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Philippine Indigenous Tribe Urges Calgary Mining Company to Respect their Land Rights

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

On November 4th to 14th, 2000, representatives of the Subanen — indigenous people of the Philippine island of Mindanao — will be touring in Canada. They are seeking support in their efforts to assert their ancestral land rights in the face of aggressive mining exploration activities by Calgary-based TVI Pacific Ltd.

Onsino Mato of the Siocon Subanen Association Inc., Father Albert Anthony Bael of the Committee on Mining Issues of the Diocese of Dipolog, Ipil, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi (DCMI), and Geoff Nettleton of Philippines Indigenous Peoples Links will arrive on November 4 for a ten-day visit to Canada. The tour will visit Vancouver (Nov 4-7), Toronto (Nov 8-11) and Ottawa (Nov 12-14). In each city, visits are being arranged with churches, non-governmental organisations, indigenous organisations and other interested parties.

For further information please contact:

Joan Kuyek, National Co-ordinator, MiningWatch Canada, tel. (613) 569-3439

Background:

In 1995 a new Mining Code law was introduced in the Philippines. It was a stated attempt to liberalise mining legislation to encourage foreign investment and involvement in the Philippine mining sector. There was a major rush of investors. Among these, a small Calgary based company, TVI Pacific Inc, laid claim to more land (1.3 million hectares or more than 3% of the total land area of the country) than any other company.

The rush of investors, the scale of the potential impacts and the threat to indigenous lands generated widespread concern; the leading bodies of the Catholic and Protestant churches in the Philippines have joined the call for the repeal of the mining code. Despite setbacks such as the growing civil conflict in Mindanao, TVI is still active in seeking new backers for their mining project, which is in a gold-rich (high grade) area. In September 1999 they used para-militaries and their armed security to force entry for their equipment through a peaceful picket mounted by the local Subanen people's organisation. Documentation of the unacceptable activities of TVI personnel is substantial. The opposition to their activities by the local landholders is clear.

This case is vital to the future of the Subanen people. However, it also has a wider significance. The Siocon Subanen Association is one of the few groups in the Philippines whose ancestral land claims have been advanced under the new land rights procedures prior to the company's entrance. This should mean that they have greater protection against the entry of mining companies than other communities. If it affords insufficient protection in this case, it would have serious implications for other indigenous communities. Further, given TVI's extensive mineral claims in over 20 different areas, the successful application of the tactics employed by TVI in Canatuan may influence their approach, and that of other mining companies, elsewhere in the Philippines.

Supporters have met with TVI and arranged meetings in London between people from the affected area and potential investors. The company has consistently dismissed the concerns of the Subanen people.

As a result of questions raised regarding the dubious methods of land acquisition, and the employment of heavily armed security forces that have committed serious human rights abuses in securing the company's mineral rights, the British government's Commonwealth Development Corporation withdrew its promised funding from the project.

However the strength and base of TVI Pacific and others operating in the Philippines is in Canada. It is important to make the scale and determination of local opposition clear to the business community and to the Canadian public. The Subanen community groups also need to build understanding and network contacts in Canada.

The tour has been organized by Philippines Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPLinks), MiningWatch Canada and the Committee on Mining Issues of the Diocese of Dipolog, Ipil, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi (DCMI). Financing for the tour has come from broad coalition of NGOs in Canada and internationally.

Fr. Albert Anthony K. Bael is a Director of the Social Action Centre of the diocese of Dipolog under the Roman Catholic Church. He is also a member of the program team of DIOPIM Committee on Mining Issues (DCMI), a committee composed of social Action Directors from the church, NGOs and indigenous people all over the Diocese of Dipolog, Ipil, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi (DIOPIM).

Onsino Mato is Subanen by tribe, and secretary of Siocon Subanen Association Inc.. Siocon Subanen is a group of Indigenous people who hold a legal certificate of ancestral domain claim in Siocon Zamboanga del Norte, issued by the Philippine Government. He is a Barangay councillor in Barangay Candis, under the local government.

Geoff Nettleton is the executive director of PIPLinks, a UK-based organisation active in support of Philippine groups, and particularly indigenous organisations, in asserting their land rights. They have provided information, analysis and campaign support. As a result of these protests and campaigns a number of companies have pulled out of the Philippines. These include Rio Tinto and Western Mining, two of the world's largest mining companies. PIPLinks was involved in both these campaigns. PIPLinks recently co-published a report, Undermining the Forests, on Canadian mining companies and their impact world wide, which has begun to circulate in Canada. Undermining the Forests prominently features the TVI and Placer Dome cases in the Philippines, and helps place these issues in the wider context of the responsibilities of Canadian mining companies in their overseas activities. Undermining the Forests has been favourably reviewed by the Mining Journal.