MAC/20: Mines and Communities

False murder charges. TVI and the latest form of harassment

Published by MAC on 2003-09-15

False murder charges. TVI and the latest form of harassment

15 September 2003

From Piplinks

TVI Pacific, A Canadian mining company, have been trying for ten years to break down community opposition to their opening a gold mine in Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte in the southern Philippines. There has been a sustained policy of intimidation, isolation, divide and rule applied to the local community which is made up of a long established community of Subanon Indigenous People and a community of small scale miners dating back to the late 1980s. The Small scale miners entered and have operated in the area with the permission of the ancestral land holders. TVI does not have that permission.

The area of the proposed mine is in a zone of conflict involving the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Philippine Army.

In December 2002 an ambush took place against a TVI truck on the road that links the community to the coastal lowlands. This resulted in the death of 13 people mostly Subanon. It was widely believed at the time that this attack was motivated by the failure of TVI to keep up protection payments to some bandit groups. In May MILF forces occupied and burned down buildings in the town centre of Siocon. 22 people were killed in this clash.

Also in May 2003 an enlarged paramilitary force, in the pay of the company, and backed by regular soldiers was set loose in the community. It has committed numerous human rights abuses mainly concentrated on driving out local residents. Subanon leaders of the community have been active in trying to highlight and report these abuses.

In August three of these same Subanon leaders known for their leadership of the legal opposition to the entry of TVI were accused of involvement in the December ambush. The accusations were lodged by those close to the company and facilitated by the company lawyer. Counsel for the accused, lawyer Fausto Lingating, a prominent human rights advocate during Marcos dictatorship era, and also former Government minister and Subanon by tribe stressed during the preparation of the counter affidavits of the accused, including witnesses that, all testimonies of the company's witnesses are weak, malicious and fabricated. "I cannot even understand why the lawyer of the company handling this case presented it in the prosecutor's office when evidences are very weak and can lead for his disbarment from his profession", Lingating said.

There seems little or no chance that such accusations would convince a court. They do however very effectively prevent leading opponents of the mine from organising at a time when the company is once again making desperate efforts to progress its claim.

There are other examples of the use of such accusations of murder and serious crimes against leaders of legitimate community opposition to mining projects in the Philippines. Leaders of the Anislagan community in Surigao del Norte including the Barangay Captain, Councillors and the Pastora of the local United Church of Christ currently face charges of attempted murder , arson and other charges following their successful opposition to the forced entry of Manila Mining Corporation into their community. This approach has also been adopted in other regions in the past. While the accusations may not stand up in court they are intimidating time consuming and expensive for community leaders to defend themselves against.

We are urging people to write letters expressing concern about these efforts to pervert the course of justice and calling for the immediate withdrawal of TVI and their abusive paramilitary from the area.

Suggested letter to the President of the Philippines:-

Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
President Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
J.P.Laurel Street
San Miguel
Metro Manila 1005

Your Excellency,

I write to express my concern arising from the serious situation in Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

I understand from reports that three prominent and widely respected leaders of the Subanon people have been accused of involvement in an ambush of a TVI mining company vehicle that occurred on December 26 2002 and which resulted in the death of 13 people and the wounding of seven others. The three accused are named as José Anoy, Chairman of the Siocon Subanon Association Inc, Onsino Mato the Secretary General of SSAI, and Fernando Mudai Chairman of the Western Zamboanga Peninsula Subanon Association.

Madame President I am gravely concerned that, through this false and malicious accusation the course of justice will be perverted and the legitimate voices of local indigenous people silenced. It is particularly concerning that these accusations come at a time when the TVI Pacific Canadian mining company is seeking to commence operations on their controversial gold mining project despite sustained opposition by the majority of indigenous peoples. All three accused are well known to be at the forefront of legitimate legal opposition to the operations of TVI and their unwelcome presence, as well as being active complainants with regard to human rights abuses concerning the military and TVI paramilitary security in the area.

These arrests have happened at a crucial time. There have been a recent round of human rights violations which include beatings, forcible demolition and confiscation of properties were perpetrated by a paramilitary SCAA force recently trained (during April 2003) by the Philippine military, armed by them and, according to eye witness accounts, accompanied by military personnel during abusive raids. This suggests a complicity of some government and military officials in isolating and abusing the community. As a result violent incidents, intimidation and abuse have occurred without check, especially since May 2003. This has already caused a partial depopulation of the area as people have fled in fear. The plans of the TVI mining company require the removal of the local population but this is directly contrary to the wishes of local residents. The company's aims are being achieved by dubious means and without public scrutiny.

It seems absurd that in the tightly knit family-based indigenous communities of the Subanon in and around Canatuan, local leaders would conspire in an attack where the main victims were their own close relatives and neighbours. Further it should be noted that in the eight months since the ambush incident occurred there was no previous suggestion of such an involvement by local leaders. Indeed there has been a clear presumption previously that the attack was perpetrated by known armed groups who operate in the area and who were seeking to extract "tax" payments for the use of the road.

Madame President as recently as June 12 Philippine Independence Day 2003 you personally gave a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) covering the Canatuan area into the hands of Timuay Jose Anoy. Onsino Mato and Fernando Mudai were all part of the delegation you received at that time. Your government has expressed its commitment to delivering on the promises to Indigenous Peoples in the Philippines contained in the 1987 Constitution and the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. Such measures have the potential to enhance the chances for peace and progress in Canatuan, and enhance the international reputation of the Philippines. As is their right, many of the Subanon - including those now so unjustly accused - have consistently shown their rejection of TVI because they oppose commercial mining, fear its impacts on their lands and culture, and on the environment of Canatuan and their downstream neighbours.

I therefore appeal to you to act with all speed to restore peace and security to the local community and halt the personal harassment of loyal and respected indigenous leaders. In particular we urge you to act to suspend the questionable arrest orders given recent affidavits that have been made on the case clearly showing how false these charges are. In this regard I urge you to initiate a thorough and credible investigation of the numerous incidents of violence and disruption of Peace and Order, including the 26 December incident and also the longer history of violence and violations of rights in the Canatuan area resulting from the presence of the TVI Pacific Canadian Mining Company.

There is an urgent need to: immediately restore free and unconditional access for independent observers to monitor the human rights situation; disarm all paramilitary security forces associated with the TVI company; dismantle all checkpoints along public highways and access routes; withdraw all military personnel and armed forces from the area pending investigation and require the suspension of the operations of TVI and the withdrawal of all their staff pending investigations.


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