Increased Human Rights Abuses Around TVI Pacific's Philippines Operation

From PIPLinks and DCMI*

The human rights situation of the Subanon Indigenous People of Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte in the Philippines is rapidly getting worse. There have been previous human rights violations documented in their struggle to resist the entry of Canadian mining company TVI Pacific Inc. on to their ancestral lands. However, the creation of the SCAA (a paramilitary force paid for by the company) has added to the increased militarization of the area. There has already been one extra-judicial killing owing to this increased militarization, aside from several incidents of threats and intimidation by the SCAA and military.

Local indigenous leaders continue to call for the removal of TVI, and they, as well as local small-scale miners in the region, are under increased threat for speaking out. All of this is happening against the background of the local community finally being legally granted their full ancestral land rights over the area including the proposed mine site.

Please write letters of support in your own words to the addresses given or alternatively you can use or edit the letter text attached to formulate a letter of concern.

If you do write please send copies of any letters to: DCMI and PIPLinks

Action Brief: TVI in the Philippines – Worsening Human Rights Situation, including Extra-Judicial Killing

Canadian company TVI has been trying to raise the financing to develop an opencast gold mine at Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, Western Mindanao since it entered the area in 1994. Its activities have been stalled by determined and consistent community protests from the local indigenous Subanon community represented through their organisation the Siocon Subanon Association Inc. (SSAI), as well as local small-scale miners. The efforts of the company to impose an economic blockade barring the entry of essential goods has caused great hardship and human rights violations including shootings have occurred. The company has more recently sought to promote division in the local community by supporting and recognising a pro-company faction within the indigenous community made up largely of its employees, including those from outside the ancestral land area. This faction has been falsely projected by the company as the "true" representative of local opinion despite clear evidence to the contrary.This has been happening against a background of general militarisation in Western Mindanao owing primarily to armed resistance to the Philippine government from the local, mainly coastal dwelling, Moro (Muslim) people. On 26th December 2002 thirteen people were killed and eleven wounded when armed assailants ambushed a TVI company truck travelling to the proposed mine site. The majority of those killed and wounded were local people working for the company.

The SSAI has repeatedly called for the removal of the company. Groups around the world wrote to the Philippine Government to support this demand. However following the attack, special meetings with government officials were held and increased military backing to TVI promised. In a meeting in March 2003 with local Subanon leaders, including Jose "Boy" Anoy, Major Pascua, openly asserted that the army was only there to protect TVI, and not the local Subanon. The company has been allowed to reestablish a SCAA paramilitary unit.‡ The SCAA are specific to Mindanao, and are paramilitary units armed and trained by the army and paid for by companies to protect their interests. Many of the past abuses were perpetrated by TVI company SCAA and security guards. Eighty-eight people were recruited into the new SCAA unit, including Subanon from the region. They underwent training for one month from 1st April to 1st May 2003. It is after May 1st that the situation deteriorated.

The worst manifestation of the increased conflict is the extra-judicial execution of Parcilito Tambuko. Seven masked men kidnapped Parcilito on 19th May 2003, along with his brother-in-law, Colet Bautao. According to Colet the leader of the kidnappers was dressed in army style overalls, but without any identification badges. The two men were taken to the forest and interrogated as to whether they were anti-government rebels. Colet managed to escape, but as he was fleeing he heard shots in the area in which Parcilito was still being held. Men from the local 44th Infantry Battalion removed Parcilito's body the next day. Colet is in hiding at the time of writing. While in the forest the leader of the armed men removed his mask, which means he could be identified. Colet insists that neither he nor his brother were in any way involved with the armed rebels. The two live with their families in the region of the 26 December ambush.

Other incidents that have taken place include:

  • May 7, members of the SCAA entered and searched the house of Carlos Falconete, allegedly looking for rebels. They illegally confiscated twelve containers of diesel fuel belonging to Rufina Doriendez, a local businesswoman, which have not been returned.
  • May 11, members of the SCAA destroyed the ball mill - an expensive machine used to process ore in small-scale mining of Lino Subico & Ely Looc.
  • May 13, members of the SCAA ransacked the house of Dodong Anguit. Whilst doing so they continually asked him where he was keeping his armaments. They fired a pistol past his ear. Jun Tuwagan, his house-help, was shot at.
  • On June 9th Bonifacio Patoh, the Barangay Captain (a local official), Juanito Tumangkis, a company employee and chairman of the mine supported faction within the community, as well as the SCAA members who were led by Retired Colonel Edang (head of security at TVI) demolished the rod mill house (another expensive piece of small-scale mining equipment) of Rodolfo "Rudy" Minao. They also seized goods from his house, and slapped his pregnant wife and shot at the ground in front of the feet of wife and teenage daughter who tried to stop them by clinging to the rodmill. Rodolfo was also struck by a hammer in the kidneys by Danilo Bason, the liason officer of TVI, and with a piece of wood by Bonifacio Patoh, when asking what authority they had for such actions. Merham Abduhalim, a member of the 44th Infantry Battalion involved in the raid, later threatened Rodolfo and others for reporting the incident to legal council.
  • On June 11th the same Merham Abduhalim made threats to Onsino Mato, the Secretary General of the SSAI, threatening to kill both him and his family if official complaints were pursued.

At the time of writing TVI is threatening to destroy all the ball mills and rod mills in the area, and also to bulldoze the tunnels used by the small-scale miners. The local Subanon and small-scale miners are promising to blockade any attempt at such action.

Some people have been forced to flee the area as a result of this consistent intimidation. The community is being terrorised. This is also having a harmful effect on the local economy.

This increased harassment is happening in parallel with the final legal granting of full ancestral land rights to the SSAI. The 1987 Philippine Constitution recognised for the first time ancestral land right. In 1989 the Canatuan Subanon began the process of seeking Government recognition of their ancestral land right over Canatuan and surrounding areas which they had lived in and off for many generations. After many delays their claim was officially recognised as a Certification of Ancestral Domain Claim in 1997. In that same year the Indigenous People's Rights Act allowed for that land claim to become a land title, with greater legal protection. On June 12th 2003 the Canatuan Subanon, in the form of the SSAI, were awarded their Certificate of Ancestral Land Title directly from President Arroyo. Thereby becoming only the second community in the country to have their rights fully recognised.

The SSAI now have many hopes and plans for the future. They are more than ever determined to oppose the operations of TVI which will result in the displacement of many local residents and grave impact on their environment. The SSAI and the people of Canatuan urgently need international support to back their appeal to the Philippine Government to cancel the MPSA mining license of TVI and remove TVI from Canatuan and the region. Indigenous communities downstream, and the local municipal authorities of Siocon, also oppose the company plans.

The increasing violence and instability of the local situation, with intimidation and killings is in need of urgent resolution. It is unacceptable that such a project should go ahead against the wishes of the majority of local people and within a zone of intense military conflict. The presence of the company is intensifying an already serious conflict situation. TVI should terminate this proposed development, and the government needs to act urgently to withdraw abusive military forces, disband the SCAA and respect the wishes and support the aspirations of local people.

Please write clear concise and respectful letters in your own words to:

Her Excellency
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
Metro Manila

Making the following points:

  • The presence of TVI has caused grave problems for the Subanon over several years. The abuses have grown worse.
  • There has been increasing intimidation of those opposed to TVI which must be stopped, and those responsible punished.
  • Despite both tricks and intimidation opposition to the mine remains strong and the company has failed to gain social acceptability.
  • The official recognition of the land rights of the Subanon is a welcome development and the wishes of the Subanon now, more than ever, need to be respected and supported including their rejection of large-scale mining.

Please support the calls for

  • The disbanding of the SCAA and withdrawal of abusive company and army personnel involved in intimidation from the area.
  • The investigation and bringing to justice of those involved in the killing of Parcilito Tambuko, and other reported human rights abuses by the army or the SCAA.
  • The cancellation of the TVI mining licence.

Additionally please write to:

Jean Chretien MP
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, Canada K1A 0A2

The Canadian Government, through its embassy in the Philippines, continues to support the activities of TVI.

Background Notes:

According to Colonel Roderos, the Provincial Military Commander, stands for Special CAFGU Armed Auxilliary. CAFGU itself stands for Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Units, which are paramilitary units that were outlawed under the 1987 Philippines Constitution.Background on TVI and the Subanon.

Canatuan is an Indigenous community of the Subanon People on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. Today the area is also home to some settlers including artisanal (small-scale) miners. The Subanon are among the largest of the Indigenous groups in the Philippines. In total they number in excess of 320,000. Their collective territory formerly covered the whole of the western Mindanao Zamboanga peninsula. Throughout the 20th century their land has been encroached upon by settlers and today Subanon have lost much of their best land and are largely confined to the mountains though ironically the name Subanon means "People of the River".

In 1987 the Philippine Constitution was changed and for the first time ancestral land right was recognised. In 1989 the Canatuan Subanon began the process of seeking Government recognition of their ancestral land right over Canatuan and surrounding areas which they had lived in and off for many generations. After many delays their rights were officially recognised in 1997.At the same time the Government enacted the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act as implementing legislation to the earlier Constitutional recognition of indigenous land right. and the land title to 8,213.5 hectares was presented to Timuay Jose Anoy on 12 June 2003.

Canatuan is a highly mineralised area. Small-scale miners have been operating there since the late 1980s. In the past Subanon sometimes also panned for gold in the rivers. TVI Pacific, a Canadian mining company, entered the area in 1994 without asking for or securing the consent of the local population. TVI propose the development of an open pit gold and silver mine that will displace the current community of Canatuan and excavate a large open pit mine, which will also destroy the village site and sacred grove area of the local people. TVI has already constructed a pilot processing plant where valuable minerals can be recovered from ground ore using sodium cyanide. People downstream, in both Subanon and settler communities, are fearful of the environmental impact of the mine, and its processing plant, on rice farming and fishing. The municipality of Siocon is a major producer of rice and has rich fishing grounds. The local authorities also oppose the development of a mine by TVI.

Despite opposition the company was granted permission to operate its cyanide processing plant in December 2002.In addition to the present mine proposal TVI continues to explore, without local permission, and claim that other nearby areas are also rich in minerals. They predict further mining activities will follow.Controversy and conflict have been associated with the activities of TVI since they entered the area and imposed themselves on the community in 1994. The Indigenous Subanon through their organisation, the Siocon Subanon Association Inc. (SSAI), have consistently opposed the mining plans of TVI or indeed any large scale mining operation on their land. Other major alliances of Subanon Organisations across the region also oppose TVI and other large-scale mining. Rio Tinto, for example, withdrew from the area in 2000 under pressure from indigenous organisations.

Under Philippine Law the opposition of the Canatuan people should have been sufficient to prevent TVI. However the company has persisted and pushed ahead with its plans despite clear local opposition. In the process it has, according to local community members and numerous observers, applied a systematic pattern of abuses and efforts to intimidate, trick and disregard the local community and its opposition. Disturbingly despite the documented abuses the company still seems to enjoy the support inside both the Philippine and Canadian Governments. The Canadian Ambassador Robert Collette visited the site in April 2001 to manifest his support for TVI. He pointedly failed during his visit to observe the basic courtesy of meeting with the ancestral landholders.

In the mid 1990s the company deployed more than 100 armed security guards. Checkpoints were constructed on the roads into the community and a blockade imposed on the movement of basic necessities. Foot trails were spiked with hidden two-inch nails by company security guards. The blockade on the community has been maintained for eight years. There have been several shooting incidents and wounding of people trying to move essential goods into the community. In 1999 community members mounted a picket to prevent drilling equipment entering their ancestral lands against their wishes. Armed police and armed security guards beat and manhandled picketers and arrested SSAI Secretary General Onsino Mato, as he argued with them by attempting to draw attention to the provisions of the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. In July 2001 Mato presented his People's complaint before a session of the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations. In his statement Mato identified abuses including:

  • Failure to respect local wishes, consult with the people or listen to their opposition to large scale mining;
  • Sowing of divisions within the community to serve company ends;
  • Militarization and resultant abuses and violence; The imposition of an economic blockade, the barring of access to the local priest, midwife and even construction materials for the local school and for a Glapow (native ritual house);
  • Blasphemy and violation of sacred sites.

The situation has deteriorated further since this statement. In 2001 an attempt was made to split even the SSAI. A meeting was called without the presence of the existing leadership of SSAI. The meeting was called by a Subanon Attorney, Pablo Bernardo. Bernardo is not from Canatuan or Siocon. He was joined in the meeting by some local people, especially employees of TVI, and others from outside the ancestral domain claim of the Canatuan people who came to Canatuan specifically to participate. One justification for their inclusion was the questionable claim by Attorney Bernardo that as the ancestral land claim in Canatuan had been recognised in the name of "the Subanon of Zamboanga del Norte" that it was open to sharing with Subanon from anywhere else in the province.

The meeting moved rapidly to "replace" the existing officers of SSAI and install a group more favourable to the company including several employees. Subsequently this group, known locally by critics as "TVSSAI" has entered into signed understandings with the company against the wishes of the traditional community leadership and many other community members. In 2002 the Government's National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) intervened to try and unite the factions. A joint Council of Elders representing both groups was proposed by NCIP and began to meet. In a meeting held in September 2002, in the school in Canatuan and before the community, this council of elders passed a resolution by consensus opposing all open pit and all large-scale mining within the ancestral domain.

However in October on the written request of an NCIP officer, Ponciano Agbadan, the next meeting of elders was transferred to a location at the Atelano Pension House, Zamboanga City, outside and far removed from the ancestral domain. It was the expectation that the meeting in Zamboanga City was to be primarily for ceremonial purposes and was relocated to facilitate the participation of a prominent guest. However at this meeting Danilo Bason, a TVI employee designated "liaison officer", proposed a resolution consenting to the operation of TVI in Canatuan. Additional commitments were promised in the proposal including an offer that the company would pay each of the council of elders a regular payment of P6,000 per month once an agreement was signed.

The resolution was strongly opposed by half the participants who objected that it was contrary to the decision of the previous meeting. They further questioned the legitimacy of the meeting to take such decisions away from and without the consent of the whole community contrary to both tradition and the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act 1997. When it was proposed to take a vote and determine the outcome by majority rather than consensus the traditional leadership walked out of the meeting.

The legitimacy of the "decision" and the make up of the "Council of Elders" are all currently the subject of strong disagreement and legal actions. The original officers of SSAI immediately and publicly refuted the "consent" for TVI. Yet despite the clear manifestation of continued opposition and controversy government agencies moved swiftly to grant a license to TVI to operate within days of the meeting and without any attempt to investigate the controversy generated.

The plant therefore began to operate on December 8, 2002 relying on material from the tailings of some small-scale miners. Many sacks of mine tailings containing residual gold are trapped on the site by the checkpoints of TVI though some of these materials may even predate TVI's entry into the area. However the majority of small-scale miners in the area still refuse to sell their tailings to the company and the plant has not been able to operate fully. The latest moves of the SCAA and military are seen locally as a desperate attempt by the company to move rapidly to production and the final removal of local opposition including the Subanon by force if necessary.

In December 2002 a company vehicle was attacked on the road to the mine resulting in the deaths of thirteen people. In May 2003 a major armed clash took place in the town centre of Siocon between Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels and the Philippine military resulting in the death of at least 27 people and the burning down of the town market.

The company claims that it may receive financial support from the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank but there is no evidence to support such claims. Clearly the local opposition and the serious armed conflict currently ongoing in the region are significant disincentives to any outside investors.

(Sample letter)

Her Excellency
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
Metro Manila

Your Excellency,

I write with regard to the serious situation in Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte, specifically the recent human rights violations associated with the presence of the TVI Pacific Mining Company. I respectfully urge your Government to act to end the violence and the sources of violence in the Canatuan area.

It is clear from reports from the area that the presence of the TVI Pacific Mining Company in Canatuan has been a source of tragedy, tension and conflict since their first arrival in the area in 1994. These reports document serious abuses committed by company and military personnel. These abuses have increased since the recent reintroduction by the company of a SCAA paramilitary force armed and trained by the Philippine military during April 2003. Reported recent abuses include the unexplained killing of Parcilito Tambuko, violent intimidation, threats of murder against community leaders, illegal confiscation of property and a direct threat to the livelihoods of local artisanal miners.

These abuses are seen locally as serving the interests of the company by attempting to silence the consistent and legitimate opposition of local people to TVI's entry into their community. Past incidents have included other ambushes and hold ups, the militarization of the community by the mining company, the imposition of checkpoints and blockades by company guards, shooting incidents by company employees and the wounding of local residents, the violent dispersal of peaceful protestors from the community, arrests, the bulldozing of local small scale mining operations and many other incidents over nine long years.

Madam President, your Government's stated commitment to implement the 1997 Indigenous Peoples Rights Act is well known and widely welcomed. The presentation of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title to Timuay Jose Anoy and others representing the local organisation, the Siocon Subanon Association Inc. on 12 June 2003 is a development which we believe will be warmly welcomed by the Subanon of Canatuan and many others. However with the recognition of their land right it is almost inevitable there will be raised local expectations of action on their long standing and clearly expressed wish for TVI to leave or be removed from their area.

There has been conflict and opposition to the plans of TVI to mine in Canatuan since the first arrival of the company in the area. The presence of TVI is clearly fuelling the current conflict, including dragging the local community in to the violence as victims. Mining for precious minerals has been observed elsewhere in the world to become a cause of intensified conflict. We therefore urge that any plans to develop mining in the area at the least be immediately suspended. TVI have clearly failed to secure the necessary free and prior informed consent of the local Canatuan community. Further abuses will only deepen hostility to them. The majority of all Subanon organisations throughout the region and the municipal authorities in Siocon and other local community organisations also oppose mining development by TVI and have called for their removal.

In the name of peace, justice and long-term sustainable development we therefore appeal to you to act with speed to protect the community and:

  • Disband the SCAA and immediately withdraw TVI personnel;
  • Investigate and bring to justice those involved in the killing of Parcilito Tambuko, and other reported human rights abuses by army or SCAA personnel;
  • Cancel the mining licenses of TVI due to their failure to secure social acceptability and based on their disruptive and abusive presence in the community.

Yours respectfully
[insert your name here]

*PIPLinks = Philippines Indigenous Peoples' Links

DCMI = DIOPIM Committee on Mining Issues (Diocese of Dipolog City, Prelature of Ipil, Archdiocese of Ozamiz, Diocese of Pagadian, Iligan and Prelature of Marawi) - G/F Diocesan Pastoral Center, Sicayab, Dipolog City, Mindanao, Philippines