MAC: Mines and Communities

Action Brief

Published by MAC on 2003-01-16

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

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