MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Dialogued to Death - Rio Tinto in the Philippines

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01


Dialogued to Death

Rio Tinto in the Philippines: shortcomings and lessons.

Summary

This is a summary of the experience of communities and supportive NGOs dealing with Rio Tinto (the world's largest mining company) in their recent attempted entry into the Philippines. It is an account based on evidence presented to the Permanent Peoples Tribunal at Warwick University in March 2000 and a subsequent presentation at IDS Sussex by Geoff Nettleton of PIPLinks. The information presented is backed throughout by sources. However as this was prepared for an oral presentation the footnotes are not included in this text. Anyone seeking detailed clarification should contact tongtong@gn.apc.org

The paper focuses on 3 main areas

1.Failure to gather, recognise or respect local wishes

2.Attempts to misrepresent local opinion

3.Questionable efforts to influence local opinion to serve company ends.

(These are of course not the only issues of concern relating to the activities of Rio Tinto in the Philippines but together they represent a consideration of the cluster of concerns surrounding public acceptability and attempts to satisfy the legal requirements in the Philippines for mining companies to gain Free Prior and Informed Consent from Indigenous communities before operating on indigenous lands).

Background on mining in the Philippines.

The Philippines is rich in minerals especially Gold, copper, chromite, nickel, silver and others. It has long had a developed mining industry. As gold is one of the major minerals and as this outcrops in many mountainous regions throughout the country there is also a long established small-scale mining sector. Most places where gold occurs in high-grade concentrations have existing small-scale mining operations. This small-scale mining sector employs hundreds of thousands of people and at times in recent years has accounted for up to 50% of total Philippine production. Among the small scale producers are many indigenous peoples and rural poor peoples.

In the late 1980s the World Bank, which has substantial influence over Philippine government policy (the Philippines is among the countries with the highest international debts) pressed for liberalisation of the laws surrounding mining to attract foreign investment into an important but declining sector of the Philippine economy. The UNDP financed the placement of "experts" into the Bureau of Mines within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to conduct a programme of attraction. Other internationally financed support for liberalisation followed (from the Asian Development Bank and others) through studies and consultations with mining companies. In 1993 the Philippine Government organised a workshop at the Asian Mining Congress with the express purpose of inviting companies to come along and help the Philippines draft its new mining legislation.

In March 1995 the Philippines enacted its new Mining Code. One of it’s main proponents was current President Gloria Arroyo. In line with international trends this was a liberalising package remove many restrictions on foreign investment and offering incentives for foreign entry into what previously had been defined as a strategic industry. The package included in its Foreign Technical Assistance Agreements (a device designed to circumvent the Philippine constitution and give special incentives to large foreign investors) 100% foreign ownership, removal of central bank control over sale of gold on the international market, full repatriation of profits, rights to multiple applications of large tracts (81,000 hectares) of land for exploration and development, reduced (halved) excise duties, free movement of equipment in and out, tax free periods on start up, easement rights to remove obstacles to mining including communities and others.

Many companies made claims under the new Code. A veritable gold rush ensued making claims over more than 1/3 the land area of the whole country. (Some reports identify exploration claims over more than half the land area- eg Ibon). Rio Tinto, using the name Tropical Exploration Philippines Inc (TEPI,) was one of the largest applicants. Its claims were concentrated in 2 areas. It applied for 6 100,000 hectare blocks in Zamboanga and 3 100,000 blocks in the Bicol region of southern Luzon.

Indigenous Peoples and the mine rush

The Philippines has more than 10 million indigenous peoples living in the mountainous hinterlands and in the south. For the first time in 1987, when the Philippine Constitution was revised after the fall of Marcos, indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral lands were recognised by the State. Sadly Congress dragged its feet on enabling legislation (finally passed in 1997). However by the 1992 the DENR was already applying an administrative order (DAO.02) which allowed indigenous peoples to make claim to their ancestral lands. This was neither widely known by indigenous groups nor universally accepted. Some of the stronger and more militant groups rejected the implication that their rights to land lay with the Philippine State to dispense when their own structures predate that State.

However the changing political climate: - the large role played by indigenous groups in opposing and exposing Marcos, their militancy coupled with changes in the international climate, including the advance of indigenous rights within the UN, has influenced politics in the Philippines. The 1995 Mining Code contained some provisions specifically relating to mining on ancestral lands. As most of the applications were within ancestral lands these provisions have major implications. The legislation required that companies secure prior informed consent from indigenous groups for any project on their land.

Rio Tinto in the Cordillera

Rio Tinto first entered the Philippines by buying into the Far South East project of Lepanto Consolidated; a Philippines based mining company that has its largest operations in the Cordillera Mountains of the North. Rio Tinto acquired 15% of Lepanto. In 2000 Rio Tinto reported they had dropped all association with Lepanto. Lepanto is notorious in the Cordillera for its failures in dealing with indigenous rights issues, environmental and health problems caused by its operations and its poor relations with workers. However it is a prominent company in the Philippines and active in the Chamber of Mines. The issues associated with this investment though important are not covered in this account. However it is of grave concern to the people of Zamboanga that in 2001 after the supposed withdrawal of Rio Tinto Lepanto has lodged applications on many of the areas earlier explored by their "former" partner.

Rio Tinto and the Subanen of Zamboanga

There are many twists and turns to the involvement of Rio Tinto in the Zamboanga Provinces of Mindanao. This account focuses on three areas of concern regarding the practice of Rio Tinto in this case.

1.Failure to gather, recognise or respect local wishes

2.Attempts to misrepresent local opinion

3.Questionable efforts to influence local opinion to serve company ends.

In this Rio Tinto is not, it seems, untypical of the arrogant and abusive practices of other mining companies in the Philippines. Mining companies generally seem to believe that their size and influence can of itself wear down and overcome all opposition.


1. Failure to gather, recognise or respect local opinion

Concern: That throughout it’s involvement in Zamboanga to date the company has failed to operate with adequate respect or sensitivity for local culture. In line with the mining industry’s and Rio Tinto’s shift in approach the company has repeatedly stated its commitment to a genuine dialogue. It has voiced it’s commitment to act as a "good neighbour" (see The Way We Work published by Rio Tinto) however in practice it seems to have made precious few efforts to contact local organisations especially where these have expressed opposition.

Subanen are aware that a large mine would have widespread consequences. One fear is that wherever it may first start to operate it may, in time, spread to other areas and will anyway surely influence regional development. Subanen organisations at local, provincial, and regional level have therefore all expressed their concerns and urged that all need to be involved in the deliberations and decision-making. So too have none-Subanen groups including local and provincial Government and Church structures. Yet the company seems to have concentrated the "dialogue" they have attempted on only one or two communities. A Local NGO (TPD) has, in a preliminary survey, identified more than 35 Subanon organizations with a concern in community development. I have questioned several of these including the larger organisations of Subanen, which, while not fully representative of all Subanen opinion, are genuinely representative of widespread community interests and concerns. Of the groups I questioned Rio Tinto had only dialogued with two - Cestria, (the Central Subanon Tribal Association) ( this was known, or thought, to be supportive of the company. And the government recognized leader of Subanon in the Sindangan municipality Agdino Andus- also thought to be supportive of the company) Dialogue with grass roots non-Subanen structures apart from those within the Government have been virtually none existent. (An exception is the meeting organised by Bishop Jimenez of Pagadian and held in May 1997 in the house of the Bishop referred to below)

The Subanen, Subaanen or Subanon (there is different usage in different parts of the homeland)

The Subanen are a large indigenous group, more than 320,000 people with no centralised indigenous hierarchy. They are scattered across the mountains of Zamboanga in small agricultural communities traditionally based on shifting agriculture. Over many years they have lost land to settlers and seen their lands destroyed by loggers. (Boise Cascade- a north American Company was particularly active in the deforestation of Subanen lands.) Through the 1970's and 80's militarisation led to the displacement of many thousands of Subanen. They have suffered a great deal of dislocation and look on this current time as a period of consolidation and restoration- a point repeatedly made in their perceptions of the mining proposals. Their past experience has made the Subanen wary/sceptical of development initiatives and corporate promises. Most, in the past, have resulted in land theft, threat and violence. Many Subanen are illiterate or have little schooling and few are skilled with modern equipment. The promise of jobs that frequently accompanies development projects seems to offer few opportunities for the Subanen and many are only too aware of this.

100 ways to say no to mining

The Philippine applications of Rio Tinto (under the name of TEPI- Tropical Exploration Philippines Inc) were known to researchers from at least 1995. However the affected communities received their first information of the claims in 1996. At approximately one week's notice the company called a "consultation" with affected Subanen people in the coastal city of Pagadian. Subanen and church groups who, through international contacts had been forewarned of this possibility, chose to attend the meeting. More than 300 Subanen travelling in trucks and buses from their homes in the mountains came to attend.

They asked questions about the record of the company in Bougainville, West Papua, Namibia and elsewhere. They carried banners "TEPI=Total Exploitation of Philippine Indigenous" " FTAA (Foreigners take All and Abuse)" (the FTAA is the foreign Technical Assistance Agreement that allows special privileges to foreign companies.) and others. The company presentations were not well received and the meeting overwhelmingly (reported as unanimously?) rejected the idea of exploration or mining on their land. From early 1996 petitions were drawn up and circulated in the Zamboanga provinces appealing to the government not to allow Rio Tinto onto Subanen land. Each petition was signed by hundreds or, in some cases, thousands of people. In May, August, and October 1996 people from the area of Midsalip petitioned to block TEPI (Rio Tinto) from entering. Their petitions were clear and unambiguous

" Our Ancestral land is the place prepared for us by God..... it is all God's land. He has given it to us live on and to care for it. This is central to the meaning of our life and culture as Subaanens. It is difficult for a foreign mining company who are not part of this place to understand this. Maybe it is because they do not understand, that they are able to say they respect our rights and our culture, while at the same time, they plan to mine the lands which God has given into our care."

"The Subaanen ancestral land is a precious heritage, passed down to us by our ancestors and given to us by God. Should the Tropical Exploration Philippines Inc be given approval to mine in our area the result would be disastrous:"

The reasons for their view are elaborated in detail. The petition ends:

"We therefore appeal to the President and the Government at all levels -to uphold the proviso in RA 7942 which states "No ancestral land shall be opened for mining without the prior consent of the indigenous cultural community concerned" " -to recognise and respect the rights of our people to our Ancestral land to arrest further degradation of our environment to uphold the right to life of the Subanen people to refuse to allow Tropical Exploration Philippines Inc to operate in this municipality

"Finally we state that we do not consent to the entry of the aforementioned mining company into our ancestral lands."

Subanen "Cultural Leaders, landowners, household owners and residents of the Municipality of Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur", signed this.

In October 1997 representatives of Subanen communities, from many parts of the peninsula, came together and issued a strong statement of opposition (see appendix 1). It ended:

"We, the Timu-ays from Mt Malindang, Misamis Occidental, Pinukis, Subugay, Bayog, and Mt Paraya Timu-ays, Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur, (and a representative of the Timu-ay from Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte) are united in our stance of opposition to the plan to have our lands mined or any part of the whole of the Zamboanga Peninsula. This areas is to be preserved for the future generations to enrich our heritage." (See appendix 1) They also planned protests in Pagadian.

On Feb 5 1997 the Subanen Leaders Forum in Zamboanga del Norte wrote to the regional director of the Dept of Environment and Natural Resources (see below point 2). In April 1997 Bishop Jimenez of Pagadian wrote an open letter to the Rio Tinto Shareholders. This letter was read out at the company’s AGM in London. In it Bishop Jimenez listed the efforts made by the Subanen and the Church to oppose the mining development.

"For more than a year now, thousands of my countrypeople, men and women, have been trying to let your company know that they do not wish them to mine our land.

"The Subaanen people, indigenous to the area, have made Petitions and have spoken out on radio. The Visayan people who have lived in the area for more than 50 years have also made Petitions. Both communities have gone to Pagadian to meet with RTZ-CRA and to inform the company that they do not wish them to mine on our lands. Both communities have walked in protest through the streets of Midsalip. My Archbishop and three other bishops, who are concerned about the sovereignty of our country and the lives of our people, have joined me to appeal t our government not to sign the contracts with RTZ-CRA. I myself have written personally to our President.

"It seems until now, members of our government here, along with directors in your company have not been able to hear our appeal."

In response to that letter the then CEO of Rio Tinto Leon Davis asked for a meeting with the Bishop. This took place at the end of June 97. In the event Mr. Davis was unable to attend. A group from Rio Tinto led by Professor G. Cochrane did meet with a mixed group of clergy and laity from the Catholic church in Zamboanga del Sur. Early in the meeting it was explained by Sr. Kathleen Melia of the Subaanen ministry, that Subanen had decided not to attend the meeting based on their past experience. Sr. Kathleen reported Subanen she was in touch with felt that they had already clearly expressed their opinion of the mining project in the Pagadian meeting of ‘96 and subsequent petitions. They felt therefore that the company was not listening to them (they were also angered by the misrepresentation of that previous meeting by the company- see 2 below).

(To the Subanen it is culturally difficult to attend meetings where someone is repeatedly asking you for something- in this case the right to explore and mine- which you do not wish to give. The Subanen saw the repeated requests for meetings going over the same ground as an aggression. Subanen I spoke to characterised their situation as being "dialogued to death" but in a pointless "dialogue with the deaf who do not listen to what we say").

Despite the absence of the Subanen the meeting that did take place was unanimous in its expression of local opposition to the entry of Rio Tinto or indeed any other mining company.

In November 1997 a conference and rally took place in Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte. More than 5000 people marched to the rally, which was addressed by Bishop Jose Manguiran of Dipolog. This was described as among the largest ever rallies in Dipolog. In a powerful speech Bishop Manguiran opposed the Mining Code and specifically the existing and planned mining projects in his Diocese. The conference delegates rejected and agreed to resist all large-scale mining projects in their area because of their impact on the environment and people’s livelihood.

In 1998 the massively influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines stated its opposition to the 1995 mining Code and specifically called for " the removal of Rio Tinto, the British-Australian mining company, from the Zamboanga peninsula in compliance with the wishes of the indigenous Subaanen and the majority of inhabitants of the area."

Throughout its involvement in the area the company loudly protested that it conducted many consultations with local Subanen. It is clear that some such consultations did take place. In the municipality of Leon Postigo company representatives tried to hold a consultation with the interior barangay of Tinuyop against the wishes of the local population of both settlers and Subanen who had already adopted a position against mining entry. The consultation did not proceed because the "consultation caravan" was barred entry by blockaded roads and pickets. Both Tinuyop and the municipal council of Leon Postigo are however on record as having passed resolutions opposed to mining in the area. (Copies in possession of PIPLinks)

A local NGO structure on the peninsula- TPD has conducted a research and identified 37 distinct Subanen organisations with some expressed interest in development issues affecting the Subanen. This is not an exhaustive list. Some of these were very local in character while others were large and long-standing organisations of Subanen.

In 1997 and 1999 I met with several of these organisations including Subanen United Lumad Organisation, United Subanen Tribal Communities of Mindanao ,Tupasumi, SGS, Bayog United Subanen Association, Western Zamboanga Peninsula Subanen Association. I asked key office holders in each organisation if they had been consulted by Rio Tinto regarding the proposed mining development. In each case they said that they had not. The only 2 representatives I met that confirmed they had been consulted were representatives of Cestria (see below ) and the Sindangan Tribal Council both of whom had at some point been in favour of the project.

In 1998 and 1999 meetings also took place in London between representatives of groups from Zamboanga (including Subanen) and representatives of the company. In these meetings also the breadth and depth of local opposition was clearly stated.

The company has never acknowledged even the validity of the petitions and opposition statements. As I was told in private discussion "anyone can get signatures on a petition. It proves nothing". It was also suggested that those involved in the opposition had darker none objective motives "It is not satisfactory... to have situations where those purporting to represent Subanun in an objective manner are known to be motivated by their own principled opposition to mining. Nor are complicated English language documents or fingerprints necessarily conclusive."

(Robert Wilson, Chairman Rio Tinto to Survival 12.9.97)

Despite strong opposition expressed by groups based in many parts of the peninsula including Zamboanga del Norte the company has chosen repeatedly to characterise the opposition as being confined to the municipality of Midsalip and to the Catholic Church. (In the Philippines some 80% of the population are Catholic so the opposition of the church is no marginal matter.)

The opposition mounted by the Subanen, particularly given their decentralised and dispersed character was in my experience among the most concerted and clear of any indigenous group facing an unwelcome development project. In meetings, including the consultation in June 97 and in the meeting in London in 1998, community representatives were confident enough of their level of support to ask the company to define what exactly would constitute an expression of rejection that the company would acknowledge as legitimate. Community representatives asserted that however this was defined they were sure they could provide it. Despite protestations by the company that "we want to get it right" (Wilson 12.9.97) the company never responded to these requests or defined what would be accepted as rejection.


2 Attempts to misrepresent local opinion or 100 ways not to hear No!

Concern: That despite the efforts by the Subanen and others to present their position Rio Tinto chose to

  1. focus selectively on its small pockets of support and inflate these uncritically and
  2. it sought to use its access to expertise, resources, influence and media channels to misrepresent local views and so overwhelm its critics. 

After the 23 September 1996 meeting at which in fact the company's appeal for the right to explore was rejected Rio Tinto’ s Exploration manager in the Philippines Henry Agupitan reported to the government in a letter dated 30 September 1996 that the Pagadian meeting had been "very successful". It was this misrepresentation that led Subanen elders in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur to decide they would not sit down again with the company. They wrote

"We the Subaanen of Midsalip were surprised to learn that TEPI considers the gathering in Pagadian "successful"... when asked about the record of the parent company RTZ-CRA on questions of a) environmental degradation; b) desecration of sacred sites c) displacement of peoples d) human rights e) relations with indigenous peoples etc in Papua New Guinea, Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines the company representatives gave very unsatisfactory answers...

"We do not wish to enter into any further dialogue with TEPI. We do not wish TEPI to carry out exploration on our lands, we do not wish TEPI to mine our lands. We hope our position will be understood. Our land is our life given to us by God." 

Agupitan compounded his misrepresentation when, during the 30 June 97 meeting in the house of Bishop Jimenez, he claimed that while those present in the current meeting were clearly opposed to the proposed mining exploration project Subanen in the adjacent province of Zamboanga del Norte were more open to dialogue on the Rio Tinto proposals. He quoted from a letter of the Subanen Leaders Forum in Zamboanga del Norte unavailable to the others in the meeting. He read "We are not against development and progress. However we adhere to the principles of sustainable development as expressed in agenda 21, approved by President Fidel V. Ramos last September 1996....." 

I attended the meeting in Pagadian and the passage and the context in which it was presented, by Agupitan, clearly surprised and disturbed those who were present. However later when the full text was available for examination it emerged that while correctly quoted the passage cited was highly selective and seriously misrepresented the intended meaning. The passage quoted was from paragraph 4 of a 9 paragraph letter in which the opening statement asserted unequivocally

"We strongly oppose the entry of Tropical Exploration Philippines Inc (TEPI) Toronto Venture Inc .and other mining firms in the ancestral domain areas in our province"

para 8 "... any alleged transaction entered into by any Tribal leader with any mining firm in exchange for money, favor and promises of employment and infrastructure have not gone through the process of consultation with affected communities and leaders." 

This letter dated 5.2.97 is signed by 33 leaders from all over the province. 

When Survival International pressed Rio Tinto Chairman Robert Wilson on these misrepresentations he replied "it is precisely because over 300 people attended that we saw it as 'very successful' not for the result, but as the start of a dialogue with that community". Though asked Mr. Wilson offered no explanation of the misrepresentation of the SLF position. 

Repeatedly in the company statements the attempt has been made to suggest that opposition is confined to the Midsalip area of Zamboanga del Sur and to the Catholic church 

"Our early experience with a number of communities, including many that are not Catholic nor in the Midsalip area, suggest neither overwhelming support for our involvement nor overwhelming opposition." Robert Wilson to Survival 12 9.97 

" Opposition to Rio Tinto's work was centred around the Municipality of Midsalip in Zamboanga del Sur. Midsalip represents a small part of the area under application. The main opposition has come from Catholic Church groups who claim to represent the wider community." (from "The Facts" a company publication for the Rio Tinto 1998 AGM .) 

It seems Rio Tinto chose for its own purposes to ignore the true content of the SLF letter and barangay, municipal, and provincial resolutions in Zamboanga del Norte all opposing the company's entry. 

However while Subanen and other local residents were petitioning and clamoring to be heard in what was within my experienced an unparalleled and starkly clear manner the company decided that gathering Subanen opinion was a problem requiring expert input. They unilaterally decided on a policy of consulting anthropologists on what local opinions really were. An approach that has further angered and humiliated those Subanen who have spent the time to report their views to the company or sign petitions to convey them. 

"We also believe that given the social organisation and scattered nature of the Subanen it is difficult to state with authority what the communities want or do not want without a survey. We have put this in hand, involving some of the leading anthropologists in the Philippines, the UK, the US and Australia specialising in the area." Wilson to Survival International12.9.97 

In the event there was no survey and the only perceptible action was to ask Professor Charles Frake, indeed a respected American anthropologist with fieldwork experience among the Subanen in the 1960s, to visit the area as their guest. Professor Frake made the briefest of tours, for the most part guided by and in the company of Rio Tinto personnel. Professor Frake has made no large claims for his visit. According to him he submitted only the briefest notes (2 pages) from his trip and added " They (Rio Tinto) did not ask for recommendations and I offered none. They have not asked for any written elaboration of the topics I listed. Also at no time have I ever presumed to advocate a position to the Subanen on this or any other issue." letter to Fr Frank Nally 6 March 1998 

However based on this visit Rio Tinto somehow found the "validation" it has frequently repeated since. 

"An eminent anthropologist and expert on the Subanen, Professor Charles Frake, visited Mindanao on our behalf and confirmed that if approached sensitively, there was no community obstacles to our continuing exploration in the area."

Quoted from "The facts" May 1998.

"To verify our understanding of local wishes we asked an eminent anthropologist, a recognised expert on the Subanen people, to give an impartial view on the State of Subanen thinking on these issues. His view was that, while some communities were opposed, others were supportive and that provided we were to continue to exercise proper care- which we would do in line with our established policies- there was on reason why exploration should not proceed.

(JG Hughes -Rio Tinto Head of Public Relations to Fr Michael Duffy, Missionary Society of St Columban 25.2.98)

In correspondence during 1998 Rio Tinto reported that it had withdrawn from the area though subsequent inquiries brought even this into question. 

However during 1998 Rio Tinto were also able to release a letter purportedly from the Central Subanen Tribal Association CESTRIA signed by its President and apparently endorsed by many elders and members of CESTRIA appealing to Rio Tinto to return and take up their former exploration. 

to Sir Robert Wilson dated May 28 1998 

"I and all the officers of Central Subanen Tribal association Inc (CESTRIA) along with the officials in 4 Barangays including the Timu'ays (Subanen Chieftains) and its members have agreed in our meeting to send you letter expressing our desire for the exploration to begin within our Ancestral domain claims; that we may also know whether or not there are indeed plenty of gold and other minerals within our domain claims"  - Isis P. Guilingan, President. CESTRIA 

In May 1999 I visited Zamboanga del Norte. I interviewed Isis Guilingan who confirmed that the letter distributed by Rio Tinto was genuine and sent and signed by him. However in a subsequent interview with Datu Agdino Andus, the government recognised Chieftain for this area and whose signature also appears on the letter, I discovered that many (possibly all) the signatures on the letter, with the exception of Mr Guilingan, were not genuine. Officers of CESTRIA reported that the re-entry of Rio Tinto was neither discussed nor endorsed in any of their meetings. 

I include an extract from my notes of the meeting with Datu Agdino. 

"Asked Datu Agdino then about the letter signed by him requesting the return of the company. He said he had already been informed of the existence of such a letter. We showed him a copy. He was very angry. He denied ever signing or seeing the letter. He provided an example of his signature to show that "his" signature on the letter was nothing like his own (true signature). This was clearly the case. He said that he would file a legal case against Isis Guilingan for the forging of his signature. 

Datu Agdino also raised other issues. 

1. "I think this letter in English is not the work of Isis. He cannot write like this in English". Datu Agdino speculated that Isis Guilingan had been assisted by Rio Tinto staff who "visit him."

2. Agdino identified various signatures on the list who are in fact people who cannot write and normally mark their letters with a thumb print. NB most unusually (suspiciously) for a tribal ratification document signed by many elders in a largely none literate society the Cestria letter has all written signatures and has no thumb print signatures. Agdino who knows the people identified the following "signatories" as among those unable to write: Embinan Guilingan (said to be the father of Isis) Guinalomon Copiz ( I met this old lady on 29 June - in fact her name is Guinalomon Lumapay ( Copiz was her maiden name.) She confirmed in person that she had not seen or signed the letter, could not read or write, and did not understand English. She said that while the signature obviously referred to her, it was not in fact in the married name she now uses but in her long abandoned maiden name. She also said whatever the note claimed that she was, in fact, opposed to the entry of Rio Tinto. " It is not true that Titik is in favour I live near there (Bucana) and we are opposed." Agdino also identified Potong Tanglanan (Timuay barangay Titik, Leon Postigo), Endal Mardincial, Titik , Leon Postigo, Manad Guilingan (barangay Bucana Sindangan), Asa Saplid (Timuay, Bucana) , Takil Anod (Titik, Sindangan. ) as others who would in reality have thumb printed if they wished to affirm. 

I confirmed Agdino did meet with Professor Frake who came in the company of Edgar Baling, Community Relations Officer of Rio Tinto. Frake, the Datu said, did no ask or talk about the mining however Edgar did. 

Datu Agdino invited us to attend the Sindangan Tribal Council meeting on Saturday 29. 

Saturday 29 Meeting of Sindangan Tribal Council, at Rooftop Municipal Hall, Sindangan. Over 100 participants. I was introduced and later spoke. I was later asked by Datu Agdino to give information to the meeting on the impacts of mining which I had not in the first place volunteered to do because the meeting was primarily for other purposes. There were numerous questions and expressions of concern. 

Visminda Paculanan from Situ Balikbalik Sindangan told me before the meeting "We don't want this mining because we fear for the future of our children. We have a simple life but we have a culture of peace in harmony with God".

Manuel Silang attended the meeting wearing his CRA (Rio Tinto Australia) cap. He said he was Barangay Capt of Titik until 1994 (from 1971?). He reported that he got the cap because he was a worker/consultant when they first came to the area. He confirmed he is a board member of CESTRIA. However he reported He did not sign the letter. There was no meeting to discuss it. He personally does not agree with its content. He said for a long time, he has consistently said his place is not open for mining. He said if the company come back and try to mine there will be big trouble because many CESTRIA members just don't agree." 

From this it is clear that some serious misrepresentation of local views had occurred and there was some concern that this involved forgery of signatures and false statement. It is ironic that Rio Tinto was at the same time both so dubious of the validity of petitions critical of their entry yet so receptive and uncritical of those supportive of their entry. 


3. Attempts to influence local decision making. 

I have already reported on a consultation in the House of Bishop Jimenez on 30 June 97. This was preceded by an unusual and exclusive meeting. During the weekend of 28-29 May a new environmental initiative was launched in region 9 (Zamboanga and western Mindanao) with a meeting entitled "Media Congress on the Environment and Mining Exploration in western Mindanao." 

The meeting over 2 days (one night) was held in the Plaza Beatrix Hotel, described as the region’s most elegant and expensive hotel. The meeting was convened by the Misamis Occidental (provincial) Press Club. The participants included representatives of the Government, press club members (though according to some in the church run radio station not all press club members were informed. The church radio had been critical of the mining expansion) and representatives of the government DENR (8 reps) and Rio Tinto (8 reps). 

A parish priest and church worker form Zamboanga del Sur who tried to gain admission because they were deeply interested in the subject were barred. The agenda was relaxed starting with lunch and including also dinner, fellowship night, breakfast and ending with lunch. According to one of the journalists who attended the whole cost of the event was paid by Rio Tinto. The Pagadian Times subsequently reported "35 media practitioners who attended the Congress have formed themselves into an organisation called Western Mindanao United Media " with the purpose of monitoring mining and learning more. (and holding more seminars) On 30 June in a press conference after the Rio Tinto dialogue Bishop Z. Jimenez expressed his concern about media practitioners accepting lavish hospitality from Rio Tinto. The subsequent reports by a senior newsman who on the previous day was appointed vice president of the new WMUM contained strong attacks on the Bishop. 

Rumours of attempts to influence local decision-making frequently circulate in the Philippines. Some such rumours are associated with this case. I will only report on one such where I have direct testimony. 

Datu Agdino Andus told us when we interviewed him that he had originally welcomed the proposals of Rio Tinto. He had, he said "not much previous exposure to mining" and welcomed the jobs that might emerge. Agdino was invited, as a guest of Rio Tinto to Manila 1000 miles to the north. Here he was entertained and housed in a well known hotel (Sulo Hotel?) for 5 days (4 nights) while he had meetings with company representatives. ( In good practice regarding negotiations with indigenous peoples it is customary to ensure that any negotiations take place within the territory of the affected group or as near by as possible.) 

Datu Agdino reports that in addition to the lavish hospitality he was given a camera before he left Manila. However if these are seen as attempts to influence decision making it should be reported they failed. Subsequently Datu Agdino was pressed by Subanen in his area to oppose the company because of what they had seen of a recently opened gold mine nearby, operated by Philex Gold (a Philippine/Canadian company.) As a result Datu Agdino reversed his earlier view and now opposes large-scale mining development for Sindangan. He made this clear in the interview with us and in the subsequent open meeting of the Sindangan Tribal Council. 


Summary 

Rio Tinto have acquired notoriety through some previous operations (Panguna-Bougainville, Freeport-West Papua, Rossing-Namibia, Capper Pass, United Kingdom) however they claim that past bad practices have been banished and they are now guided by a document entitled "The Way We Work" which outlines the new company approach. They claim to be industry leaders in adopting a new community-friendly approach. However "The Way We Work" has itself been criticised for its lack of enforceable or even verifiable standards and its reliance on fine sounding but none binding aspirations. Certainly the Zamboanga experience reinforces concerns of a continuing gap between high principle in words and low practice in deeds. In this it is difficult for an outsider to determine how much of this represents unresolved internal conflicts of approach within the company and how much is just a new spin on an old outmoded approach. However based on the statements that have emerged it is fair to report that many in Zamboanga have even less confidence in the intentions of the company now than they did at the outset of this process.  If the approach of Rio Tinto in Zamboanga was to win public support or confidence then clearly they failed.

Subanen felt their clear expressions of view were not respected. Their efforts to represent these views were dismissed and downplayed and inclusive expressions of local opinion superseded by the need for expert inputs under company patronage. Dialogue and "hospitality", such as they were, were directed disproportionately at winning favour among those influential in government and media who might sway opinion or collaborate in its misrepresentation. In these endeavours sometimes lavish hospitality rather than the content of discussions seem to have been the core of the company approach. 

In fact, according to the company (November 1999) they have now withdrawn from Zamboanga and closed their Philippine office. This should be a cause for some rejoicing among local groups however given the past experiences of misleading statements from the company many Subanen remain sceptical and on guard. The areas identified by Rio Tinto are now being claimed by smaller local companies, which in many ways do not arouse the same level of international concern yet may still offer the opportunity of re-entry to Rio Tinto or others if mineable gold is found. One of the exploring companies is Lepanto Consolidated in which Rio Tinto has known previously to have invested.

It might be assumed that the company was finally forced to accede to the mounting opposition to their presence and to the 1995 Mining Code and its’ provisions as a whole. It is inconceivable to this writer that the sustained opposition did not or should not influence the decision. It is therefore regrettable that Rio Tinto has asserted strongly that the reasons for withdrawal were purely that better prospects existed elsewhere and that their decision was not to do with their social unacceptability. In truth the company might have gained some longer term credibility from withdrawing with more acknowledgement of local opposition but seems unprepared for a bold move that would set a precedent of conceding the right of an indigenous community to reject company overtures and assert ancestral land right by rejecting mining. 

With each new year mining companies make statements of revisions in policy and drop their allegiance to last year's failed agenda. Each year they are drawn into further recognition of local rights. The latest new broom is the Global Mining Initiative a $6 million project of research and "dialogue" financed by Rio Tinto and other major companies. Companies protest their openness to dialogue and change. Yet it seems that while articulate and critical international NGOs are being wooed for inclusion in dialogue and consideration of statements of principle the on the ground experience remains largely unchanged and the practice remains too often abusive, disrepectful, alien and disempowering to the affected communities. 

Geoff Nettleton. Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links, June 2000 


Appendices  

Appendix 1

Subanen views PARAYA SALABUKAN NO‚K GATAW SUBANEN (SGS- PARAYA)  

Announcement of the Subanen Timu-ays (Leaders) of Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte, who met in Summit in Dapiwak, Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur, on October 27-29, 1997.  

We, the recognised Timu-ays (leaders) of the Subanen people after mature consideration, resolutely and firmly oppose any plans to mine Mt. PARAYA and surrounding areas because of the following reasons.  

1. In the beginning the Subanen people lived in the lowlands, but when the Bisayan people encroached on our land we were forced to withdraw. At times we were given Salt, Food, Clothes, and other things in exchange for our Land. More of our land was taken without exchange. Even though it was heartbreaking for us to have our land taken, we were forced to move because of fear and humiliation. We recognised that our Culture and ways were different, yet it has survived even as we have been pushed back to the hilly and isolated mountain areas.  

2. If we move from our present Domain we don‚t have any hope of transferring to land because we see that people now inhabit all areas. We also see that we cannot go back to the lowlands where we lived in harmony with nature before because people now claim these lands as theirs.  

3. If the land and Mountains are devastated by Mining our livelihood will be destroyed because no plants or animals can survive on it.  

4. Our Ancestral Land is being occupied, taken and lost to us.  Here in Western Mindanao only hilly and mountainous land is left to us in the areas of Mt Paraya, Mt Pinukis and Mt Malindang.  

5. If Mt Paraya is also destroyed not only the Subanen people will be affected but also people in the lowlands because the source of drinking water and irrigation comes from the mountains.  

6. Our land is Sacred. It is the source of our daily needs, and most of all our ANCESTORS have been buried here. Land is the source of life for all creatures and things.  

7. When the land is destroyed and cannot be used for planting because of Mining, we will also lose our Subanen Culture, which is tied so closely to the land.  

Because of these reasons,  

We, the Timu-ays from Mt Milandang, Misamis Occidental, Pinukis, Subugay, Bayog, and Mt Paraya Timu-ays, Dumingag, Zambaonga del Sur, (and a representative of the Timu-ay from Siayan, Zamboanga del Norte) are united in our stance of opposition to the plan to have our lands mined or any part of the whole of the Zamboanga Peninsula. This area is to be preserved for the future generations to enrich our heritage.  

End  

Appendix 2

Letter from Survival International to Rio Tinto  

Mr. Robert P. Wilson
Chairman 
Rio Tinto
6 St James Square 
London SW1Y 4LD  

23.8.97  

Dear Mr. Wilson  

A recent Survival field visit to the Philippines has raised some important issues about Rio Tinto's explorations in that country.  

Our researches indicate that the company, shareholders and the Philippine Government are being misled by some company employees who have, for example, selectively quoted from a letter from affected communities in a way which effectively reverses its meaning: claiming that the Subanen Leaders Forum (SLF) organization in Zamboanga del Norte supports mining exploration activities, or at least is open to them, when in fact it is clearly opposed. Henry Agupitan, (Exploration Manager, Philippines) made such claims during a consultation meeting on 30 June 1997 in Pagadian City. This claim echoed responses given by Mr. Leon Davis during Rio Tinto's AGM in May. Of course Mr. Davis himself may have been misinformed and we therefore enclose a copy of the full text of the SLF letter for your information.  

It seems that this is not an isolated incident. For another example, a company report to the Philippine Government, dated 30 September 1996, referring to a 'consultation' in Pagadian City on 23 September falsely claimed that it was 'very successful'. In fact, more than 300 Subaanen who attended specifically to oppose exploration on their lands found it ‘very unsatisfactory’.  

We would be grateful if you would look into these matters as they obviously call into question how Survival's developing relationship with Rio Tinto might evolve. It is obviously difficult to dialogue constructively if the company position is based on misinformation about the extent of local opposition.  

Following our field visit, we have no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of Subaanen communities are clearly and deeply opposed to any and all plans for exploration or mining on their lands. We hope that this is also the message now conveyed to the company by Dr Glyn Cochrane following his own researches.  

In addition we met many Subaanen who felt both angry and betrayed at the company’s failure to acknowledge the real feelings of local people.  

The situation in Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur, seemed particularly alarming and the local peoples' opposition was particularly strong here. The company’s links with a local mining company (Zamboanga Mining Corporation) appears to have been used to bypass the usual necessity (through FTAA application) to secure the local acceptance of indigenous groups before proceeding.  

We are in close contact with the indigenous organisations in the Zamboanga provinces and, as ever, are prepared to offer them what support we are able. We would naturally be interested in hearing your own views before we proceed. Our firm belief is that the local people do not want exploration or mining on their lands and that these views have been clearly expressed. Furthermore our understanding is that the company has already agreed that, in such cases, it will not go ahead against local wishes.  

We are also taking up similar concerns with other mining companies in the area.  

Yours sincerely,  

Stephen Corry
Director General
Survival International

Appendix 3  

from TEPI (copy of full text with PIPLinks)  

to Director Horacio C Ramos
Bureau of Mines 

30 September 1996 ...

para 3 "Please be informed also that consultative meetings were done in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur and Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte on 23 september1996 and 25 September, 1996 , respectively. The objective of the meetings was to set up an interchange of information, issues and concerns among TEPI staff, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) the Mines and Geodetic Bureau (MGB) office of Southern Cultural Communities (OSCC) local government units, non-government orgsanisations (NGOs) Catholic church leaders, Subanon tribal leaders and landowners. Both meetings were very successful, particularly in dispelling the notion that mining was imminent over 5000sq km of the region...."  

Henry P Agupitan Exploration Manager  

Appendix 4  

Charles O Frake, Samuel P Capen Professor of Anthropology  
UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK  
DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
Buffalo, NY 14260 

(716) 645-3839 
FAX (716) 645-3808 
frake@acsu.buffalo.edu 

March 6, 1998  

Frank Nally SSC The Columban Missionary Society:  

Thank you for your communication. I share your concern for the welfare of the Subanen people. What follows is a full copy of the only written report I submitted to Rio Tinto. ( notes withheld gn They consisted of a brief listing of of potential topics for further study was presented by Dr Frake) They did not ask for recommendations and I offered none. They have not asked for any written elaboration of the topics I listed. Also at no time have I ever presumed to advocate a position to the Subanen on this or any other issue.  …..

Sincerely, Charles Frake

--------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------  

Appendix 5  

Extract from field notes Geoff Nettleton may 99  

"asked Datu Agdino then about the letter signed by him requesting the return of the company. He had already been informed of the existence of such a letter. We showed him a copy. He was very angry. He denied ever signing or seeing the letter. He provided an example of his signature to show that the signature on the letter was nothing like his own. This was clearly the case. He said that he would file a legal case against Isis for the forging of his signature.  

Datu Agdino also raised other issues.  

1. "I think this letter in English is not the work of Isis. He cannot write like this in English" 2. Agdino identified various signatures on the list who are in fact people who cannot write and normally mark their letters with a thumb print. NB most unusually (suspiciously) for a tribal ratification document signed by many elders the CESTRIA letter has all written signatures and No thumbprints. Agdino who knows the people identified the following "signatories" as among those unable to write Embinan Guilingan (said to be the father of Isis) Guinalomon Copiz (I met this old lady on 29 June - in fact her name is Guinalomon Lumapay (Copiz was her father's name.) She confirmed in person that she had not seen or signed the letter. Could not read or write, did not understand English. That while the signature obviously referred to her it was not in fact the name she now uses for herself because she uses her married name. She also said she was opposed to the entry of Rio Tinto. " It is not true that Titik is in favour I live near there (Bucana) and we are opposed." Agdino also identified Potong Tanglanan (Timuay bgy Titik LPostigo), Endal Mardincial, Titik Leon Postigo, Manad Guilingan (bgy Bucana Sindangan), Asa Saplid (Timuay, Bucana), Takil Anod (Titik, Sindangan. ) as others who would in reality have thumb printed if they wished to affirm.  

I confirmed Agdino did meet with Frake who came in company of Edgar. Frake did no ask or talk about the mining however Edgar did.  

Saturday 29 Meeting of Sindangan Tribal Council, at Rooftop Municipal Hall Sindangan. Over 100 participants. I was introduced and later spoke (briefly). I was later asked by Datu Agdino to give information on the impacts of mining, which I had not in the first place volunteered to do, because the meeting was primarily for other purposes. There were numerous questions and expressions of concern.  

Visminda Paculanan from Situ Balikbalik Sindangan told me before the meeting "We don't want this mining because we fear for the future of our children. We have a simple life but we have a culture of peace in harmony with God"

Manuel Silang attended the STC meeting wearing his CRA (Rio Tinto company) cap. He said he was Barangay Capt of Titik until 1994 (from 1971?). He reported that he got the cap because he was a worker/consultant when the company first came to the area. He confirmed he is a board member of CESTRIA. However he reported He did not sign the letter. There was no meeting to discuss it. He personally does not agree with its content. He said for a long time, he has consistently said his place is not open for mining. He said "If the company come back and try to mine there will be big trouble because many CESTRIA members just don't agree."


END

Please direct any questions or make any comments or criticisms to PIPLinks. tongtong@gn.apc.org

Geoff Nettleton

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