Background articlePublished by MAC on 2005-02-18
Calgary mining firm accused of defiling sacred mountain: Philippines gold mine is a model operation, company insists
Kelly Patterson, The Ottawa Citizen
Friday 18 February 2005
A Canadian gold company is caught in a highly public and nasty battle with indigenous people in the Philippines -- a case that has become a litmus test for the controversial expansion of mining across the island nation.
After 11 years of development, Calgary-based *TVI* Pacific Inc. began full-scale operations on its open-pit mine on top of Mount Canatuan in Mindanao, 800 kilometres south of Manila,last May. Spread over 500 hectares, the project is expected to yield 850 metric tons of ore a day by next year. The mountain, especially its peak, is a sacred site for some members of an indigenous tribe called the Subanen. "*TVI* has desecrated our altar, the tip of Mount Canatuan, which is our most sacred place," Jose Anoy recently told the Asia-Pacific Post. Mr. Anoy is a prominent Subanen leader.
His tribe has lived on the slopes of Mount Canatuan since the 17th century. Mr. Anoy, who says he is the timuoy, or hereditary chief, of the Subanen, says his ancestors promised their "Immortal Being" they would guard the summit from harm in return for safe passage through the jungle.
That's news to Clifford James, president of *TVI*, who says in fact that most of the Subanen welcome the open-pit operation, and says the site is not sacred.
"It was never a sacred mountain" until the mining company appeared, he says, adding that an official archeological survey of the area found no evidence of its religious significance.
The longstanding clash between *TVI* and anti-mine advocates came to a head this week after an announcement that more than 60 families on the site face eviction by the end of the month if they don't accept the company's relocation package. More than 100 families have already moved.
*TVI* is the first foreign-owned mining company to launch a new, major venture in the Philippines in recent years. The mining industry in this mineral-rich nation had ground to a halt after a court ruling against foreign-owned ventures in early 2004.
Last week, the Philippines Supreme Court definitively overturned that decision, sparking an outcry from environmental groups, church leaders and indigenous groups. Communist insurgents with a 35-year history of terrorist attacks warned they would target any foreign-owned mines "who plunder and ravage the environment."
Philippines President Gloria Arroyo recently called *TVI*'s project a model for future mining development. Canadian Ambassador Peter Sutherland called the project "the barometer for success of other mining companies."
Mr. James says the mine, which employs 250 Subanen, has the blessing of the tribe's council of elders. It has provided a medical clinic, and is collaborating with the Canadian International Development Agency on a community development project.
The stakes are high for the debt-crippled country, which is sitting on an estimated $1 trillion in untapped mineral resources, including the world's third-largest gold reserves.
"We want to help these people," says Mr. James, adding that he is also in the process of setting up an aid foundation, chipping in half of its $500,000 budget from his personal funds.
But opposition to the mine is passionate, and has spread far beyond the slopes of Mount Canatuan. Indigenous, environmental and aid groups have joined Mr. Anoy and other Subanen leaders in denouncing the mine.
*TVI* is "the worst possible advertisement for Canada and Canadian mining," says Geoff Nettleton of the Philippines Indigenous Peoples Links and co-author of a scathing 2004 review of the mine by British-based Christian Aid.
"They have been prepared to commit abuses and misrepresent local sentiments" to overcome their opposition, he adds. The municipality of Siocon, which includes the village at Canatuan, has elected an anti-mine mayor three times in a row. At a public meeting last November, 740 people signed a petition to halt the mine.
The project has a decade-long history of bitter and ugly battles between pro- and anti-mine factions.
*TVI* supporters have accused Mr. Anoy and Onsino Mato, another indigenous anti-mine leader, of a series of crimes ranging from extortion to child abuse and even murder.
For their part, anti-mine advocates accuse the company of dirty tricks, human-rights abuses and resorting to smear campaigns to discredit them.
Last February, Mr. Mato appealed to the United Nations to intervene, adding that a goon squad of *TVI* guards had tried to kill him.
A delegation also met with non-governmental organizations and politicians in Ottawa in November 2004 and in 2000. Both factions will appear before the Commons subcommittee on human rights and international development in the next few weeks.
Conflict over the mine has resulted in bloodshed: Four protesters at a roadblock last March were injured after the company's paramilitary security force fired warning shots. *TVI* says guards reacted only after a protester threw a rock through a truck window.
In 2002, a radical Islamic guerrilla group twice ambushed *TVI* vehicles, killing 13 people. Relatives of the victims accused Mr. Mato and Mr. Anoy of paying the group for the hit, but the court case was dismissed. (They are now appealing.) Mr. Anoy and Mr. Mato say the case was part of a smear campaign.
The latest eruption in this vitriolic battle has been sparked by the relocation announcement. One resident, Josie Gonzaga, claims the Canadian company's paramilitary force told her " 'something' would happen to me" if she didn't agree to move.
*TVI* vehemently denies strong-arming the families. A news release by the company acknowledges that 69 families must be relocated by March 1, but insists the majority are non-indigenous squatters who have no right to be there in the first place.
These families, along with the 18 indigenous households still on the site, have been offered financial compensation and relocation to a new village being built by the company, according to the statement.
Juanito Tumangkis, chairman of the Subanen Council of Elders, says in a separate statement that the vast majority of Subanen support the relocation effort, and that the tribal council, not the mine, has issued the eviction notice.
"Jose 'Boy' Anoy does not speak for the Subanon community," Mr. Tumangkis insists, arguing that Mr. Anoy is not, as he claims, the hereditary chief of the Subanon, but an embittered, corrupt ally of the non-indigenous squatters, whose small-scale mining operations were shut down after *TVI* arrived.
Mr. Anoy and his followers hotly deny those allegations. They have been boycotting the council of elders and the Siocon Subano Association Inc., saying that both had been hijacked by *TVI* through a series of dirty tricks.