Philippines UpdatePublished by MAC on 2006-04-28
28th April 2006
The southern island of Mindanao continues to feature heavily in plans for mining in the Philippines, and in the opposition to it. The legal battle of TVI's mine at Canatuan continues with the local Subanon filing a petition to cancel the mining permit, which TVI are resisting. The church has expressed its concern over the almost inevitable militarisation that the Tamapkan mine will bring to the local community. Anti-mining advocates in Mindanao have also come together from across the island into a broad alliance, and issued a statement for an alternative mining policy. Nationally, the legal battle continues as DESAMA, with the support of the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, have filed a motion urging the Philippines Supreme Court to set aside its recent decision which upheld the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995. Finally the controversy over Lafayette continues as evidence is presented to the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission of heavy metals in the bodies of local people.
Mindanao Convergence Of Advocates for an Alternative Mining Policy
Maharlika Training Center, Lipata, Surigao City
17th - 21st April 2006
"Remember, LORD, what has happened to us; look, and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We have become fatherless, our mothers are widows. We must buy the water we drink; our wood can be had only at a price. Those who pursue us are at our heels; we are weary and find no rest. (Lamentations 5: 1-5)
Ours is a mining industry lorded over by transnational corporations and by the whims and caprices of the globalized mining industry. It is a mining industry that further entrenches our maldevelopment by stunting our national industrialization ideally anchored on the rational utilization of our vast and varied mineral base. It is a mining industry that extracts, rapes, denudes, divests, drains, and brings about division and death to our environment and indigenous peoples. It is a mining industry that invades our territory, steals our sovereignty, corrupts our system of governance, circumvents the rule of law, and violates the dignity of persons and of Creation.
We have seen these things first hand in the destruction wrought by transnational and local large scale mining firms on the social and environmental landscape of Surigao del Norte. Deepening and widening wounds are eminent on the face of a province that is a haven for rich aquatic resources and marine life, rice fields, vegetation, and forestry. The environmental degradation that we have witnessed provided us a microcosm of the extensive damage large scale mining ushers into Mindanao, in particular.
Large scale mining companies are salivating and, in fact, are already ravaging part of Mindanao's3.6 billion metric tons of metallic and 8 billion metric tons of non-metallic mineral reserves--- making up half of the country's 7.1 billion metric tons of minerals. Eleven of the 24 priority mining projects declared by the government are in Mindanao. These foreign companies, aided by their local dummies, bring about displacement and human rights violations through militarization.
We debunk the sales pitch of the Arroyo administration to encourage large scale mining investments in the country. These are rehashed myths and lies spinned to portray large scale mining TNCs as harbingers of our development and economic salvation. The global and national mining situation is replete with evidence that TNC mining in fact displaces productive human resource and increase unemployment, leave mining areas as ghost towns, slacken national growth, and disintegrates cultures and societies, aside from the obvious ecological damage.
We are concerned that our people are fast losing faith in the institutional processes of government. As government engages in a fervid sales pitch abroad to promote the vast potentials of our mineral lands, we increasingly see the bureaucracy not standing on the side of the people. The Supreme Court ruling upholding the Constitutionality of the Mining Act also sends the signal to all that the judicial process is a long-shot recourse even as we try to avail of whatever remaining legal remedies we can to prolong, defend, or mitigate the incursion of large scale mining.
We are the mining-affected and threatened communities, the religious, indigenous peoples, Moro, small scale miners, people's organizations, and non-government organizations coming from various networks, charisms, persuasions, and subregions in Mindanao.
We bind ourselves in our common understanding that largescale mining is a great social and environmental plague that deserves to be exorcised from our country and from our communities. We likewise strongly uphold that the time to protect our national patrimony and sovereignty is now, when largescale mining plunder is unprecedented as ever in its insidious attacks
We endeavor to create an ever-increasing synergy of people's mobilizations to resist largescale mining in Mindanao by contributing our various independent, inter-dependent, and complementary anti-mining initiatives.
Our unity is propelled by our common appreciation of the need for genuine national industrialization and for a mining policy that is pro-people and pro-environment.
While we are aware that the initial unities we have gained in this convergence need to be further refined and strengthened given our social, economic, and cultural divergences, we are firm in our resolve that the fight at this moment is to be concentrated on largescale mining TNCs and their local agents.
We unite today with the pledge to continue deepening our understanding of national industrialization and enhancing the People's Alternative Mining Policy for the interest of the peoples and environment especially of Mindanao.
Our Calls and Commitment
We therefore unwaveringly call to RESIST THE LIBERALIZATION OF THE MINING INDUSTRY by SCRAPPING THE MINING ACT OF 1995!
We oppose landgrabbing of ancestral domains by mining TNCs and the ensuing ethnocide of our Lumad peoples in Mindanao.
We push for Filipino-owned, regulated small-scale mining leading towards nationalization of the mining industry for genuine industrialization.
We oppose Charter Change as a sinister scheme of the Arroyo government to altogether delete the remaining provisions that protect the economy, our ecology, and our peoples civil and political liberties.
We uphold the People's Alternative Mining Policy as the framework of a sovereign national mining industry that serves as a catalyst of our national industrialization.
We call for greater accountability of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her fervent push for mining revitalization through the Mineral Action Plan.
We direct particular calls to the Church to be unrelenting in their opposition to largescale mining and to concretize its pastoral care and guidance by journeying with mining-affected communities in their struggles; we likewise call on the media to faithfully report and critically interpret the destruction large scale mining wreaks; we call on local government officials to support their people's calls for the scrapping of the Mining Act.
Finally, we call upon ourselves to KEEP FAITH, that our collective and organized action shall bear fruit as we struggle to defend our patrimony and ensure the same for the sake of our children.
Our Common action
Today, we declare our CONVERGENCE.
We believe that our convergence should be an action- and response-oriented forum of anti-mining initiatives in Mindanao.
We shall continue to be a forum of learning the framework of national industrialization and enhancing our alternative policy and framework; we take up the Agham/Defend Patrimony and LRC framework and proposals as concrete first steps towards defining our alternatives Massive Information-Education-Campaign materials to aid our education drive in communities and organizations; a Mindanao-wide signature campaign to register our broadest opposition to large scale mining.
We commit to generate support and solidarity with and among the grassroots of Mindanao against large scale mining plunder. By this, we join with the farmers to call for the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform. We call for the end of militarization in the mining affected communities. Uphold the indigenous peoples and Moro cultural integrity and identity towards the rights to self-determination and self-governance over ancestral domain. Uphold the dignity and rights of women and children in mining affected communities.
We vow to make bolder steps by prosecuting large scale mining plunderers and their agents who have trampled upon our dignity, creation and patrimony
Approved by the 180 delegates to the Mindanao Convergence on April 20, 2006 Convenors :Sisters' Association in Mindanao (SAMIN), Foundation for Philippine Environment (FPE), Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC), Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. (MISFI), Philippine Misereor Partners (PMP), Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM), Mainit National Park Conservation Society, Zamboanga del Norte Peoples Network against Mining (ZNPAAM), Katawhang Simbahan Alang sa Malamboong Kabuhatan (KASAMAKA)
Mindanaoans band to oppose large-scale mining
By Alden C. Pantaleon Jr., MindaNews
26th April 2006
SURIGAO CITY -- Mindanao-based environmentalist groups, religious leaders and advocates of alternative mining policy have united into a broader anti-large-scale mining movement to oppose the revitalization of the country's 1995 Mining Act.
In a five-day conference held at Maharlika Training Center in Lipata, this city, some 200 delegates representing various organizations coming from provinces of Agusan del Norte, Bukidnon, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental, South Cotabato, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Dipolog and Zamboanga del Norte have forged unity to resist large-scale mining incursion in their respective communities and pushed for "Mindanao people's alternative mining policy".
The Arroyo government was forced to shelve the Republic Act 7942 otherwise known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 due to strong opposition of the people in 2003. On January 27, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that the Mining Act as a policy "favors the interest of foreign corporations" and directly assaults the country's sovereignty and patrimony. However, SC reversed its earlier ruling and declared the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippine had strongly criticized President Arroyo's effort to open the country's mining industry to foreign companies.
Sister Elsa Compuesto, MSM, executive secretary of the Sisters' Association in Mindanao (SAMIN), said the gathering of various organizations based in Mindanao would further push the "unity of diverse groups towards the opposition of large-scale mining."
The assembly dubbed as the "Mindanao convergence of advocates for alternative mining policy" was held April 17-21.It was the fifth Mindanao-wide conference on anti-mining advocates held in various provinces and cities to discuss on the environmental and social effects of foreign large-scale mining activities.
"Since the Supreme Court ruled the constitutionality of the Mining Act on 2004, the government has pushed for Mindanao as the haven of mining investment," Compuesto, also one of the key organizers, said. She added that there are 11 reported mining projects in Mindanao, four of these in Surigao.
Documents show that there are 31 Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) applications in Mindanao and 820,494 hectares of land in Southern Mindanao are covered by 13 FTAA applications of 11 mining companies.
Among them are the Benguet Corporation's copper and gold project in Pantukan; Crew Mineral's copper project in Maco; Pujada Nickel project in Davao Oriental; Taganito Mining Corporation in Claver, Surigao del Norte, QNI-Cagdianao Mining in Carrascal in Surigao del Sur; KIPPA Mining in Urbiztundo, Claver in Surigao del Norte; Manila Mining Corporation in Placer, Surigao del Norte; Nonoc Nickel Mining in Surigao del Norte; Canatuan Gold project in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte; and Western Mining Company in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
"Large-scale foreign mining companies, aided by their local dummies, bring about displacement and human rights violations through militarization," participants said in a statement. They also lambasted the Arroyo government for its "fervent push for mining revitalization through the Mindanao Action Plan."
Fr. Edwin Borlasa, MSC, chair of the Katawhang Simbahan Alang sa Malamboong Kabuhatan (KASAMAKA), said there's a need to promote and heighten public awareness on the state of the country's mining industry as well as on the environmental and social cost of mining, particularly in tribal communities. He cited evidences of environmental destruction and social displacements brought about by the Manila Mining Corporation (MMC) in Placer town.
At least 12 people have been buried alive when a tailing pond of the MMC in Sitio Tinabigan, Magsaysay in Placer town collapsed 10 years ago, Borlasa said.
Lawyer Gerry Sentro, of the Surigao City-based San Sebastian College Recoletos, said "it is sad to note that Surigao is rich in natural resources but majority of the Surigaonons are poor."He said only foreign corporations have enriched themselves while displacing hundreds of farmers and Lumads from their lands.
"We formed a human barricade at the center of the road to block the entry of MRL (Mindoro Research, Ltd.) vehicles," said Rose Calañas, vice president of the Hiniusang Katawhang Bantay sa Kinaiyahan (HKBK).
She said they were not consulted by the MRL when the latter started its mining exploration in Barangay San Francisco in Mainit, Surigao del Norte. Calañas said the residents were frightened on the effect of an almost kilometer-long land crack that traversed three puroks of Barangay San Francisco since the exploration started months ago.
Borlasa said the meter-wide crack was already reported to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in Surigao City but no positive action had been taken. He said the MGB only assured the residents that it is not dangerous but warned them to immediately evacuate from the area if continuous rain occurred.
"We need help to stop the mining exploration in our community," said Calañas, adding that the exploration permit of the MRL would expire on June this year.
Lumad participants also raised concern regarding the "divide-and-rule" scheme employed by foreign mining corporations against indigenous communities.
Floro Tabalina, secretary-general of the Zamboanga del Norte People's Alliance, said the mining operation of the Canadian firm TVI Resource Development Philippines in Siocon town has divided the Subanon tribe.
Tabalina said one group of Subanons welcome TVI's operations as having "brought progress to their community while another group blames TVI for encroaching on their sacred land." He claimed that the mining firm seems to be "happy seeing the people killing each other."
"It is a mining industry that rapes, extract, denudes, divests, drains and brings about division and death to our environment and the indigenous peoples," the conference statement said.
Tribesmen ask MGB to cancel mining permit
By Nuhman Aljani, Manila Standard
24th April 2006
ZAMBOANGA CITY-Subanon tribesmen in Zamboanga del Norte have filed a petition asking the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to cancel the mining permit issued to the Canadian-owned mining firm TVI Resource Development Phils. (TVIRD).
Lawyer Jarly Sulay Trugillo said the petition, filed on April 20, was signed by some 17 Subanon tribal leaders who claimed that the Mineral Resources Sharing Agreement or MPSA that was issued to TVIRD should be cancelled because the company violated national laws including some provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
The petitioners said TVIRD, the largest mining company operating in the peninsula, violated the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, Indigenous People's Rights Act and the Local Government Code through its mining operation in Siocon town.
Such violations, Trugillo said, are sufficient grounds for the government to terminate the company's mining permit.
Timuay Lino Tii, the representative of the Subanon leaders, said their decision to file the petition was made after the government failed to protect their rights over what they called ancestral domains.
"We earlier sought the help of local government units, the DENR, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Office of the President not to allow TVIRD to operate in the area because the mining site is part of our sacred mountain in Canatuan. But they failed to take any action to protect our rights. Harassments continued and had caused massive displacement among the residents in Canatuan," he said.
But TVIRD denied the tribesmen's allegations and said the issues the petitioners raised are merely repetitions of issues that have already been discussed in various forums and congressional hearings.
"TVIRD's MPSA with the Philippine government predates the Certificate of Ancestral Domain of the Subanon in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, despite the fact that the company enjoys prior rights over the ancestral domain claim and title. TVIRD entered into a memorandum of agreement with the Siocon Subanon Association Inc. for the development of Canatuan as a gesture of good faith and affirmative action," TVIRD said in a statement.
The petitioners, however, cited a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), which was awarded to them by the government in 2003 as substantial proof that their identity should be recognized and therefore providing them autonomy to manage their land.
But sadly, according to Timuay Jose Anoy, a Subanon tribal chieftain, their CADT has failed to enforce their legitimate claims against the mining venture in Siocon.
"The physical threats and harassments are continuous and we are even barred from entering our places [in Canatuan]," he said, adding that TVIRD has continued destructive mining practices, including the massive cutting of trees resulting in soil erosion and the pollution of rivers in Siocon, depriving the Subanens of access to potable water.
TVIRD, according to the petitioners, allegedly terrorized residents in the mining area. "The heavy presence of the military troops and the militiamen are even more than jeopardizing our rights of going back to our respective homes in Canatuan," he said.
TVI mining firm denies Subanens' accusations
By Bong Garcia Jr., MindaNews
27th April 2006
ZAMBOANGA CITY -- The TVI Resource Development Philippines, Inc. has categorically denied the accusations of the Subanen group that filed a complaint with the Panel of Arbitrators (PA) of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Western Mindanao office.
TVI public affairs director Rocky Dimaculangan said the issues the Subanens raised are mere rehash of their unfounded allegations that have been ventilated in various fora, including Congress.
Dimaculangan said TVI's Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the government pre-dates the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) of the Subanens in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.
He said that TVI has entered into a memorandum of agreement with the Siocon Subano Association, Inc. (SSAI) for the development of Canatuan as a gesture of good faith and affirmative action despite the fact that the company enjoys prior rights over the ancestral domain claim and title.
In their complaint filed before MGB on Thursday last week, the Subanens in Siocon town said they were awarded a CADT on June 12, 2003 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, making them the second indigenous peoples' community in the country whose rights were fully recognized.
However, Dimaculagan said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has approved the assignment of the MPSA to TVI pursuant to the Deed of Assignment executed between TVI and Benguet Corp. on June 16, 1997.
He also cited that DENR issued the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Certificate (CADC) on October 21, 1997 to the Subanens covering an area of 6,523 hectares in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, one week prior to the enactment of the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act (IPRA) on October 29, 1997.
He said that an archaeological assessment conducted by the Archaeological, Cultural, Environmental Consultancy, Inc. on behalf of the National Museum of the Philippines revealed that the areas affected by TVI's mining operations are negative of any Subanen archaeological or cultural materials.
"There was no evidence found of any historic or prehistoric religious practice, ever, at Mt. Canatuan," Dimaculangan said in a statement in reaction to the Subanens' claim that the mining site is part of their sacred mountain that was occupied by their ancestors since time immemorial.
He clarified that the presence of the military and militia forces in Canatuan is a precautionary measure employed to maintain peace and order in the community.
The military and militia units in Canatuan are under the direct control of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), he said.
Having invested more than $25 million into the Canatuan project, TVI is compelled to protect itself, its employees, and its community from criminal and terrorist elements who threaten to harm not only the company's physical assets but, more importantly, its on-site personnel, according to Dimaculangan.
He said on 2004 and 2005, TVI spent a total of130 million in its environmental management and protection initiatives. The company has allocated P80 million for 2006, with a possibility of increasing to P200 million.
He said the urgency to protect itself became more pronounced for TVI when two ambush incidents occurred near the project site on March 13, 2002 and December 26, 2002, resulting in the death of 15 and injuries to 20 TVI personnel and their relatives, mostly Subanens.
Dimaculangan said that since the deployment of militia forces -- mostly Subanens themselves -- the people in Canatuan have been enjoying the benefits of security.
He said TVI welcomes the proposal to extend the membership of the Multipartite Monitoring Team to include representatives of the Church, farmers' and fishermen's groups, as well as Subanens.
Mining Act's Constitutionality to Deprive RP of Economic Gains - SC Urged to Reverse Ruling on R.A. 7942
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc.- Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth-Philippines
24th April 2006
The Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the constitutionality of the Mining Act of 1995 will be detrimental to the economic interest of the government, the public and private landowners especially to the thousands of peoples who are losing their ancestral lands due to mining operations.
This was the contention of the Didipio Earth Savers' Multi-Purpose Association Inc. (DESAMA) as they filed today a motion for reconsideration urging the SC to set aside its March 30, 2006 decision which upheld the constitutionality of R.A. 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995.
The Mining Act according to DESAMA must be declared unconstitutional as it only intends to enrich mining contractors at the expense of the economic interest of the Philippine government and the Filipino people.
The Mining Act, DESAMA claims, intends to practically surrender the eminent domain power of the State to mining operators and also deprive individuals of their right to just compensation over their lands taken away from them for mining purposes.
DESAMA argued that the SC ruling erroneously delegated the power of eminent domain -- or the forcible acquisition of private property for public use -- to mining operators.
"How could the Climax Arimco Mining Corp. (CAMC) be given the power of eminent domain when it is not a private entity operating a public utility but a foreign mining corporation whose primary interest is for private gain and not for public benefit? This is tantamount to the government voluntarily giving up its sovereign power to mining operators and relinquishing its obligation to protect the interest of the public" said Peter Duyapat Sr., a member of the Board of Directors of DESAMA.
Eminent domain, DESAMA noted, could only be exercised by the State and not by private mining operators except in public utilities operated by private entities. The power of eminent domain according to DESAMA may be delegated by Congress to a few exclusive bodies such as government entities, local government units and private entities operating public utilities.
"The law is clear. Only private entities that operate public utilities work as exception to the rule barring further delegation of an already delegated power," noted DESAMA in its petition.
Citing Presidential Decree No. 512, which the SC said was not expressly repealed by section 76 of R.A. 7942, the court earlier ruled that: "The evolution of mining laws gives positive indication that mining operators who are qualified to own lands were granted the authority to exercise eminent domain for the entry, acquisition and use of private lands in areas open for mining operations."
The SC decision upheld the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) of CAMC thus allowing it to negotiate for the acquisition of lands which DESAMA claimed is "a clear violation of the exclusive sovereign right of the government to exercise the power of eminent domain."
The Mining Act is unconstitutional according to DESAMA because the law's provisions do not fully satisfy the requirements in the exercise of eminent domain. R.A. 7942 according to DESAMA lacks two essential provisions that would guarantee that (1) mining operations are for public purposes and that (2) landowners whose private properties will be used for mining activities should be justly compensated.
There are three requirements for a valid exercise of the power of eminent domain under section 9, Article III of the Constitution. These are: (1) taking (of a private property) whose purpose must be for (2) public use which should be made (3) upon payment of just compensation.
DESAMA noted that the Mining Act only satisfied "the taking" requirement but failed to comply with the "public use" and the "just compensation" requirements of eminent domain.
Instead of ensuring that mining operations will be for public purpose and hence for public benefit, the Mining Act, DESAMA noted "obliges the Philippine government to ensure that mining contractors do not come out of the mining venture poorer than when they came in."
If mining operations in the Philippines are indeed a direct undertaking of the State as the owner in trust of mineral resources, and is designed to benefit the public, DESAMA said the government, should have received the majority of the income or proceeds from the mining operations of CAMC.
"The Mining Act failed to provide the country of economic growth based on real contributions from mining operations that should have served the general welfare of the country. The law does not provide for the government's equitable share of the mining contractors' profit," said Atty. Melizel Asuncion, counsel of DESAMA. DESAMA said that Mining contractors enjoy incentives such as corporate tax and duty holidays from the Board of Investments. Corporations which hold FTAAs such as CAMC, are given the privilege to fully recover its pre-operating and property expenses before they give the government its share in the net revenue which are nothing but levies such as taxes, duties and other fees that are not part of investment return.
The Mining Act also lacks a provision on just compensation required to satisfy the legal exercise of eminent domain. In its Motion for Reconsideration, DESAMA argued that the SC erred in its interpretation of equating damage compensation to just compensation. The SC said in its decision that section 76 of the Mining Law and section 107 of Department Administrative Order (DAO) 96-40 of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources both provide for the payment of just compensation.
DESAMA countered the SC's pronouncement claiming that the Mining Act and its implementing rules and regulations only provide for damage compensation in actual mining operations and/or the installation of machineries and other mining facilities but not for the payment of just compensation.
Section 76 of the law only states that "any damage done to the property of the surface owner, occupant or concessionaire as a consequence of such operation shall be properly compensated as may be provided in the implementing rules and regulations."
According to DESAMA, just compensation pertains to the full payment of a property taken away from the owner based on its fair market value.
This, DESAMA said differs from the concept of damage compensation which only pertains to payment for the harm or injury to a property resulting in the loss of its value or impairment of its usefulness.
En banc decision
The group also argued that instead of dismissing their earlier petition in DESAMA vs. Elisea Gozun through affirming the First Division's earlier decision in La Bugal B'laan vs. Ramos which declared that section 76 of R.A. 7942 was not unconstitutional, the SC should have acted on DESAMA's petition en banc since the case involves the constitutionality of a law.
Section 4(2), Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution requires that all cases involving the constitutionality of a treaty, international or executive agreement or law have to be heard or decided by the SC en banc.
Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc.- Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth-Philippines
Church worried over increasing militarization of SK town
By Allen V. Estabillo, MindaNews
22th April 2006
GENERAL SANTOS CITY - Catholic Church leaders have raised concerns over the increasing presence of government troops in several villages of Columbio, a town in Sultan Kudarat where an entire Army battalion is now permanently encamped.
Bishop Romulo Valles of the Diocese of Kidapawan said they have stepped up their monitoring against possible human rights violations committed by elements of the Army's 25 th Infantry Battalion that began entering Columbio late last year.
"We alerted our workers in the area to closely monitor the ongoing military activities, especially in the remote parts of the town," Valles said at a press conference Wednesday in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
He said the diocese has been cautious with the permanent presence of the army unit in Columbio, which reportedly has a long history of human rights violations during military operations.
Fr. Peter Geremia, director of the diocese's Tribal Filipino Program, told MindaNews that he personally doubts the motive of the deployment of the entire 25th IB in Columbio since the local government supposedly had no prior knowledge about it.
"The municipal government did not make any request for the deployment of an army battalion in the area," said the Italian priest, who spends considerable time in Columbio because of his continuing work with tribal communities in the area.
Geremia said 25th IB personnel, headed by Col. Cesar Idio, established their base in Columbio in early December last year.
He said the 25th IB has encamped at a former nursery of the Department of Agriculture in the poblacion and at a vacant site near a public elementary school in barangay dela Paz in Columbio. He said the unit's deployment in the area was reportedly set for a long term.
He said the diocese was officially informed about the troop movement when he attended a dialogue between local stakeholders and officials of the 25th IB on December 10, 2005 in Tulunan, Cotabato province.
He said Idio explained that the deployment of his unit in Columbio was ordered by his superiors along with a directive to launch an intensified campaign against New People's Army (NPA) members and sympathizers in the area.
The priest said the Army official also disclosed that their deployment was also in support to the ongoing and future development projects in Columbio.
He said that since December the military has launched a number of operations against alleged members of the NPA in at least six barangays of the town triggering evacuations in several remote villages of Columbio.
He said it is possible that the 25th IB was deployed in Columbio to provide protection to the Australian-owned mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI).
"Since the exploration activities in the area started in 1995, Columbio has become a regular scene of military operations. And now that SMI has started preparing for the actual mining operation, a full Army battalion is suddenly assigned in the area," he noted.
The Dioceses of Kidapawan, Marbel and Digos have been opposing the operations of SMI that has planned to launch a large-scale copper and gold mining project in the area by 2009.
SMI is currently exploring the copper and gold deposits along the tri-boundaries of Columbio, Tampakan in South Cotabato and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur. The company's operations are financed by the Melbourne-based Indophil Resources NL.
But Col. Franklin del Prado, spokesperson of the Sixth Infantry Division, played down the concerns raised by the Diocese of Kidapawan saying the deployment of the 25 th IB in Columbio was purely an operational matter.
"It was decided by the division G-3 or operations unit based on its assessment on the area's security situation. In the case of Columbio, the assignment of the 25 th IB was warranted by the presence of the NPA in the area," he told MindaNews in a telephone interview.
Del Prado stressed that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has the authority to deploy its troops anywhere in the country and that such decision does not require the consent of the local government units.
But he said they always make it a point to coordinate with the concerned LGUs when they deploy their troops in an area.
The 25th IB's assignment in Columbio was "not necessarily" to protect the interests of SMI but of the entire populace covered by the unit's operations, he added.
Mine probers find heavy metals in villagers' bodies
Editor's Note: Published on Page A1 of the April 27, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
27th April 2006
RESIDENTS of six villages in Sorsogon and Albay were found to have heavy metals in their bodies, allegedly due to exposure to contaminated materials from a nearby mine, according to a study submitted to the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission. Mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic were detected in urine and blood samples taken from members of 25 households in the towns of Gubat, Prieto-Diaz, Barcelona, Bacon and Bulusan in Sorsogon, and one barangay in Legazpi City.
The study was done by a team led by Nelia Cortes-Maramba, professor emeritus at the University of the Philippines Manila's Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, upon the request of the Sorsogon provincial government.
"The results showed high chemical content in the participants' bodies and food sources ... These chemicals are harmful, especially lead, which may affect a person's IQ (intelligence quotient) baseline," Maramba told the commission during a hearing in Quezon City on Tuesday.
Most of those who have lead and arsenic in their urine live close to where the mine spills happened, Maramba said.
Another team member, however, did not conclude a direct link between the heavy metal content in the residents' bodies and mining operations of the Australian-owned Lafayette Philippines on Rapu-Rapu Island off the eastern coast of Albay.
"That's why there's the fact-finding commission. They should be the ones to see the link if there is any," Irma Macalinao of the UP College of Medicine told the Inquirer in a phone interview yesterday.
The medical team was unable to determine the amount of arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium in the urine and blood samples because these were below the detection limits of the machines.
"The danger is that it doesn't give you an assurance that the person is not exposed to heavy metals," Macalinao said.
The team also debunked claims by antimining groups and some residents that they were suffering from skin disorders as a result of exposure to Lafayette's mining operations. "It is just the skin's reaction to sand," Maramba said.
The study was done on Feb. 20-22.
In a statement, Lafayette said the study was preliminary and not conclusive.
"Successive studies are needed to find the source of these metals. This study can't make any linkage to any source, much less Lafayette which does not use mercury and has not been operating for almost six months now," the company said.
The participants, who should have stayed in the communities for at least three years, answered a standardized questionnaire and underwent medical examination.
Those who were exposed to lead emissions, like heavy smokers, gas station workers, welders and painters, were excluded from the tests.
"We did not check for the cyanide content because when we did the study, three months had already passed [since the reported spillage] and cyanide stays in the body for only two days at the longest--unless the content is very high," Maramba said.
Alda Franz C. Quodala