Background on TVI and the SubanonPublished by MAC on 2003-01-16
Background on TVI and the Subanon
Canatuan is an Indigenous community of the Subanon People and today is also home to some settlers including artisanal (small-scale) miners. The Subanon are the largest of the Indigenous groups in the Philippines . In total they number in excess of 320,000. Their collective territory formerly covered the whole of the western Mindanao Zamboanga peninsula. Throughout the 20th century their land has been encroached upon by settlers and today Subanon have lost much of their best land and are largely confined to the mountains (the name Subanon means "People of the River").
In 1987 the Philippine Constitution was changed and for the first time ancestral land right was recognised. In 1989 the Canatuan Subanon began the process of seeking Government recognition of their ancestral land right over Canatuan and surrounding areas which they had lived in and off for many generations. After many delays their rights were officially recognised in 1997. At the same time the Government enacted the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act as implementing legislation to the earlier Constitutional recognition of indigenous land right.
Canatuan is highly mineralised. Small scale miners have been operating there since the late 1980s. In the past Subanon sometimes also panned for gold in the rivers. TVI entered the area in 1994 without asking for or securing the consent of the local population. TVI propose the development of an open pit gold and silver mine that will displace the current community of Canatuan and excavate a large open pit mine, which will also destroy the village site and sacred grove area of the local people. TVI has already constructed a pilot processing plant where valuable minerals can be recovered from ground ore using sodium cyanide. People downstream, in both Subanon and settler communities, are fearful of the environmental impact of the mine and the processing plant on rice farming and fishing. The municipality of Siocon is a major producer of rice and has rich fishing grounds. The local authorities also oppose the development of a mine by TVI.
In addition to the present mine proposal TVI continues to explore, without local permission, and claim that other nearby areas are also rich in minerals. They predict further mining activities will follow.
Controversy and conflict have been associated with the activities of TVI since they entered the area and imposed themselves on the community in 1994. The Indigenous Subanon through their organisation, the Siocon Subanon Association Inc, have consistently opposed the mining plans of TVI or indeed any large scale mining operation on their land. Other major alliances of Subanon Organisations across the region also oppose TVI and other large-scale mining- Rio Tinto withdrew from the area in 2000 under pressure from indigenous organisations. Under Philippine Law the opposition of the Canatuan people should have been sufficient to prevent TVI. However the company has persisted and pushed ahead with its plans despite the clear local opposition. In the process it has, according to local community members and numerous observers, applied a systematic pattern of abuses and efforts to intimidate, trick and disregard the local community and its opposition. Disturbingly despite the documented abuses the company still seems to enjoy the support inside both the Philippine and Canadian Governments. The Canadian Ambassador Robert Collette visited the site in April 2001 to manifest his support for TVI. He pointedly failed during his visit to observe the basic courtesy of meeting with the ancestral landholders.
In the mid 1990s the company deployed more than 100 armed security guards. Checkpoints were constructed on the roads into the community and a blockade imposed on the movement of basic necessities. Foot trails were spiked with hidden 2 inch nails by company security guards. The blockade on the community has been maintained for 7 years. There have been several shooting incidents and woundings of people trying to move essential goods into the community.
In 1999 community members mounted a picket to prevent drilling equipment entering their ancestral lands against their wishes. Armed police and armed security guards beat and manhandled picketers and arrested SSAI Secretary General Onsino Mato, as he argued with them by drawing attention to the provisions of the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act.In July 2001 Mato presented his People's complaint before a session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations. In his statement Mato identified abuses including:
- Failure to respect local wishes, consult with the people or listen to their opposition to large scale mining; Sewing of divisions within the community to serve company ends;
Militarization and resultant abuses and violence; the imposition of an economic blockade, the barring of access to the local priest, midwife and even construction materials for the local school and for a Glapow or native ritual house; blasphemy and violation of sacred sites.
- The situation has deteriorated further since 2001. Efforts to divide the community have intensified. The company is on the brink of opening its cyanide plant . This holds the prospect of immediate and serious damage to the local environment and intensified conflict as the company tries to force through its plans against remaining strong local opposition.