OFTEN, THEY are shocked into silence. Traumatized by fear, by horror at what they have seen, by the power of those they oppose, the women lose their voice.
But only for a while. Eventually, the women recover their voices, find their courage. So when the Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) met with women leaders from around the country to document their life stories for the book “Stories from the Mines … of Struggle, Sisterhood and Solidarity,” they found a rich store of tales as varied as the women themselves.
“In each workshop, we would go home richer with stories from women, who in different ways have been affected by mining, but in a lot more similar ways, have been involved in actions of resistance,” writes Judy Pasimio of Lilak, which fights for Indigenous Women’s rights. “Mining companies have dug themselves deep into the homes and hearts of these women; so deep that mining, or the struggle against mining in their communities, has transformed the lives of women.”
Adds Pasimio: “As she immerses herself in the struggle against mining, she redefines motherhood, and she redefines herself…. She would be in a boat traveling in the middle of the night to join rallies in another island, she would be collecting signatures for petitions, she would be leading prayers, silently, in community chapels for the safety of her kababayan. She would be cooking for those attending the meetings. She would clean up and tend to the gardens while the others are away for rallies.
“She would bury her dead husband, while she braces herself to continue the struggle which took his life…. She is in the kitchen, she is on the street, she on the farm…. She is here, with us.”
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I MET with a few of these women, some of whom have told their accounts in “Stories from the Mines,” in a brief chat after they took part in a national meeting of indigenous women.
What struck me in the brief time we exchanged information, was how personally they took the issues that journalists often consider as mere data. Journalists, after all, merely report on events and convey opinions. The women lived the stories they told. And for many, it has been a story that has dominated the greater part of their lives.
Wilma Tero is a Subanen who was just a teenager when she joined a barricade against the Sunville Logging Company in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur. “I didn’t understand why the people were putting up a barricade,” she told the interviewer in Filipino. “I just didn’t want to fail (my subject) if I didn’t join in the action. But with God’s mercy, our barricade succeeded in driving Sunville from our area, and I passed my subject.”
It was in 1996 that Wilma first heard about the application for a permit of Rio Tinto Zinc to begin operations in Midsalip. Though she confessed to not fully understanding the issues raised against the company, Wilma joined a combined group of Subanen and “Visaya” (Christian settlers) on a visit to another mining area to see for themselves how mining affected the environment and the people’s lives.
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IT WAS, she recounts a true eye-opener. “I saw the balding mountainsides; the sea was turning pink because of the mine tailings; the rice fields were dying. We also talked with the people and one of them said something I will never forget. He said: ‘If we were poor before the mining started in our area, today, we are poorer than rats.’”
Further exposure to other mining areas and paralegal training gave Wilma familiarity “with our rights as indigenous people to our ancestral lands,” and exposed her to the need to “protect our one and only Sacred Mountain, Mt. Pinukis, which is the source of the water that irrigates our farmlands.”
At present, 14 mining applications have been filed by different companies to conduct operations in the area, and part of Wilma’s advocacy as a spokesperson for her community is to monitor and denounce, if necessary, the alleged collusion between the applicants and the government agencies assigned to protect the environment and their rights as indigenous peoples.
For Teresa “Marites” dela Cruz, the struggle against mining has compelled her to look after two families: her personal family composed of her husband Angelito and their two children; as well as the larger family of her community of Aetas in Zambales, the folk who “rely on her courage and ability.”
Comparing her to revolutionary fighter Gabriela Silang, the writer quotes her on the struggle: “I fear nothing in this struggle because we don’t want our community to suffer what other indigenous people have suffered in other places.”
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EARLIER this year, Marites faced the members of Congress in a hearing on the proposed mining law to share with them the condition of the Aetas in Zambales and the rich environment found in their area. “Fearlessly,” wrote the profile writer in Filipino, “she conveyed the truth and fought against illegal mining interests because she was aware that the money to be gained from mining would be paid for by suffering. It may not be happening right now, she said, but Mother Nature will wreak vengeance in ways that abusive people may not realize.”
Among the issues the IP women raised at our encounter were their fears that their concerns—their voice—would be ignored in the course of fulfilling the conditions of the framework agreement with the MILF and the creation of Bangsamoro.
“Life will be worse for us IPs,” the women said, “kawawa kami” (“ours will be a sorry lot”).
One basic question they bring up: “Will the IPRA (Indigenous Peoples Rights Act) be recognized in the Bangsamoro?” That is a question they hope everyone—the government and the Bangsamoro authorities—will consider seriously and give careful thought to.