Lillian Falyao: Fighting for women’s wellness in a mining community

Published: 22/09/2014

Humbling and sobering account. Mining has a bad name because of stories like that. However, when mining works alongside communities from the start, does things right, takes care of the environment etc it leads to success stories rather than failure.

Women’s Travelling Journey Community, 19 September 2014
Our Stories, One Journey: Empowering Rural Women in Asia is a travelling journal which forms part of the global campaign to achieve food security through a more equitable and sustainable system of growing food. Our Stories, One Journey features journal entries written by rural women who grow our food. The journal will travel through the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, India and Sri Lanka.
Every day, rural women face the mounting challenges caused by an increasingly broken system marked by high food prices and low income, land grabbing, climate change, and decreasing control over seeds. The Journal is their story, their voices, their powerful medium for them to be heard by those who shape national and international policies.
Our Stories, One Journey: Empowering Rural Women in Asia, a one-of-a kind travelling journal, is an initiative led by the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC), Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), and Oxfam’s East Asia GROW Campaign.

Lillian Falyao’s life changed when she married a miner at the age of 17. She left her family’s farm in Mountain Province, and went to live with her husband in a mining community in the town of Mankayan, Benguet province in Northern Philippines.

Now, at the age of 37, Lillian and her husband are raising four daughters in a community that is centered on one of the biggest and oldest gold and copper mining companies in the Philippines, the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMCo).  It is a task fraught with many challenges. “I have a hard time  budgeting the meager income of my husband to be able to meet the daily needs of my family,” Lillian wrote in the travelling journal.

Despite this, Lillian still considers herself lucky compared to the other women whom Lillian works with, as an organizer amongst miner’s wives.  Most girls and women in the community live in crowded bunkhouses provided by the company. “One bunkhouse has 18 rooms that is occupied by 18 families where there are four common bathrooms and two common kitchens. In this condition, women and children are vulnerable to rape, wife swapping, and communicable diseases. There is no privacy of families. In fact, there had been cases of rape in the past; but because of the culture of saving the image of the victims, these cases were neither reported nor documented,” she narrated.

Lillian’s work includes educating women and girls on their sexual and reproductive health rights. She encourages them to speak out on the incidences of rape and wife swapping within the bunkhouses. She also works hard to change exploitative socio-economic conditions and a patriarchal culture that lead to the abuse of women.

Lillian educates women on the government’s role in providing basic health care and assistance to victims of violence against women. Lillian lamented that in the province, there is practically no free health care, much less reproductive health care that women especially need.  “I have undergone miscarriages twice because of stress from too much thinking about my family problems… Even now, I still experience bleeding everytime I am stressed,” she wrote. “The primary reason of stress and health problems of women includes hunger and the scarcity of cash to buy the basic needs of their families including educational requirements of their children,” Lillian added.

Aside from assisting miners’ wives and children, she is also active in defending women peasants against violence committed by military soldiers. In 2012, Lillian helped in the campaign to seek justice for “Isabel”, a 16-year-old high school student who was raped by a government soldier. They demanded for the soldiers to pull out of Mankayan in order to prevent further abuse of women and children.

In the journal, Lillian shared how she became involved in community and women’s issues. In 2003 and 2005, LCMCo workers launched a strike because of lack of compensation and benefits. Lillian’s husband was among the union leaders who led the protest. “I was  then breastfeeding my 8-month-old child but I managed to go to the picket line everyday to support the protest,” Lillian recalled. The workers’ wives, including Lillian, formed their own organisation, Timpuyog Dagiti Babbai Ti Minasan a Lepanto (TBML). During the strike, Lillian and other TBML members brought food to workers. Numerous workers and their supporters were  beaten, arrested and put to jail.

Lillian said that the government soldiers—who allegedly acted as security for the mining company—would court minors and even married women “as a way to pacify their protest.” TBML helped educate women and defend them from sexual advances and abuse by military soldiers.

Today, Lillian is also organising among peasants, rice and vegetable farmers who are affected by LCMCo’s decades-long mining operations. “The water for irrigation is polluted. There is loss of harvest because the ricefields are cemented due to siltation coming from the mining company. Fresh water fish found in the rivers, which serve as additional food sources, have slowly disappeared due to the pollution of rivers,” she wrote. “We as women have important roles in defending the land, including the agricultural production for our families and the  whole community. We also have a key role in ensuring the health wellness of women that is  founded on a sound, sustainable and healthy sources of food and livelihood,” Lillian added.

In 2011, the community mounted a barricade to prevent the company’s expansion in the province. “The people are currently barricading at the drilling site of LCMCo, which is found exactly at the center of the community. Almost half of the people barricading are peasant women and children. They are taking part in defending their source of living, and in ensuring the food security of future generations,” Lillian wrote.

Because of the barricade, Lillian and other community leaders are facing criminal charges filed by the company as a form of harrassment. At first, the case made her reluctant to participate in the travelling journal, as it may call attention to herself. But she realised the importance of making other rural women know about the situation in her community.

She is not cowed. Instead, she is emboldened by her own strength and the strength of the other women whom has helped to become more aware and empowered. “In order to attain greater achievements , there is a need to continue educating ourselves and not to be easily dismayed by problems encountered along the way. If we are not going to act, who will act for us?  Let us trust in our strength so that better results can be achieved… Long live the fighting women!” she wrote as a final entry.

Link to story online