The Bio+Mine team participated in a conference and disclosure activity with the Atok community to formally introduce the project to the community. This activity was facilitated by the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) on August 10, 2023 at the Sitio Caliking Multi-purpose Hall, Caliking, Atok.
Elders and community members of Caliking, Atok, headed by Barangay Captain Danny Sucdad, representatives from the seven other barangays of Atok, and officials of NCIP Atok led by Engr. Allan Allatis, Community Development Officer III, attended the activity.
The conference commenced with a traditional tribal ritual conducted by the community members. The ritual, which involves a offering of a pig prior to commencing any activity within the ancestral land, serves as a venerable tradition of the community. This ceremonial practice invokes the blessings and protection of ancestral spirits, deities or gods, seeking divine favor for the proposed activities, thereby ensuring its success.
Alleah Ananayo, a Bio+Mine social team research assistant, formally commenced the conference through a prayer. Steering the course of the conference, Engr. Allan Allatis assumed the role of a facilitator, explaining the purpose of the conference to the community. Following the introduction of the project to the community, Dr. Arnel Beltran, the Bio+Mine PH team project lead, introduced the members of the research team.
Hon. Danny Sucdad delivered his opening remarks, prefacing his address by noting that the team had already presented the project’s purpose during the NCIP preconference weeks prior.
Engr. Allan Allatis, CDO III of NCIP Atok, discussed the history of NCIP and oriented the community members regarding their role in granting free, prior, and informed consent for studies and activities conducted within their ancestral domains.
Subsequently, Dr. Arnel Beltran presented the project’s objectives to the Atok community. He also shared past activities undertaken in the Sto. Nino legacy mine site in Tublay, Benguet. Dr. Beltran then proceeded to outline prospective activities in Atok, contingent upon the community’s consent for access to the Bio+Mine team.
Following the presentation, Engr. Allatis facilitated an open forum to address the community’s concerns and suggestions, which primarily revolved on sampling activities.
Community members inquired about various aspects of the sampling activities. Their concerns include: the dimensions of the drilling area and the frequency and quantity of water samplings. Several community members expressed a preference for monthly water sampling, citing the ongoing small-scale mining operations in the vicinity, which could potentially introduce toxic elements into their water sources.
The community members also requested access to copies of the research results once they become available to aid them in formulating informed policy recommendations. In response, the team assured them that a community validation program is scheduled for early next year to present findings from the sampling activities to the community, to foster transparency and facilitate their engagement in the research process.
To conclude the conference, Engr. Allan Allatis underscored the point that the Atok community holds the prerogative to make their decision regarding the team’s request for a Certificate of Precondition. He clarified that the community’s decision may be submitted no earlier than 10 days but no later than 30 days from the conference date.
The conference and disclosure activity can be regarded as a success, as the community members reached a consensus to schedule the Memorandum of Agreement signing for September 1, 2033.