued by the Mines and Geoscience Bureau in November 2010.
Catarman lamented Mamanwas' complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears.
The Mamanwas also share the experiences of other indigenous peoples from other Southeast Asian countries whose governments tend to ignore land rights and land use issues.
Because of this, several development non-government organizations decided to convene Asian People's Land Rights Tribunal which hears the grievances of different communities from different countries and recommend steps to address them.
“As a region, dapat magkaroon tayo ng policy kung paano maprotektahan ang mga communities. Karaniwang pinag-uusapan ang economic liberation pero wala sa proteksyon ng mga mamamayan,” OXFAM's Riza Bernabe said in a press briefing Wednesday.
Cases being heard before Jan. 16 people's tribunal at the University of the Philippines in Diliman Quezon City also include the alleged land grabbing in Casiguran, Aurora involving the Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT) and Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport Authority (APECO), and the alleged land grabbing cases in Cambodia and Indonesia.
Maricel Tolentino, program manager of Asian NGO Coalition for agrarian reform and rural development, said the cases already went through several mechanisms to address the issues but the affected communities have yet to get favorable response from respective governments.
“Sa tribunal, parang people's court, pag-uusapan what steps should be taken to protect the rights of the people, reform or repeal the laws. There should also be a proper technical assistance or mechanism for grievance redress. Sa ngayon kasi wala e,” she said.
The the tribunal's findings and recommendations will announced on January 17.
Among the members of the tribunal or panel of experts are former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr; Marrister Syeda Rizwala Hasan of Bangladesh; Dr Sadeka Lim, professor and commissioner of right to information commissions, government of Bangladesh; Indonesia Commission on Human Rights vice chairperson Diantyo Bachriadi; Indonesia CHR commissioner Sandra Moniaga; Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma; and members of the academe. — LBG, GMA News