MAC: Mines and Communities

Siocon Local Government Unit opposes Canadian mining company’s operations

Published by MAC on 2004-03-04

Siocon Local Government Unit opposes Canadian mining company’s operations

Violeta M. Gloria, MindaNews

04 March 2004

SIOCON, Zamboanga del Norte -- The municipal government of Siocon led Mayor Ceasar Soriano will file a temporary restraining order against Toronto Ventures, Inc. (TVI), a Canadian-owned mining corporation operating in Mount Canatuan, for its alleged violation of the “social acceptability clause” that demands a “free and prior informed consent” from the community before it could proceed to a full-blast open-pit mining operation.

Soriano said that TVI has been doing exploration works in Mount Canatuan without the legal consent of the local government unit.

This he said during a dialogue he called attended my multi-sectoral groups, officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and from its Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), representatives from the Catholic church and from the Muslim community, residents and small scale miners of Mt. Canatuan, and municipal councilors last Feb. 26.

Soriano divulged in the forum that the TVI has not paid its taxes this year.

He asked Engr. Jack Soriano, MGB officer-in-charge, to brief the local government on TVI’s eight-year exploration, “on why the resolutions against the mining operation in Mount Canatuan raised by the people of Siocon was not heeded by the MGB.”

Mayor Soriano clarified that there was no municipal resolution approving the grant of Mineral Production Sharing Agreement for the TVI which will serve as its basis for exploration and for mining.

“Was there a maneuvering, manufacturing and manipulations of documents just to secure the MGB’s consent for exploration and mining here?” the mayor asked Engr. Soriano.

But Engr. Soriano insists that TVI was able to secure resolutions supporting its operation, particularly from the barangay council of Tabayo of Canatuan in Siocon and from the barangay council of Kilalaban in Baliguian town, a neighboring municipality.

But the mayor said they were able to obtain an affidavit from barangay officials in Tabayo that the resolution supporting the mining operation in Canatuan was forged in the absence of the other members of the barangay council.

Thus, the mayor said the TVI only secured resolutions from a neighboring town not directly affected by the mining operation.

Mayor Soriano lamented that the LGU is not being kept abreast of TVI’s operation in the Canatuan nor were there any documents forwarded to his office that will show that TVI has complied with all the requirements in pursuing its operation.

“This is the saddest part because we are not even informed of what they are doing up there when we are the immediate community that will be directly affected by the environmental damage that will happen as a result of the mining,” the mayor complained.

“It is a slap on our face that even our invitation for TVI’s presence in this forum was not honored … which shows disrespect to this local government unit under which they are operating,” he declared. “We are kept blind here when so many lives and properties are endangered by the mining operation,” he added.

Engr. Soriano insisted in the forum that TVI has all the legal documents that will support its operation.

The DENR sent its record officer, Bert Andos, who told the forum that he was not in any capacity to answer queries but was only tasked to gather information discussed in the meeting.

Andos, stripped of authority to explain the agency’s side on the issue, denied certainty whether there was already an inventory of trees and species that will be uprooted due to the expansion program, drilling operation, and road projects made by TVI in Canatuan.

Engr. Soriano explained that TVI took circuitous routes just to evade trees and plants in the making of access roads towards 40 drilling points.

“Do not tell us that no tress and plants were destroyed in the making of access roads. We must be honest here,” Mayor Soriano countered.

MindaNews toured over bulldozed and expanded network of access roads from barangay Kilalaban to Mount Canatuan and within the areas where drilling were conducted in over 40 to 45 points and towards the apex of Mount Canatuan where TVI will conduct their open pit mining operation by April 1 this year.

“Of course, this needs permit from the DENR but I cannot tell in this forum whether a permit has been granted or not,” the mayor further said.

Engr. Soriano denied any knowledge on the speculations raised by fisher folks, farmers and fish pond growers that the TVI is opening its processing mill’s tailing ponds contaminated with chemicals used in gold milling when there is heavy rainfall.

Irked by the situation, Mayor Soriano told MGB, “What is the notion here? That the TVI can pursue mining operation because the national government said so at our expense here?”

The mayor noted that TVI may have approved contracts based on MGB’s statements, but said “not all contracts that bind this operation are legal contracts. Social acceptability must be met first.”

Municipal councilor Lunie Lucas read Resolution No. 22 s. 2002 containing the strong opposition of the municipality of Siocon on the mining operation that will be undertaken by TVI and the small scale miners. He said that this resolution, unanimously agreed upon by the council and supported by the residents of Siocon, was submitted to the MGB years ago.

“Whatever happened to this document? Why was our opposition not registered in the office of MGB? This office instead granted permit for exploration and mining operation to TVI?” Lucas asked Engr. Soriano.

The resolution states the constitutional mandates of the LGU in enjoying genuine and meaningful autonomy in exercising its authorities and functions for the ultimate protection, conservation, management, development, and proper use of their environment and natural resources within their territorial jurisdiction.

It also states its shared responsibility in the management and maintenance of its ecological balance based on environmental laws, including the effective and sustainable protection and enhancement of environment’s quality for the present and future generation.

It also states that the TVI’s open-pit mining operation is great risk for the public, citing “exposure of public health or the environment to toxic substances; hazardous or organic wastes that tremendously lead to air and water pollution; occurrence of landslides and erosions as an aftermath to excavation and extraction of natural resources that endangered life, health, property, biological and socio-economic environment.”

“This is a clear and present danger to our community,” Lucas stressed.

Engr. Soriano said that TVI has permit for exploration for a two-year period, renewable for another two years until it reaches 10 years. The 10-year period, Soriano explained, is part of the 25 years allowed under the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) they obtained from the government.

Soriano said that TVI is now on its eighth year of exploration and the MGB office has already given them permit to open-pit mine the 120 hectares that is part of the 508.34 hectares of land granted for mining under the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) they entered into with the Philippine government.

Canatuan residents want to to live peacefully; TVI says it's bringing benefits to residents

Violeta M. Gloria, MindaNews

15 February 2004

MT. CANATUAN, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte -- “Don’t we have constitutional rights to live in our homes peacefully?”

Residents here asked this question as they detailed their plight after Toronto Ventures Incorporated (TVI), a Canadian-owned mining firm, entered this area with a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) in 1996.

They alleged that small-scale miners with “ball mills” were closed forcibly and their property taken by TVI workers without the owners’ consent. There were 35 small scale miners then.

“All of them were successfully closed by TVI.. and our dreams to offer better lives for our children came to naught,” said Apolonia Bulagao, 74, sitio leader.

“Tailing ponds of the small scale miners were also collected by TVI, without the owner’s approval,” said George Binaro, 52, a worker of Eddie Capero, one of the small scale miners of Canatuan before TVI’s entry.

Binaro recalled how Capero cried when he learned that TVI sacked his mine tailings in November last year in his absence and without his consent. “Those 10,000 sacks gathered from the tailing ponds of Capero still have gold if processed,” said Binaro.

Alexander Loyloy, engaged in buying mine tailings here, filed a complaint against TVI and its officers last December 18 for allegedly sacking more than 50,000 bags of mine tailings of high grade gold.

Loyloy alleged that the bags of mine tailings were hauled in three cargo trucks and transported to TVI’s cyanidation plan and milled there.

“TVI earned P1.5 million from it to my damage and prejudice,” Loyloy said in his affidavit.

Timuay Jose “Boy” Anoy tried to stop the sacking but was warded off. Anoy testified against TVI and recalled that he was about to take a picture of the sacking activity but was immediately encircled by armed security guards of TVI.

At least 30 members of a women’s organization here alleged they were ordered by some TVI personnel to dismantle their houses and to transfer to another area “because the company will now resume drilling operations.”

Joy Gonzaga, who is giving birth soon, and her husband Jess, related that residents of Canatuan were told by TVI personnel to leave the area “in exchange for half sack of rice and P1,000 pesos and a free ticket if some of us would wish to go elsewhere in Mindanao.”

The couple expressed anxiety that their plants will be bulldozed when they leave the area temporarily as Joy is giving birth to their third child soon.

“Most of the tailing ponds of former small scale miners were sacked by TVI workers when the owners were not around… they might do the same to us especially that they have told us that they want to make a road for the drilling they are currently undergoing in areas where we have plants,” Gonzaga said.

Several poles with blue ribbons have been installed, allegedly as a symbol for “the drilling point.”

Nilda Batoon, 52 and mother of seven, showed to MindaNews a pole installed a step away from her house. “One of the TVI personnel, Cynthia Comisas, came to me and said my house would be affected by the drilling,” Batoon said, adding Comisas “asked me what I would ask from the company in exchange.”

“I am not asking anything from the company and I have no plans to leave my own home,” she said, adding, “all I need is peace of mind and to be free from this harassment,” Batoon said.

Comisas could not be reached for comment.

Floro Galvez, neighbor of Nilda, told MindaNews “all of us here were asked by the company to move out.”

This area has around 300 households, 200 of whom are Subanens.

“Why would we leave our homes and our livelihood? We are Filipinos and we own this land… foreigners cannot own this. This is our land, not TVI’s,” Galvez declared.

Roseminda Villanueva, a storekeeper, said her husband, who was working in the company’s drilling project, was terminated when the company learned she attended a symposium on people’s rights against the mining operations of TVI.

“They said I am under observation and that it would be useless for us to repair our houses because these will be dismantled soon,” she said.

“If they will bulldoze our houses here, that is the worst human rights violation that we will experience,” she said. “They will not only be destroying our homes, they will also be destroying our dreams, our lives, and our rights,” she said.

The women’s organization gathered in their two-hectare communal farm last February 7.

“This communal farm is our alternative livelihood after ball mills were demolished by TVI,” said Bulagao.

Jocelyn Macalisang, a resident of the sitio, recalled that there were TVI officials who met the residents before and in the course of the dialogue “they threatened us that we will be massacred by their soldiers if we will not heed their demands.”

Macalisang said she stood up and told TVI workers that “if our human rights and our lives will be severely violated that way, we will all rise up against the company.”

MindaNews e-mailed TVI’s Mindanao communications officer, Lullie Micabalo on February 10 but Micabalo has yet to answer. A follow-up message sent to Micabalo’s mobile phone today, Sunday, also yielded no answer.

But in a press release published by the The Mindanao Observer in Dipolog City on February 8, TVI announced that they have cleaned 24,000 tons of mine tailings “abandoned by the small miners”.

The press statement said it has “completed the cleanup of the cyanide and mercury-laced tailings left behind by the illegal small-scale miner operations at Canatuan…”

The cleanup and processing program was initiated in December 2002, “as a result of the Partial Declaration of Mining Feasibility issued by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), and the support of the Presidential Assistant for Mindanao (OPAMIN), Mr. Jesus Dureza,” it said.

“For many years small-scale miners illegally excavated ore from Canatuan and extracted gold and silver using crude and environmentally damaging processes,” it said, adding that TVI “purchased sacks of cyanide and mercury-polluted tailings from small-scale miners and processed them in TVI’s modern Canatuan mill, which had previously been used as a Pilot Plant to test the viability of a long-term mining project in the area.”

“As a result, the cyanide and mercury that were used in the illegal rod-mills and cyanide plants will no longer be a threat to the downstream river systems and the Siocon environment,” it said.

The press statement noted that TVI estimates “it has processed over one million sacks of tailings, amounting to over 24,000 tonnes of material, during the yearlong program.”

“Valuable gold and silver resources were saved from being wasted. The revenues from the production at the plant have: contributed to the financing of the cleanup itself, improving the local environment; contributed tax revenues to the country and to the Province of Zamboanga del Norte; provided royalty payments to the Siocon Subanen community under the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed in November 2003, provided jobs for many local people, including over 200 members of the Subanen Community; and improved health and education facilities in sitio Canatuan “

MindaNews asked TVI’s Micabalo several questions, including “how much in terms of pesos, were you able to earn from the processed tailings?” but has yet to receive an answer.

TVI said the Subanen community has received three royalty payments from the cleanup, for a total of P819,000.

”Now that the cleanup is finished, TVI is in a position to move to the next phase of the Canatuan Mining Project, as approved under the three-year Work Program of the Partial Declaration of Mining Feasibility. The first step will be to upgrade the access roads to the mill site and to the community. At the same time, the company will substantially expand the capacity of the Canatuan Mill, and finally, begin construction of the mine itself. Over its planned life, the mine will extract gold, silver, copper and zinc, and will be a major generator of tax revenues and employment in the Canatuan and Siocon areas. In addition to developing and operating the Canatuan Mining Project, TVI will, at the same time, work with the Subanen community and other groups to promote and undertake a wide range of social development programs that will greatly improve local health, education and economic conditions in the area,” the statement added.

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