MAC/20: Mines and Communities

According to initial reports the four were shot when heavily armed members of a company financed par

Published by MAC on 2004-03-23

According to initial reports the four were shot when heavily armed members of a company financed paramilitary force known as the SCAA (Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary), led by TVI Security Consultant Retired Col Edang fired their automatic weapons. The company at first denied the incident. Later they acknowledged the shooting but denied their security fired into the crowd. However, four protesters were wounded and taken to hospital and one was left with a bullet lodged in his knee. The SCAA are a force given a brief basic training by the Philippine military, armed by the military but paid for by the company and assigned exclusively to company security.

The four who were taken to hospital were identified as Subanon Chieftain (Timuay) Macario Salacao, who is also the President of the Siocon Federation of Subanon Tribal Council (SFSTC), Edie Cayabyab, Juan Veloria and Dakbot Lorete. All four belonged to the local “Save the Paradise and watershed movement”.

Background

This is the latest incident in a ten year struggle between the company and the local community. Opposition to the proposed mine comes from many groups. The Subanon Indigenous People and other residents at the proposed mine site in Canatuan have been consistently and overwhelmingly opposed to the company’s plans. Recently the company has claimed it has the support of some local people but these claims are rejected by Subanon leaders inside and outside the community who point out that TVI’s support comes mainly from its own mining and security employees many of whom only migrated to the area for the work and have no legitimate claim to speak for the local community. The so-called leaders backed by TVI are not recognised as such by other Subanon.

The planned mine is strongly opposed by the local mayor, municipal council and most village councillors in Siocon. Farmers’ organisations and coastal fishing communities and the indigenous and settler communities along the riverside that flows out of the mine area also fear and oppose the mine. Timuay Salacao (one of the wounded) is one of their leaders. The project is rejected by indigenous Subanon organisations across the whole Zamboanga peninsular. The Catholic Bishop of Dipolog Monsignor Jose Manguiran and the respected Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines have also called specifically for a halt to the proposed Canatuan mine.

TVI arrived in the area in 1994. They did not receive the necessary permission of the Subanon people of Canatuan at that time or later. The company established and maintains armed checkpoints controlling access to the area. There have been previous violent incidents including others where local residents have been shot and wounded. The company guards are also accused of using the checkpoints to bar access to essential goods, and bar entry to some individuals. Timuay Jose Anoy, who is the Government-recognised leader of the Canatuan Subanon community and a strong opponent of the mine, has filed a court case against the company’s security force for denying him passage through his own ancestral lands. In 1999 the Subanon and other local residents mounted a picket to prevent the entry of drilling equipment. Picketers were tied up, beaten with sticks and two were arrested. A report by the Philippine Human Rights Commission acknowledged the high level of opposition to the mine and identified the presence of the company as the main cause of the conflict and violence.

Siocon contains remaining densely forested areas. The government defines it as a critical environmental zone. The mine site is in a vital watershed. Among local people there is the expectation that here, as elsewhere, mining will pollute the river and lead to further deforestation. Along the river they have already noted negative effects from the operation of the company’s cyanide plant. The proposed site of the mine includes an area the Subanon protect as sacred. The excavation of the mine will also require the forced relocation and dismantling of the houses of many Subanon and settler families who have lived on the site since before the entry of the company. Many refuse to move. The majority of local Subanon have made clear they absolutely reject TVI both because they oppose large-scale mining and because of the abuse and disrespect they feel they have experienced at the hands of this company.

The Subanon have even voiced their opposition at meetings of the United Nations in Geneva and in Canada where they held meetings with the Canadian Government. Within the Philippines their resistance is well known. In the Philippines it is a legal requirement to secure local acceptance prior to the development of a mine. Within ancestral lands there is normally a strong legal obligation to secure the free prior informed consent of the indigenous community. TVI however say they are not required to secure this consent. According to the Philippine Mining Code of 1995 and other legislation the Government has the power to revoke mining licenses. The Canatuan Subanon have filed a case to have the TVI licence revoked. The Mayor of Siocon, Cesar Soriano, has also challenged the legality of the TVI operations. Yet the company are allowed to proceed.

Despite the strong and sustained opposition, the clear record of abuses and many unresolved accusations against TVI and its security force this project has inexplicably continued to receive strong backing from both the Philippine and Canadian governments. The company claims that it is bringing development and benefit to the area. They further claim to have secured all the necessary local consent. Many people in the area insist with ever-increasing desperation that this is untrue. The Subanon specifically reject large-scale mining as a route to sustainable development. The desperation is fuelled by the refusal of the central government authorities to recognise the many clear and strong expressions of opposition.

The mine itself has become a major source of conflict in an already conflict affected region. The victims are virtually always the local people. In 2002 a company truck was ambushed by persons unknown and local Subanon including some company employees and their relatives were killed. The situation is made worse by the militarization associated with the project.

Urgent action is needed to calm the situation, avoid further bloodshed, investigate the latest incident and bring to justice the perpetrator(s). We are fearful of continuing conflict and permanent damage to the land of the Subanon. There is urgent need for a strong call for a halt to the current efforts of the company to press on despite opposition. It is vital that local views and those of the Indigenous people whose lands are to be exploited are fully respected. At present they feel abused isolated and ignored.

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