Benguet grapples with black holes

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

LA TRINIDAD, Benguet -- In the Land of the Mountains, there was a province rich with possibilities and promise.

In her rich culture and abundance was dubbed the Salad Bowl of the North, the envy of all for its cool climate and rich land, yielding both vegetables and minerals, enriching a simple people’s yearnings for a good life.

But in the seat of power, controversies rocked the uniquely quiet province which has shaped the year for politics, the environment and business.


At its capital town, magic from Japan has left a people wonderment and awe, creating a divide that may not be united.

The Black Hole project of the municipality of La Trinidad has set tongues ablaze all over, with people in hushed tones talking about how the project works and how it does not work, pointing to a leadership bent on its merits and a legislative body bent on blocking its acquisition, the virtual tug of war in power seemingly is unending in the province capital.

The Japanese Technology has been controversial from the time of its inception to the time when the municipality has been asked to pay up. Now the executive and the legislative deal with the banks knocking on their doors, leaving a puzzled citizenry watching on.

The amiable nature of a people swathed in culture and pride of heritage was tested this year when the endangered environment was pushed to pose a threat to life and limb causing the first Writ of Kalikasan to be filed in the highest of courts.

Triumphantly the Writ filed against the City of Baguio championed the right of a people to protect their land as from a literal mountain of garbage.

The danger of the Irisan dump has been abated for the meantime, keeping the land safe with its neighboring town’s content.

The filing of the Writ has become a benchmark in the region, urging all who fear for the environment to go to court to seek refuge.

As the province capital grapples with development and population growth, the local council has made waves with the suspension of their entirety making headlines nationwide, being known as the first local council to get suspended by journalist whom they declared persona non grata.

Getting the ire of media groups, the August body, turn by turn served their preventive suspension in the hope of settlement in the year to come.

Beneco, the electric cooperative which gives light to all has been rocked back and forth with issues surrounding its operations, spending as well as employees and its very board of directors.

With the filing of cases against its key people, investigations pending and cases yet to be resolved, 2013 promises to be a year of revelation for the cooperative.

The garnishment of P18 million filed by La Trinidad, the still controversial South Drive Lot, the Cases of director Benny Bomogao and Manager Luz Balisong are but some of the issues hounding the local cooperative.

The lifeblood of the province has been the thriving mining industry since the time of those of first settlers, to this day minerals abound in the province making its land coveted by many.

The entry of a Goldfields Philippines, a South African firm in the mountains of Mankayan has created a buzz with locals, bringing them to the first ever Free, Prior and Informed Consent proceedings since the inception of the IPRA in the town.

The FPIC process started off bumpy giving the South African firm something to think about when dealing with local folk and tradition.

Intentions of the firm have been revealed by no less than their South African Deputy Minister of Minerals Godfrey Oliphant, relaying a responsible mining plan for the highlands brandishing the shining example of South Africa, which has progressed and flourished because of the mining sector.

The question lies with the people, their willingness to open the doors of the town to another mining venture, if they are willing to set aside the problems of the past and reach out to this new prospect.

Until the decision is met by the real townsfolk of Mankayan, the fate of the town in terms of progress and development hangs in the balance as well as the multi million investment of the mining firm, the mining waiting game continues.

Another mining giant, Philex, has been toppled over by a defective tailings pond causing its abrupt halt in operations, with highland folk fearing for a loss of livelihood and immeasurable environmental damage.

The leak in its tailings pond 3 has given environmental and labor groups something to talk about sparking endless debates on safety, environmental protection and liability.

As the people look on to next move of business tycoon Manny Pangilinan, local miners and those relying on the mines as their lifeblood, hold their breath and wait.

Woes of the past still plague the province with gambling becoming a part and parcel of people’s lives with the enterprising wanting to get their share of the fabled Benguet gold (The gold of the rich, I mean), every form of gambling has tried its luck in these parts, from the tried and tested Jueteng which still plagues the nooks and crannies of the highlands, to the carnivals and bingo socials which act as fronts for games of chance even the ousted Jai alai games which were banished from La Trinidad, is persistent in making a comeback.

Gambling joints which mushroom in key areas elusively defy the authorities, making people sometimes doubt the teeth being given to anti gambling laws.

It has been a cat and mouse game for each chief executive and police chief to rid the province of illegal games, but, alas, the games continue, making hide and seek the favorite past time of many.

In the land of the mountains, life continues and progress still abound every day, with a people making a life in the highlands with a flourishing vegetable industry prepping for the implementation of the Asian Free Trade Agreement, busy making produce to become world class and able to go side by side with other international products.

Despite the controversies and doubts, the versatile and quietly colorful political and social landscape of the province proves to be something to watch out for in 2013.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on December 31, 2012.

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