MAC: Mines and Communities

Siocon Local Government Unit opposes Canadian mining company’s operations

Published by MAC on 2004-03-04

Siocon Local Government Unit opposes Canadian mining company’s operations

Violeta M. Gloria, MindaNews

04 March 2004

SIOCON, Zamboanga del Norte -- The municipal government of Siocon led Mayor Ceasar Soriano will file a temporary restraining order against Toronto Ventures, Inc. (TVI), a Canadian-owned mining corporation operating in Mount Canatuan, for its alleged violation of the “social acceptability clause” that demands a “free and prior informed consent” from the community before it could proceed to a full-blast open-pit mining operation.

Soriano said that TVI has been doing exploration works in Mount Canatuan without the legal consent of the local government unit.

This he said during a dialogue he called attended my multi-sectoral groups, officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and from its Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), representatives from the Catholic church and from the Muslim community, residents and small scale miners of Mt. Canatuan, and municipal councilors last Feb. 26.

Soriano divulged in the forum that the TVI has not paid its taxes this year.

He asked Engr. Jack Soriano, MGB officer-in-charge, to brief the local government on TVI’s eight-year exploration, “on why the resolutions against the mining operation in Mount Canatuan raised by the people of Siocon was not heeded by the MGB.”

Mayor Soriano clarified that there was no municipal resolution approving the grant of Mineral Production Sharing Agreement for the TVI which will serve as its basis for exploration and for mining.

“Was there a maneuvering, manufacturing and manipulations of documents just to secure the MGB’s consent for exploration and mining here?” the mayor asked Engr. Soriano.

But Engr. Soriano insists that TVI was able to secure resolutions supporting its operation, particularly from the barangay council of Tabayo of Canatuan in Siocon and from the barangay council of Kilalaban in Baliguian town, a neighboring municipality.

But the mayor said they were able to obtain an affidavit from barangay officials in Tabayo that the resolution supporting the mining operation in Canatuan was forged in the absence of the other members of the barangay council.

Thus, the mayor said the TVI only secured resolutions from a neighboring town not directly affected by the mining operation.

Mayor Soriano lamented that the LGU is not being kept abreast of TVI’s operation in the Canatuan nor were there any documents forwarded to his office that will show that TVI has complied with all the requirements in pursuing its operation.

“This is the saddest part because we are not even informed of what they are doing up there when we are the immediate community that will be directly affected by the environmental damage that will happen as a result of the mining,” the mayor complained.

“It is a slap on our face that even our invitation for TVI’s presence in this forum was not honored … which shows disrespect to this local government unit under which they are operating,” he declared. “We are kept blind here when so many lives and properties are endangered by the mining operation,” he added.

Engr. Soriano insisted in the forum that TVI has all the legal documents that will support its operation.

The DENR sent its record officer, Bert Andos, who told the forum that he was not in any capacity to answer queries but was only tasked to gather information discussed in the meeting.

Andos, stripped of authority to explain the agency’s side on the issue, denied certainty whether there was already an inventory of trees and species that will be uprooted due to the expansion program, drilling operation, and road projects made by TVI in Canatuan.

Engr. Soriano explained that TVI took circuitous routes just to evade trees and plants in the making of access roads towards 40 drilling points.

“Do not tell us that no tress and plants were destroyed in the making of access roads. We must be honest here,” Mayor Soriano countered.

MindaNews toured over bulldozed and expanded network of access roads from barangay Kilalaban to Mount Canatuan and within the areas where drilling were conducted in over 40 to 45 points and towards the apex of Mount Canatuan where TVI will conduct their open pit mining operation by April 1 this year.

“Of course, this needs permit from the DENR but I cannot tell in this forum whether a permit has been granted or not,” the mayor further said.

Engr. Soriano denied any knowledge on the speculations raised by fisher folks, farmers and fish pond growers that the TVI is opening its processing mill’s tailing ponds contaminated with chemicals used in gold milling when there is heavy rainfall.

Irked by the situation, Mayor Soriano told MGB, “What is the notion here? That the TVI can pursue mining operation because the national government said so at our expense here?”

The mayor noted that TVI may have approved contracts based on MGB’s statements, but said “not all contracts that bind this operation are legal contracts. Social acceptability must be met first.”

Municipal councilor Lunie Lucas read Resolution No. 22 s. 2002 containing the strong opposition of the municipality of Siocon on the mining operation that will be undertaken by TVI and the small scale miners. He said that this resolution, unanimously agreed upon by the council and supported by the residents of Siocon, was submitted to the MGB years ago.

“Whatever happened to this document? Why was our opposition not registered in the office of MGB? This office instead granted permit for exploration and mining operation to TVI?” Lucas asked Engr. Soriano.

The resolution states the constitutional mandates of the LGU in enjoying genuine and meaningful autonomy in exercising its authorities and functions for the ultimate protection, conservation, management, development, and proper use of their environment and natural resources within their territorial jurisdiction.

It also states its shared responsibility in the management and maintenance of its ecological balance based on environmental laws, including the effective and sustainable protection and enhancement of environment’s quality for the present and future generation.

It also states that the TVI’s open-pit mining operation is great risk for the public, citing “exposure of public health or the environment to toxic substances; hazardous or organic wastes that tremendously lead to air and water pollution; occurrence of landslides and erosions as an aftermath to excavation and extraction of natural resources that endangered life, health, property, biological and socio-economic environment.”

“This is a clear and present danger to our community,” Lucas stressed.

Engr. Soriano said that TVI has permit for exploration for a two-year period, renewable for another two years until it reaches 10 years. The 10-year period, Soriano explained, is part of the 25 years allowed under the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) they obtained from the government.

Soriano said that TVI is now on its eighth year of exploration and the MGB office has already given them permit to open-pit mine the 120 hectares that is part of the 508.34 hectares of land granted for mining under the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) they entered into with the Philippine government.

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