MAC: Mines and Communities

1. Failure to gather, recognise or respect local opinion

Published by MAC on 2001-05-01

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.

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