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Published: June 18th 2008
Being in a new country I live daily with a heightened sense of perception that comes from having to think through all of my actions. In our home cultures so many of our decisions are made sub-consciously, without really thinking them over. The problem with this heightened sensitivity is that thinking through every decision, every interaction, every step gets mentally exhausting. However, the reality is, that like slow walking Filipinos and rice three times a day, a heightened sense of perception is just one of those things I have to get used to living in the Philippines. And when I am faced with something I find annoying in this country I try to find the silver lining, mostly because I have no choice, and because Filipinos really don't appreciate snippy white people, but also to make me a more positive person. So instead of getting horribly annoyed at the people who walk excruciatingly slowly I play a game where I see how quickly I can get from point A to point B through a crowd without hitting anyone. This is very challenging and much more entertaining, considering how many Filipinos at at my elbow lever and how big my purses all
are. The silver lining about being more sensitive is that I notice more entertaining coincidences and ironies then I would if I was walking blindly through society. As a result I was terribly entertained to go from dancing last weekend with flamboyant gay men to spending this weekend with miners and farmers in the middle of no where.
We headed into the community for the last exposure of the American intern who is staying with the CHRA right now. The municipality hosts the largest gold mine in the Philippines. It is an underground mine that has been operational for something like 100 years. It was my first time into this area as well, though I have heard a lot about it, and I found it very emotional. We were given three different exposures in the municipality in the small time we where there. I was extremely impressed with the level of skill organization of the people's organizations who where hosting us considering how little funding they have and the stressful conditions under which they operate.
Our first exposure was with a peasant organization down the river from the mine. These people still farm rice as their largest source
Site of New Dam
This dam will be called Tilings Dam 5A, instead of 6, because the company doesn't want to acknowledge how much pollution they really are emitting.
of income. The community was initially not effected by the mining. However, with the heavy rains and the frequent typhoons in the area the poorly constructed tilings damns up the river from the farmers have broken numerous times. The company has fixed those broken dams and have also built successive dams down the river. There are now 5 tilings dams on the river, the most recent covering land taken by the company which used to be community rice terraces. There was never any compensation for these terraces, since the land was covered under the company's mining claim, and so technically belongs to it. The tilings damn now sits within kilometers of the communities remaining rice terraces, and new damns are in the process of being constructed, an even greater incursion onto this community's land. The dams are filled with green and brown water full of the chemical and silt run off from the gold mine. The water itself looks from a distance like a beach a low tide, but I learned that the damn is actually really deep, and that the brown on the top is a thick chemical slush. This water is toxic. The company mixes lime into it,
claiming that the lime cleans out all of the impurities. I am not a scientist, and neither are the community members we were staying with, but when this "clean" water is released back into the river it kills their rice and it gives them skin rashes. The exposure was overwhelming, because it made me realize just how big the number usually is of people adversely affected by large scale "development" projects. It was also hard because these farmers are tired and disheartened. What could I possibly tell them to make them want to keep fighting?
Our second exposure in the municipality was with the wives of mine workers. In 2005 there was a 3 month long strike at the mine. The workers were demanding
higher (fair) wages, benefits and better working conditions. The wifes of the approximately 1600 strikers played a big role in the strike. They organized information meetings and prepared families with educational discussions before the strike began. The women were also always in the front of the picket line hoping that their presence would lessen the police violence during dispersals. It didn't always work. The women, along with their husbands, were subjected to dispersal tactics such
as fire hoses, tear gas and beatings at the hands of the police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. As mothers they were also were responsible for finding food for their families during he 3 months without income. These women sat across from us and told up their stories in a normal tone, as if they were telling me about their trip to the market. They had done what their families had needed of them, and none would ever assume she had done anything extraordinary. Most of the leaders of the wives organization had husbands who were union leaders and labor organizers. All of these men were fired (illegally) after the strike ended successfully. Though their husbands are now unemployed and their families have to struggle financially the women are all still proud of the strike in 2005. Most of them as still also finding the time to organize around women's issues in the municipality. I was awed by them.
Our third exposure was with vegetable farmers on the other side of the municipality. This village is dealing with pressure from a subsidiary of the mine to expand into their territory. They do not want mining on their
land, since they have seen the problems it has brought in other parts of the municipality. But the vegetable farmers are struggling to survive financially under the pressure of the high cost of pesticides and fertilizers and the low price of the foreign vegetables flooding the Filipino market. They do not have the time to invest in organizing their neighbors and fighting a large foreign mining company. The company is taking advantage of this and pulling illegal tricks, like doing exploration drilling before seeking consent of the peoples as an indigenous community, and trying to convince the people that they only need consent of the primary land owner. I sat listening to them talk about their situation and my heart sank. Their problems are the same problems of the people in Licuan-Baay, and the same problems on their way into the community where we performed the Fact Finding Mission. All over the Cordillera large multinational corporations are pulling the same stunts to divest people of their lands and rights. It amazing to see what greed really looks like.
It was broken emotionally from all of these stories in such a sort period. But I was saved when one of
the old farming women invited me to mass with her Sunday night. It wasn't the service that really lifted my spirits, especially since it was almost all in Illocano, but it was the time I spent with the my host. It was amazing to see this women, probably 45 but with a full head of gray hair and sun and wind lines all across her face, brighten tangibly inside the church. She sat in her heavy sweater and rubber boots explaining to me the scripture and telling me about what the message meant to her. Though he Catholic take on the Bible was definitely a little different from my progressive Protestant view all that really mattered was the excitement in her voice and her willingness to share it with me.
The next morning we got up early and headed to one of the vegetable terraces. We had been invited to help harvest string beans with some of the local women. And though the work was difficult, and the pesticide residue made my arms itchy, I was able to take it all in without being overwhelmed because the women also chatted with us as we worked, and gossiped and laughed. I am learning, slowly that it is the people who will get me through all of this heavy learning. Maybe I have my heightened sense of perception to thank for that too.
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