Local People Present a United Stand at Environmental Forum in Siocon, Zamboanga del NortePublished by MAC on 2004-11-17
Local People Present a United Stand at Environmental Forum in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte
Written by Maryanne Mutch based on the reports of Tito Fiel at DIOPIM Committee on Mining Issues (DCMI) and Violeta Gloria at MindaNews
17 November 2004
Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte On November 12, 2004 the people in Siocon were given a rare opportunity to speak their mind to the Presidential Assistant to Mindanao and other levels of government at an Environmental Forum in Jose Rizal Memorial School. Given the chance to make their voice heard, the people effectively lobbied against the presence of TVI Pacific, a Canadian mining company. At the end of the forum, 740 observers expressed their opposition to TVI by signing statements addressed to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that demanded the cessation of mining operations on Mt. Canatuan and the cancellation of TVI's Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA). These actions brought TVI's credibility into question, since the company has long claimed to both the Philippine and Canadian Governments that it has overwhelming support from both the local and adjacent communities.
Observers were heartened by the apparent success of the forum. They are still waiting, however, for the Government to take a firm stand on this issue and support the local people. There were fears beforehand that the forum could easily become a platform for TVI to present its views and pressure the local people into a settlement. The schedule did not seem conducive to constructive dialogue and the forum been previously postponed for unclear reasons. Bishop Jose Manguiran of Dipolog had publicly boycotted the forum because he was suspicious of the planning. All of these concerns led DCMI and the Save Siocon Paradise Movement (SSPM) to be especially watchful in the days leading up to the forum. They worked closely with the affected communities to make sure that they would be active participants in the discussions.
Thus, when Jesus Dureza the Presidential Assistant to Mindanao arrived at the forum he was greeted by a group of about 1000 protesters who were standing outside the school. This group included elementary students, children and Subanon and Moro residents. The children carried white sacks with anti-mining logos and sang songs about environmental care. The adults carried placards which contained statements such as, "Stop TVI Cancel its MPSA!" and "DENR, let the people of Siocon live in harmony with nature!" Subanon tribespeople displayed a banner which proclaimed, "We the people of Guinabucan, Butalian, Malubal, JS Perpecto and Kipit strongly oppose the TVI expansion in our area on its present operation". Moro residents waved posters with anti-mining slogans written in Arabic.
Once Dureza pushed his way into the school he found himself in a well attended forum. Many people had come from the local community and other affected areas. Other attendees included Effren Carreon, the Assistant Regional Director of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA); Darunday, a Provincial Board Member of Zamboanga del Norte; Mamao Macapodi, the Regional Director of the Mines Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and a representative of the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR), and the Mayors of the neighbouring communities of Sirawai, Sibuco, and Baligian. The representatives from various grassroot groups were also present. These included organizations of Muslims, Christians, Subanons, fisher folk, fishpond growers, irrigators, farmers, and more formal NGOs like the Save Siocon Paradise Movement (SSPM).
Cesar Soriano, Mayor of Siocon, opened the forum by announcing that, "This is the first forum where all stakeholders and government agencies' officials, national and provincial officials sat face-to-face with each other to peacefully tackle issues and fears." He declared that the meeting was a sign of hope for their children and a challenge to the leaders to assume environmental stewardship for the future.
Various observers took this declaration seriously and decided to challenge TVI and various Government Agencies on their poor environmental stewardship. Heated discussion arose when local religious, production, and political groups announced their "non-negotiable stand" on the operations of TVI on Mt. Canatuan. All of them were strongly opposed to the continuation of TVI's open pit mining activities in the area.
Mayor Soriano and Lunie Lucas, a Municipal Councillor and Head of Committee on the Environment, restated the opposition of the local government by reading the municipal resolution which prohibits all forms of mining because of its environmentally destructive nature. Mayor Soriano reminded the participants that the town has been declared as an "environmentally critical area" by the DENR because of its flood-prone nature. Soriano said, "If open-pit mining operations are continued, we fear that one rainy night... we will be carried by flash floods to the sea."
Soriano then posed questions to Emmuanuel Malari of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) about the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was done in order to allow TVI to operate. Malari said that an EIA was completed, but he was unable to answer more specific questions about it. Soriano reprimanded Malari for this and accused the department of not conducting their own research into this issue.
Dureza then asked the EMB and the MGB about the Multipartite Monitoring Team (MMT) that is supposed to conduct quarterly environmental assessments of TVI's operations. He stated that there should be "a continuous monitoring of the environmental impact on mining." He then asked if it was possible for multi-sectoral representatives to be in the monitoring team.
While the representative from MGB was assuring Dureza that this was possible, Godofredo Galos the Chair of Save Siocon Foundation - stood up and gained Dureza's attention. He said, "We do not need that team. The people of Siocon are higher than that MMT. We are the people, we should be listened to. We want the cancellation of the MPSA of TVI and we want that company out of here". This comment raised a strong favourable response from the audience. Counsellor Lucas supported Galos' comments by saying, "We don't support the creation of the monitoring team because this company operated without the social acceptance of the people in Siocon."
The people of Siocon stood opposed to the strengthening of a monitoring team because they feared it was another grab for legitimacy from TVI. They rightly pointed out that there was hardly a need for a process like monitoring since the whole operation is illegal without their support. If the foundation is flawed, why inspect the window dressings? They fear that a multi-sector monitoring force may push them into a settlement with TVI where their autonomy is compromised.
Religious leaders also made a stand. Father Edgar Agura, a parish priest from Siocon announced, "I condemn any form of environmental destruction under my area of responsibility." Movin Abunawas, a Muslim leader, pointed out that 60-70% of the local Muslims are fisherfolks and another 5% work in the rice fields. He demanded that the Government advise TVI to leave the area now since their presence was having a negative affect on both of these industries.
The leaders of irrigators and fishpond operators, Victor Celeste and Rosendo Canlas respectively, testified further that the mining operations were having a hazardous effect on the livelihoods of those that they represent.
Timuay Fernando Mudai, a leader of Piksalabukan Bansa Subanon (PBS) stated opposition to the company on behalf of the Subanon people the he represents. He told the forum that his people did not want to be strangers in their own land. He explained that the company has been disregarding the legitimate land claim of his people and has instead recognized another group of Subanon from outside the area. He stated that "TVI has been using Subanon who are without Timuay lineage to justify Subanon support to the mining operation, which is contrary to our customary laws." To back up this claim, Mudai submitted a number of documents to the DENR secretary Mike Defensor. These included the resolution of traditional Subanon court about the illegal nature of Council of Elders in Canatuan, Siocon, a petition against the company's expansion plan of operation in Zamboanga Sibugay, and an open letter to President Gloria M. Arroyo about mining issues from a group of Subanon women.
The Secretary of the Siocon Subanon Association - Oncino Mato requested that government officials show proper respect to the altar of his forefather Apu Manglang. Mato is one the holders of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain that was granted by the Government in 2003. Thus, he felt it was his right to call for the cancellation of TVI's MPSA without delay. He also stated that "this position is non-negotiable and there should be no compromise." John Ridsdel, the country representative of TVI, seemed ill equipped to deal with the strong opposition presented by the local community. Observers delighted in telling how he seemed to fall off of his chair while listening to the attacks on his company. Risdal defended his company by saying that it was invited by the Philippine Government as an engine of growth for the private sector. He also claimed that his company had brought social services into the community. He suggested that there was a need for dialogue where his company could give scientific answers about the mining operation. However, later he failed in providing those answers when challenged by an onslaught of questions from the opposition.
At the close of the forum, Counsellor Lucas asked Presidential Assistant Dureza to bring the voices of the people of Siocon to the highest levels of government. Dureza agreed in return to present these issues to the concerned government agencies. While looking at the officials from them EMB and the MGB he said, "I call on government agencies to look seriously on the compiled position papers of the sectors and of the Subanon tribe."
After the forum ended, protestors signed streamers painted with the words "Malooy ka Gloria, Ihunong ang TVI" (Have pity on us Gloria, stop TVI). They then brought these streamers to the post office in Siocon and mailed them off to the President and Mike Defensor, the secretary of DENR.