MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Canatuan residents want to to live peacefully; TVI says it's bringing benefits to residents

Published by MAC on 2004-02-15

Canatuan residents want to to live peacefully; TVI says it's bringing benefits to residents

Violeta M. Gloria, MindaNews

15 February 2004

MT. CANATUAN, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte -- “Don’t we have constitutional rights to live in our homes peacefully?”

Residents here asked this question as they detailed their plight after Toronto Ventures Incorporated (TVI), a Canadian-owned mining firm, entered this area with a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) in 1996.

They alleged that small-scale miners with “ball mills” were closed forcibly and their property taken by TVI workers without the owners’ consent. There were 35 small scale miners then.

“All of them were successfully closed by TVI.. and our dreams to offer better lives for our children came to naught,” said Apolonia Bulagao, 74, sitio leader.

“Tailing ponds of the small scale miners were also collected by TVI, without the owner’s approval,” said George Binaro, 52, a worker of Eddie Capero, one of the small scale miners of Canatuan before TVI’s entry.

Binaro recalled how Capero cried when he learned that TVI sacked his mine tailings in November last year in his absence and without his consent. “Those 10,000 sacks gathered from the tailing ponds of Capero still have gold if processed,” said Binaro.

Alexander Loyloy, engaged in buying mine tailings here, filed a complaint against TVI and its officers last December 18 for allegedly sacking more than 50,000 bags of mine tailings of high grade gold.

Loyloy alleged that the bags of mine tailings were hauled in three cargo trucks and transported to TVI’s cyanidation plan and milled there.

“TVI earned P1.5 million from it to my damage and prejudice,” Loyloy said in his affidavit.

Timuay Jose “Boy” Anoy tried to stop the sacking but was warded off. Anoy testified against TVI and recalled that he was about to take a picture of the sacking activity but was immediately encircled by armed security guards of TVI.

At least 30 members of a women’s organization here alleged they were ordered by some TVI personnel to dismantle their houses and to transfer to another area “because the company will now resume drilling operations.”

Joy Gonzaga, who is giving birth soon, and her husband Jess, related that residents of Canatuan were told by TVI personnel to leave the area “in exchange for half sack of rice and P1,000 pesos and a free ticket if some of us would wish to go elsewhere in Mindanao.”

The couple expressed anxiety that their plants will be bulldozed when they leave the area temporarily as Joy is giving birth to their third child soon.

“Most of the tailing ponds of former small scale miners were sacked by TVI workers when the owners were not around… they might do the same to us especially that they have told us that they want to make a road for the drilling they are currently undergoing in areas where we have plants,” Gonzaga said.

Several poles with blue ribbons have been installed, allegedly as a symbol for “the drilling point.”

Nilda Batoon, 52 and mother of seven, showed to MindaNews a pole installed a step away from her house. “One of the TVI personnel, Cynthia Comisas, came to me and said my house would be affected by the drilling,” Batoon said, adding Comisas “asked me what I would ask from the company in exchange.”

“I am not asking anything from the company and I have no plans to leave my own home,” she said, adding, “all I need is peace of mind and to be free from this harassment,” Batoon said.

Comisas could not be reached for comment.

Floro Galvez, neighbor of Nilda, told MindaNews “all of us here were asked by the company to move out.”

This area has around 300 households, 200 of whom are Subanens.

“Why would we leave our homes and our livelihood? We are Filipinos and we own this land… foreigners cannot own this. This is our land, not TVI’s,” Galvez declared.

Roseminda Villanueva, a storekeeper, said her husband, who was working in the company’s drilling project, was terminated when the company learned she attended a symposium on people’s rights against the mining operations of TVI.

“They said I am under observation and that it would be useless for us to repair our houses because these will be dismantled soon,” she said.

“If they will bulldoze our houses here, that is the worst human rights violation that we will experience,” she said. “They will not only be destroying our homes, they will also be destroying our dreams, our lives, and our rights,” she said.

The women’s organization gathered in their two-hectare communal farm last February 7.

“This communal farm is our alternative livelihood after ball mills were demolished by TVI,” said Bulagao.

Jocelyn Macalisang, a resident of the sitio, recalled that there were TVI officials who met the residents before and in the course of the dialogue “they threatened us that we will be massacred by their soldiers if we will not heed their demands.”

Macalisang said she stood up and told TVI workers that “if our human rights and our lives will be severely violated that way, we will all rise up against the company.”

MindaNews e-mailed TVI’s Mindanao communications officer, Lullie Micabalo on February 10 but Micabalo has yet to answer. A follow-up message sent to Micabalo’s mobile phone today, Sunday, also yielded no answer.

But in a press release published by the The Mindanao Observer in Dipolog City on February 8, TVI announced that they have cleaned 24,000 tons of mine tailings “abandoned by the small miners”.

The press statement said it has “completed the cleanup of the cyanide and mercury-laced tailings left behind by the illegal small-scale miner operations at Canatuan…”

The cleanup and processing program was initiated in December 2002, “as a result of the Partial Declaration of Mining Feasibility issued by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), and the support of the Presidential Assistant for Mindanao (OPAMIN), Mr. Jesus Dureza,” it said.

“For many years small-scale miners illegally excavated ore from Canatuan and extracted gold and silver using crude and environmentally damaging processes,” it said, adding that TVI “purchased sacks of cyanide and mercury-polluted tailings from small-scale miners and processed them in TVI’s modern Canatuan mill, which had previously been used as a Pilot Plant to test the viability of a long-term mining project in the area.”

“As a result, the cyanide and mercury that were used in the illegal rod-mills and cyanide plants will no longer be a threat to the downstream river systems and the Siocon environment,” it said.

The press statement noted that TVI estimates “it has processed over one million sacks of tailings, amounting to over 24,000 tonnes of material, during the yearlong program.”

“Valuable gold and silver resources were saved from being wasted. The revenues from the production at the plant have: contributed to the financing of the cleanup itself, improving the local environment; contributed tax revenues to the country and to the Province of Zamboanga del Norte; provided royalty payments to the Siocon Subanen community under the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed in November 2003, provided jobs for many local people, including over 200 members of the Subanen Community; and improved health and education facilities in sitio Canatuan “

MindaNews asked TVI’s Micabalo several questions, including “how much in terms of pesos, were you able to earn from the processed tailings?” but has yet to receive an answer.

TVI said the Subanen community has received three royalty payments from the cleanup, for a total of P819,000.

”Now that the cleanup is finished, TVI is in a position to move to the next phase of the Canatuan Mining Project, as approved under the three-year Work Program of the Partial Declaration of Mining Feasibility. The first step will be to upgrade the access roads to the mill site and to the community. At the same time, the company will substantially expand the capacity of the Canatuan Mill, and finally, begin construction of the mine itself. Over its planned life, the mine will extract gold, silver, copper and zinc, and will be a major generator of tax revenues and employment in the Canatuan and Siocon areas. In addition to developing and operating the Canatuan Mining Project, TVI will, at the same time, work with the Subanen community and other groups to promote and undertake a wide range of social development programs that will greatly improve local health, education and economic conditions in the area,” the statement added.

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