Following the team’s presentation to the Atok LGU officials on June 5, 2023, the Bio+Mine team attended the pre-conference facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) officers at the Provincial Governor’s Office Conference Hall, Benguet Provincial Capitol on July 7, 2023. The pre-conference aimed to discuss the project’s objectives to the elders and barangay officials from Caliking, Atok to secure access to the Tailings Storage Facility within Atok’s vicinity.
The preconference commenced with a prayer led by Mrs. Berta Martin, the Indigenous People (IP) Mandatory Representative (IPMR). Following the prayer, Engr. Allan Allatis, the Community Development Officer III of NCIP Atok, and Hon. Danny Sucdad, the barangay captain of Caliking, Atok, delivered their opening remarks.
Dr. Arnel Beltran, the project lead of Bio+Mine, presented the details of the project. He emphasized that the main objective of the Bio+Mine project is to rehabilitate the Sto. Niño mine,Tublay, Benguet, which includes a site covered within Caliking, Atok. He also shared information about activities conducted previously, and further explained that the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) in Caliking, Atok is part of the mining site and possesses potential risks to the environment and to the people. If access will be granted, the Bio+Mine project will bring positive impacts on the area.
Following the presentation, Mr. Rocky Ngalob, NCIP Benguet’s Administrative Officer IV, provided a presentation regarding the procedure involved in securing the Certificate of Precondition (CP) through Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) for conducting activities within the ancestral domains.
The IP elders, barangay officials, and the NCIP members asked questions and raised concerns, which were duly addressed by the Bio+Mine team. Among the primary concerns of the community was the purpose of the project. They wanted to clarify the main objective of the project. In response, Dr. Beltran emphasised that the project’s principal objective was to rehabilitate long-term effects of abandoned mining sites, particularly focusing on the Sto. Niño legacy mine in Atok, Benguet with the aim of obtaining a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impact and thus, coming up with viable rehabilitation strategies. He also emphasised that the rehabilitation efforts would be informed by a combination of scientific methods and indigenous practices, whilst ensuring a holistic and culturally sensitive approach.
Another issue was raised by the Hon. Danny Sucdad, Barangay Captain regarding the potential of gold mining in the area during the sampling activities. Dr. Beltran clarified that the main focus of the project is to assess the condition of water and soil at the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF), and not to extract any minerals from the site. The activities are designed to collect and analyze samples from the area and facilitate comprehensive analysis to evaluate the environmental impact and formulate appropriate rehabilitation activities.
After all the issues were answered, Engr. Allan Allatis facilitated the development of the work and financial plan required for the succeeding steps of securing the permit. In addition, the schedule for future visits were also set: August 1 and 2, 2023 for posting of activities; and August 10 and 11, 2023 for conference and disclosure sessions with the Atok community.
The pre-conference serves as an important platform for the Bio+Mine team to actively engage with the local community, facilitating comprehensive information dissemination to ensure that all stakeholders are well-informed about the project. This activity establishes transparent and accessible lines of communication, enabling the team to address any concerns raised by the community prior to commencing any project activities. In the previous experience of the team, the pre-conference provided the mechanism for building a strong partnership with the local community and barangay officials, which has positively impacted the overall research design and the project gains.