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Protests Against Canadian Mining Company Voiced at United Nations

Published by MAC on 2004-07-27

Protests Against Canadian Mining Company Voiced at United Nations

27th July 2004

Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links

Timuay Noval Lambo and Onsino Mato, both leaders of their Subanon Indigenous communities in the southern part of the Zamboanga peninsula, travelled last week to Geneva, Switzerland, to raise complaints before the United Nations.

They protested that a sacred mountain and watershed was in danger from a gold mining project of Canadian mining company TVI Pacific. Reportedly TVI have been granted a Philippine Government license (Mineral Production Sharing Agreement) to develop a mine on Mount Canatuan in Siocon Municipality, Zamboanga del Norte. The company’s plans are opposed by the Subanon peoples on the site - whose homes and farms will be destroyed - and also by the Municipal Mayor Cesar Soriano and authorities of Siocon and its mixed Subanon, Moro and Christian settler communities.

They fear the impacts of mine discharge on their health, and livelihoods. Siocon is an area famous for its rice production and inshore fisheries. Feelings have been running high in the community. In March 2004 company guards fired their guns and wounded four picketers who were trying to prevent the company’s heavy equipment moving onto the site

Speaking before the 22nd session of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations on 22nd July, Timuay (chieftain) Lambo reported their concern that the community of Canatuan was divided and suffering harm as a result of conflict over the planned mine. TVI has been repeatedly identified as proceeding without local consent, perpetrating acts of violence, militarizing the area and maintaining armed checkpoints controlling access to Canatuan. Company employees, including local Subanon, have also been killed in two attacks on company vehicles believed carried out by rebel forces operating the area.

Timuay Lambo told of the efforts of traditional leaders to deal with the problem. Between 2nd and 6th February 2004 the Gokum, or traditional court of the Subanon, was called together in Siocon. Elders and leaders from different communities in the region met to consider testimony and determine the links to this ancestral land area of the different claimants to the leadership of the Canatuan Subanon.

In his statement Timuay Lambo made clear to UN experts that in the view of the Gokum:

“We ruled that many of those included in the so-called Council of Elders [the body imposed on the Subanon to attempt to bring together the opposing parties] are not of the clan and blood of our ancestor Manglang, and not even originating from the Canatuan area. And therefore had no claim to be representatives of the Canatuan people.”

He further reported the decision that:-

“any and all agreements entered into by the ”Council of Elders“ or some members of that Council were ruled null and void. We imposed a fine of 1 bulos (equivalent of PHP1,000) on each of those involved in the creation of a false body and misrepresentation of local structures of leadership.”

According to TVI Pacific they secured the support of the people of Canatuan for their project in a meeting of a local Council of Elders that met in November 2002 in the Atelano Pension House in Zamboanga City. Some leaders of the community have persistently denied the legitimacy of this claim and denounced the Pension house meeting and its support for TVI as a trick.

Prior to the 2002 Pension House meeting the mining plan had been consistently opposed by local Subanon since TVI first entered the area in 1994. However in November 2001 Subanon, many from outside the Canatuan area, and including some who have moved there to specifically work for TVI, were recognised by the company as the true representatives of the local Subanon.

This shift in recognition was initiated by Attorney Pablo Bernardo, himself a Subanon from another district. Bernardo is on record as claiming that as the ancestral land title issued by the Government, and covering 8,000 hectares in and around Canatuan, is given to ”the Subanon of Zamboanga del Norte” that the influx of Subanon from other districts is legitimate. This assertion is strongly opposed by the traditional elders who clarify that only those with a long association with that land should have ancestral rights to it.

Attorney Bernardo supports the TVI mining plans which he points out have central government support. He too attended the meeting in Geneva. Attorney Bernardo did not speak in the UN meeting but did distribute a signed letter denouncing the other Subanon who spoke in opposition to the TVI project. The letter also strongly criticises the activities of the DCMI, a church based organisation established by the bishops and church leaders of the catholic dioceses of Dipolog, Ipil, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi and headed by Bishop José Manguiran of Dipolog. DCMI was established to focus on mining issues and its impact on communities. Attorney Bernardo accuses the church organisation of “untrue and fabricated” reporting to “justify pouring in financial assistance mostly from foreign donors”.

Timuay Lambo submitted to the UN the findings and names of the Subanon elders who met as the Gokum.“ It is vital that those who claim to represent our peoples are validated and legitimate in the eyes of their co-tribes people and especially in the eyes of the elders who guard our traditions” he said.

TVI have reportedly started to strip the surface of Mount Canatuan and the opposition leaders were appealing for an early intervention to halt the project which they claim has failed to gain local acceptance. Canatuan is rich in gold, silver, copper and other minerals. It has already yielded returns for the company who over the last two years have processed the gold rich tailings of small-scale miners who occupied the site prior to the Canadians, and are also opposed to the entry of the company. Some small-scale miners have charged the company with theft of their tailings.

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