MAC: Mines and Communities

Reyes Eyeing Diwalwal’s Gold for 2004 Elections?

Published by MAC on 2003-07-23

Reyes Eyeing Diwalwal’s Gold for 2004 Elections?

23 July 2003

The Philippine government wants to take control of the world class gold ore deposit in Diwalwal, southern Mindanao However it has not so far been able to do so, because of the alleged complicity of some military personnel employing small scale miners who previously worked the depoists.

It is these artisanal miners that stand to suffer when the government "Task Force" moves in to control the operations, flood them with the military and then transfer them to a mining multinational,

The government also recently formed an investment arm to look into both Diwalwal and other government owned mining corporations and mined out areas. This is part of an effort to finally implement the much-criticised Philippine Mining Act of 1995. In the following article, local leader, Franco Tito accses the government of pushing through the Diwalwal plan, in order to raise funds for the next election. But perhaps more so, the more is designed to show prospective investors in mining that the government is in charge. Understandably some some military personnel do not want mining companies to take sole control of the area. The situation is ripe for serious conflict.

“They want to control Diwalwal so they could make money for the 2004 elections. That is the only conclusion we can think of after this move by Malacañang,” said Franco Tito, the feisty barangay captain of Diwalwal. He said more soldiers are being sent to the area. “There is nothing wrong with Diwalwal. Many of our problems have been solved, some are still being solved but we are making progress. Now they are sending in more troops. For what? For the elections? We don’t need these soldiers. They only invite trouble for Diwalwal.”

By Mindanao Bureau Volume 3, number 24, July 23 2003

DAVAO CITY ­ Small-scale miners in the gold-rush area called Diwalwal in Southern Mindanao are up in arms against the creation of the National Task Force Diwalwal, saying the move is nothing but a ploy for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes to take control of Diwalwal.

“They want to control Diwalwal so they could make money for the 2004 elections. That is the only conclusion we can think of after this move by Malacanang,” said Franco Tito, the feisty barangay (village) captain of Mt. Diwata, which is the official name of Diwalwal.

Mt. Diwalwal's miners

Tito told that part of the task force’s strategy is to flood Diwalwal with soldiers. Already the military has sent battalions near Diwalwal but the miners are opposing this. Last week, the Diwalwal barangay council passed resolutions condemning the entry of the soldiers. Tito said they would go to the extent of mounting protests actions against the deployment if needed.

“There is nothing wrong with Diwalwal. Many of our problems have been solved, some are still being solved but we are making progress. Now they are sending in more troops. For what? For the elections? We don’t need these soldiers. They only invite trouble for Diwalwal,” Tito said.

Task Force

A few weeks ago, President Arroyo created the task force. She cited the need to “harmonize” the government’s efforts in Diwalwal, to make sure that the environment is protected and to check the alleged extortion activities by the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.

Late last month, Tito called on the President to clarify her order. He said the people of Diwalwal were not consulted regarding the creation of the task force.

Besides, the barangay captain said this week, the rationale for the EO is unfounded. He said that former Environment Secretary Heherson Alvarez had solved the problems in Diwalwal, including the legalization of miners, peace and order, taxation and environmental degradation.

“For 19 years, we were operating illegally,” said Tito, who is a small-scale mining operator in Diwalwal. “Alvarez made us legitimate small-scale miners,” he said. That meant proper payment of taxes, he added. “It’s not true that the small-scale miners have not been paying taxes. We have been doing that, except that, for years, these taxes did not go to the national coffers but to the pockets of some officials. Alvarez changed that.”

Stabilized security

Tito added that Alvarez and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte stabilized security in the area. “Just look at the records of the police. Since Alvarez and Duterte stepped in, Diwalwal became peaceful. So what peace-and-order problem are they talking about?” Tito said.

As to environment degradation, Tito said there was the plan for the P50-million mine-tailings dam. “The miners even thought that if the government cannot build the dam, they would build it themselves,” he said.

Unfortunately, Tito said, Alvarez was replaced at the environment department. “Competent and honest people are being removed from the government,” Tito said.

Earlier this month, Tito told reporters in Davao City that the initial plan by the government to build the dam was sidetracked by the discovery of gold in the dam area. He said there had been explorations done in the Mabatas dam site and when the government explorers found gold, the project was delayed and most likely will not be completed. “The greed of some people in Malacañang (the presidential palace),” he said in, “could be at work again.”

NPA threat?

The creation of the task force was also prompted by the threat the NPA allegedly pose in Diwalwal. Last week, Reyes said that the NPA is “using Diwalwal as veritable source of funding. We must deprive them of their sources."

Tito, however, refutes this. “For 19 years, we never had problems with the NPA. The people we have been having problems with are government officials.”

The government had earlier said that there are NPA guerrillas in Diwalwal who are extorting money from the miners. To this, Tito retorted: “They should identify who these NPAs are. Saying that there are NPAs among us who extort money is dangerous, considering that the government has labeled the NPA as a terrorist organization. This could mean anybody from here could just be easily targeted by the government,” he said.

Earlier, the NPA in Southern Mindanao alleged that President Arroyo and Reyes, along with murdered Monkayo Mayor Joel Brillantes, had agreed on a “shady deal” that would give “vast powers to (Arroyo and Reyes) to fatten up (their) campaign coffers for the 2004 elections out of the gold revenues in Diwalwal, and offer the vast mineral resources of Mt. Diwata to American and foreign mining firms.”

Brillantes was the local partner of Southeast Mindanao Gold Mining Corp., which is claiming control of most of the mining area. The task force was created after Brillantes was killed in Davao City on June 28; the brains behind the murder have not been identified.

The NPA’s Rigoberto F. Sanchez, in the statement, warned the “Bernardino-Arroyo-Reyes clique against capitalizing on the death of Brillantes to intensify militarization and vengeful acts against small-scale miners and the revolutionary masses in the furtherance of their monopolistic ends in Diwalwal.”

Personal interests

Tito, meanwhile, said that it is clear that personal interests are at work in the militarization of Diwalwal and in appointing Reyes as head of the task force that oversees all of the government’s activities in Diwalwal.

“We were not consulted. They said the soldiers are needed for our security. Well, we should be the one saying that, not them, and if we need more soldiers, we should be the one asking for them. We never asked the deployment of soldiers because we don’t have security problems in Diwalwal right now,” Tito said.

Tito cited the involvement of Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus, the chief of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, who reportedly went to Diwalwal a few weeks ago.

“Corpus told Reyes that the NPAs are a problem in the area. But Corpus based his intelligence report on the information gathered by a local MIG (military intelligence group) agent who is known to have worked for Brillantes,” Tito said. “What does this mean? That this militarization is meant not only to corner the gold of Diwalwal for the coming elections but also to ensure that the big mining companies represented by Brillantes continue to rule over Diwalwal.”

Tito also condemned Reyes’s appointment to the task force. “Where else can you find a defense secretary heading a task force that is environmental in nature?” he asked rhetorically.

Nothing to worry?

For his part, Reyes was quoted last week by Sun.Star Davao as saying that the Diwalwal miners “had nothing to worry about” the task force. The mission of the task force, he said, is "to bring order to the Diwalwal mining operation."

"The objective is to protect the interest of the miners, about 7,000 of them, and not only them, but the entire 18,000 people that are in the mining area," Reyes said. "Measures will be undertaken to see to it that their socio-economic situation will be enhanced. The military will come in to assist in that effort, in ensuring order and some of them will even serve as teachers."

Reyes said the task force is a "a total government effort. So people in the Diwalwal area need not worry. It will be for your own good."

But Tito said what is good for Diwalwal had been discussed earlier and were being implemented. “They had to change everything because of politics,” he said. “The people of Diwalwal don’t need arms. We don’t need these soldiers. What we need is for President Arroyo to fulfill his promise to us,” Tito said.

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