MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian Mining Company operates without consent

Published by MAC on 2003-01-16

Urgent Appeal - Canadian Mining Company operates without consent

[Report prepared by DCMI, Frank Nally and Piplinks, January 16 2003]

The Subanon Indigenous People of Canatuan Zamboanga del Norte in the Philippines are calling for urgent support in their struggle to remove from their territory an unwelcome and abusive Canadian mining company. The Subanon have been struggling to resist the entry of TVI Pacific Mining into their territory for the last 8 years. The company is now claiming to have secured local support through a resolution passed at a meeting held on 15 October and conducted under deeply questionable circumstances. Local indigenous leaders continue to deny they have given support. They have made public and legal challenge to the validity of the company claims. They have also appealed for international support to expose the realities of what occurred and call for the removal of TVI. They request such support to ensure that their true sentiments cannot be ignored.

The local situation is tense.

On December 26, in a separate incident, thirteen people were killed and others injured when a company truck in which they were travelling was ambushed by armed assailants. Reports suggest the attack was perpetrated by a rebel group who were seeking to impose "taxes" on the company. This tragedy therefore deepens the suffering of the community.

Please write letters of support in your own words to the addresses given or alternatively you can use or edit the letter text attached to formulate a letter of concern.

If you do write please send copies of any letters to

Further background documents are available from

Action Brief

TVI in the Philippines - Tragedy on tragedy: Mining Industry worst practice in action

"We are appealing to all mining companies and governments if, as they claim, they are concerned about community development they must go away from our territory because what we have experienced is not development and not what we want for our sustainable future. The mining companies are not bringing development but are Predators upon the people.
Onsino Mato, Secretary General Siocon Subanon Association Inc addressing the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, July 2001

On 26 December (2002) a vehicle belonging to TVI Pacific Mining Co. of Calgary, Alberta was ambushed on its way to the TVI camp at their proposed mine site in Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, Philippines. As a result 13 people including TVI security guards and their friends and relatives were killed and a further 11 wounded. The company and government have identified Muslim rebels as the likely perpetrators. Military units have poured into the area. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the main Muslim rebel group) has however denied any responsibility for the incident. The area of the TVI camp is one with a history of rebel activities including raids by the notorious Abu Sayyaf Group.

The attack and its tragic consequences have brought grief and fear to Canatuan. Many of those killed were employees (and their relatives) of TVI. Grief at their killing extends across the whole of an isolated community.

For the people of Canatuan the attack is only the latest in a long line of tragic events caused directly and indirectly by the presence in their community of TVI Pacific . This is the worst but not the only incident of harassment on the access roads affecting the company and community since the arrival of TVI in the area. Community members have however suffered both from these external forces and from the actions of the company and abusive company guards. The efforts of the company to impose an economic blockade have caused great hardship. Perhaps worst of all the company has sought to promote division in the local community by supporting some of its employees to establish and maintain pro-company factions and then falsely projecting this group as the "true" representative of local opinion.

The company's speedy declaration that this recent tragic incident would not affect their plans first to operate their cyanide processing plant and secondly develop a gold mine at the site reveals the determination of TVI to push through with their plans at any price.

TVI has been trying to raise the finance to develop a mine at Canatuan since it entered the area in 1994. Its activities have been stalled by determined and consistent community protests and opposition to their presence. Potential funders including the London-based Commonwealth Development Corporation withdrew proposed funding when they were made aware of the level of local opposition and abuses committed by company security guards. In 1999 a community picket opposing the entry of drilling equipment seriously delayed exploration activities financed by a further group of potential investors (TVI refused to reveal their identity). The violent attacks on the picketers by police and company security also brought the company international notoriety. Community representatives have carried their protests to Canada, where they met with Canadian government officials in November, 2000 and to the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in July 2001. The Subanon have made abundantly clear their sustained opposition to any large-scale mining on their ancestral land and particularly the presence of TVI.

Despite this TVI now improbably claims to have secured the free prior informed consent of the affected community. The Indigenous Subanon of Canatuan through their organisation, the Siocon Subanon Association Inc, have consistently opposed the mining plans of TVI for the last 9 years. Under Philippine Law and indeed any code of business decency this sustained opposition from the traditional and recognised ancestral landholders should have been sufficient to prevent TVI from mining. That it has not reflects badly on TVI and those, including the Canadian Government who persist in their support for this controversial and unwanted intrusion.

The instability of the local situation manifest in the recurrent ambushes, through legal challenges to the presence and activities of the company and its personnel, and through pickets and other displays of legitimate local opposition to TVI clearly indicate the need to terminate this proposed development.

A Switch in Company Tactics

After years of company failure to secure the support of Siocan Subanon Association Inc. (SSAI) and the local community by methods including attempts at bribery, intimidation and violence new tactics have been adopted in the last 18 months. Company employees and supporters including immigrant Subanon attempted to take over the SSAI and replace its officers with those more sympathetic to/and in the pay of the company. Atty Pablo Bernardo, a Subanon lawyer from another municipality, who has been working in support of company plans, justified the introduction of Subanon from other communities into the Canatuan ancestral landholders association by the dubious assertion that the ancestral land right of SSAI recognised by government had been awarded in the name of the Subanon of Zamboanga del Norte so allowing any of them (numbering well in excess of 100,000 Subanon in the Province) to avail of land within the 6000 hectare area claimed by SSAI . Within Siocon equally questionable claims were made by company employees from distant areas that as the SSAI organisation was called the Siocon Subanon Association Inc. then the participation in the organisation of Subanon from any part of the municipality (a substantial land area well in excess of the 6000 hectare ancestral land claim) was allowable. Such representations seem to make a mockery of the efforts expressed in the Philippine Government's Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 to address the serious historical injustice suffered by Indigenous Peoples in many parts of the Philippines and recognise ancestral land right to those who live on and are historically attached to that land. Canatuan and the area claimed by SSAI is the traditional home of several communities of Subanon numbering approximately 2000 people. Subanon from other regions have no more traditional claim to this land than do Canadian mining companies. It is unavoidable to conclude that these malicious interventions have sought primarily to divide the local community and sew confusion in the Peoples organisation.

As a requirement in the final government recognition of the Ancestral domain claim of the Canatuan people the Government agency for Indigenous Peoples affairs the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) insisted upon the creation of a joint Council of Elders drawn from both the SSAI and the TVI backed group. This joint grouping has met on three occasions during 2002. In August and September the meetings took place, as required, within the Canatuan ancestral lands and before the whole community. In the September meeting a resolution was unanimously agreed opposing all open pit and large-scale mining within the Canatuan ancestral lands. A further meeting was set for 15 October within the ancestral domain. However in a letter dated October 11, Ponciano Agbadan of the NCIP wrote requesting that the October meeting be transferred to the Atilano Pension House in Zamboanga City. Community elders believed that the transfer of venue was a courtesy to facilitate the participation of prominent public officials in a ceremonial meeting to swear in the members of the Council. This location was far from the ancestral territory and out of contact with the community. At the meeting Danilo Bason, a TVI employee, proposed a resolution supporting the mining operations of TVI. According to the provisions of the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) such decisions should be passed only by consensus. In this case there was strong objection to the resolution from half of the participants on the grounds that

1. the meeting was taking place outside of the ancestral domain and without community participation and was therefore an inappropriate gathering to determine such a vital matter requiring community consensus.
2. Even the participants in the meeting could not arrive at the required consensus but divided the house and passed the resolution on a majority vote while some leaders walked out in disgust.
3. The resolution was in direct contradiction to that passed opposing all large-scale mining at the immediate previous meeting held in September
4. The proponent and some of the signatories were not from the ancestral domain area in question and are only current residents because they are employees of the company whose cause they are advancing
5. Financial inducements to sign reported to be of amounts up to P5000 per person were reportedly offered to council of elders members
6. The official minute of the October meeting itself also promises additional financial inducements from the company
"That the TVI is offering benefits to the Council of Elders by giving honorarium to each council of Elder"

Despite these anomalies and strong protests published in the local press and presented to the Government in petition letters this so called "community acceptance" was rapidly acted upon and the company was issued licence to operate in November.

However this "operation" was and is for the present only in the form of operating the pilot cyanide plant constructed on the site some 6 years ago. There is no TVI mine at Canatuan at this time. It is planned that the ore to feed the plant will, for the present, come from the mine waste material owned by the small scale mining community that predate TVI in the area. These small-scale miners are also predominantly opposed to the activities of TVI and most have refused to sell their "tailings" to the company. It is feared in the community that the company will attempt to seize these materials by force or pay unacceptably low prices.

The recent activities of TVI and its supporters in attempting to sow division and intrigue in the community and by so doing heightening tension in this already volatile and dangerous region reflect a pattern of disregard for local wishes and interests and a willingness to use unacceptable methods to try to secure their "rights" which have been consistently adopted by TVI since their first arrival. According to local community leaders they are indicative of the undesirable and unacceptable character of this company.

The SSAI and the people of Canatuan need international support to back their appeal to the Philippine Government to cancel the MPSA mining license of TVI and remove TVI from Canatuan and the region .

International support in the form of letter writing is urgently needed if TVI are to be exposed for their attempts to impose themselves on the Subanon against local wishes and interests.

Please write clear concise and respectful letters in your own words to:

Her Excellency
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
Metro Manila

Making the following points:
Deep regret at the recent tragic killings
The presence of TVI has caused grave problems for the Subanon over several years
Opposition to the mine is strong and the company has failed to gain social acceptability
Please support the calls for
the cancellation of the exploration and mining licenses of TVI
the withdrawal of TVI personnel
respect for the rights and wishes of the Canatuan Subanon

Additionally you may wish to write to
Jean Chretien MP
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Canada K1A 0A2

Background on TVI and the Subanon

Canatuan is an Indigenous community of the Subanon People and today is also home to some settlers including artisanal (small-scale) miners. The Subanon are the largest of the Indigenous groups in the Philippines . In total they number in excess of 320,000. Their collective territory formerly covered the whole of the western Mindanao Zamboanga peninsula. Throughout the 20th century their land has been encroached upon by settlers and today Subanon have lost much of their best land and are largely confined to the mountains (the name Subanon means "People of the River").

In 1987 the Philippine Constitution was changed and for the first time ancestral land right was recognised. In 1989 the Canatuan Subanon began the process of seeking Government recognition of their ancestral land right over Canatuan and surrounding areas which they had lived in and off for many generations. After many delays their rights were officially recognised in 1997. At the same time the Government enacted the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act as implementing legislation to the earlier Constitutional recognition of indigenous land right.

Canatuan is highly mineralised. Small scale miners have been operating there since the late 1980s. In the past Subanon sometimes also panned for gold in the rivers. TVI entered the area in 1994 without asking for or securing the consent of the local population. TVI propose the development of an open pit gold and silver mine that will displace the current community of Canatuan and excavate a large open pit mine, which will also destroy the village site and sacred grove area of the local people. TVI has already constructed a pilot processing plant where valuable minerals can be recovered from ground ore using sodium cyanide. People downstream, in both Subanon and settler communities, are fearful of the environmental impact of the mine and the processing plant on rice farming and fishing. The municipality of Siocon is a major producer of rice and has rich fishing grounds. The local authorities also oppose the development of a mine by TVI.

In addition to the present mine proposal TVI continues to explore, without local permission, and claim that other nearby areas are also rich in minerals. They predict further mining activities will follow.

Controversy and conflict have been associated with the activities of TVI since they entered the area and imposed themselves on the community in 1994. The Indigenous Subanon through their organisation, the Siocon Subanon Association Inc, have consistently opposed the mining plans of TVI or indeed any large scale mining operation on their land. Other major alliances of Subanon Organisations across the region also oppose TVI and other large-scale mining- Rio Tinto withdrew from the area in 2000 under pressure from indigenous organisations. Under Philippine Law the opposition of the Canatuan people should have been sufficient to prevent TVI. However the company has persisted and pushed ahead with its plans despite the clear local opposition. In the process it has, according to local community members and numerous observers, applied a systematic pattern of abuses and efforts to intimidate, trick and disregard the local community and its opposition. Disturbingly despite the documented abuses the company still seems to enjoy the support inside both the Philippine and Canadian Governments. The Canadian Ambassador Robert Collette visited the site in April 2001 to manifest his support for TVI. He pointedly failed during his visit to observe the basic courtesy of meeting with the ancestral landholders.

In the mid 1990s the company deployed more than 100 armed security guards. Checkpoints were constructed on the roads into the community and a blockade imposed on the movement of basic necessities. Foot trails were spiked with hidden 2 inch nails by company security guards. The blockade on the community has been maintained for 7 years. There have been several shooting incidents and woundings of people trying to move essential goods into the community.

In 1999 community members mounted a picket to prevent drilling equipment entering their ancestral lands against their wishes. Armed police and armed security guards beat and manhandled picketers and arrested SSAI Secretary General Onsino Mato, as he argued with them by drawing attention to the provisions of the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.In July 2001 Mato presented his People's complaint before a session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations. In his statement Mato identified abuses including:

Campaign support for the Subanon is urgently needed. Please help.
For more detailed information on any aspect of the situation please contact PIPLinks, and/or dcmi.

Sample letter sent by Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links)

Her Excellency
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
Metro Manila

Your Excellency,

We write following the tragic attack on 26 December 2002 upon community members from Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte perpetrated by, as yet, unknown assailants. Madam President we wish to express through you our sympathy for the victims of this act of violence.

We respectfully urge your Government to act to end the violence and the sources of violence in the Canatuan area. It is clear to us based on visits to the area and consultation with local people that the presence of the TVI Pacific Mining Company in Canatuan has been a source of tragedy, tension and conflict since their first arrival in the area in 1994. It is the people of the local community who have suffered the effects both of bandit attacks upon company vehicles and also suffered violence and intimidation at the hands of the company guards. These abuses committed by company personnel are seen locally as the efforts of the company to silence the consistent and legitimate opposition of local people to TVI's entry into their community. Past incidents have included other ambushes and hold ups, the militarization of the community by the mining company, the imposition of checkpoints and blockades by company guards, shooting incidents by company employees and the wounding of local residents, the violent dispersal of peaceful protestors from the community, arrests, the bulldozing of local small scale mining operations and many other incidents.

Madam President your Government's stated commitment to implement the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act has, we believe, given new hope to many indigenous communities in the Philippines and observers and friends of the Philippines around the world. The historic injustice perpetrated by successive Philippine Governments and developers at the expense of Indigenous Peoples and their lands has long been a source of suffering, internal conflict and has also done serious damage to the international reputation of the Philippines. We hope that your Government can take significant steps to change this situation. The clear and strong opposition of the Subanon to the operations and activities of TVI is well known around the world. This case is therefore one, which many Indigenous Peoples and observers see as an indicator of your Government's stance and resolve in support of Indigenous Peoples rights.

There has been conflict and opposition to the plans of TVI to mine in Canatuan since the first arrival of the company in the area. It is clear that strong opposition continues. TVI have clearly failed to secure the necessary support in the local community. Their plans are opposed by the Siocon Subanon Association Inc which is the local indigenous organisation in Canatuan and by the majority of all Subanon organisations elsewhere in the vicinity of the proposed mine and across the region. The municipal authorities and other local community organisations also oppose company plans.

We therefore appeal to you to act with speed
To immediately withdraw all TVI personnel from the area
To cancel the mining licenses of TVI due to their failure to secure social acceptability and their disruptive and abusive presence in the community
To find and bring to justice the perpetrators of the 26 December ambush

Yours respectfully

Geoff Nettleton
Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links

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