(Ottawa) Representatives of the local government, Indigenous Peoples, civil society and sectoral organizations from Siocon, a municipality in the southern Philippines, have travelled to Canada to declare their collective opposition to the plans of Canadian mining company TVI Pacific to operate a gold, copper and silver mine on Mount Canatuan. The mine is within the ancestral land of the Subanon people and within the critical watershed of the downstream communities of Siocon.
The delegation believes that the Canadian government has been seriously misinformed by the company as to the real wishes of local people. They charge that the company has failed to gain the support from the affected peoples and local government, as required by Philippine law and traditional law. They are calling on the Canadian government, investors and the public to stop supporting TVI and are calling for a genuine independent investigation and monitoring. "We welcome visitors who want to know the truth," says Onsino Mato. "Our concern is that our voice is being drowned out by company propaganda."
Siocon is a multi-cultural community in the conflict-torn region of the southern Philippines. The delegation to Canada includes Town Councillor Lucas who heads the municipal environment committee. According to Lucas, the mine is seen as a threat to the prosperity and livelihood of local farmers, fish breeders and fisherfolk. Since TVI began to process gold through its cyanide plant in the mountains at the head of the watershed, fishing communities and those farming and living near the river have reported a serious decline in water quality and reduced yields from their fisheries and fish farms. The municipal council is on record opposing the mine. Civil society has come together in the Save Siocon Paradise Movement, headed by Mrs. Conception (Ching) Capitania. In March, 2004, they mounted and maintained a picket to prevent the movement of mining equipment up to the mine site. On March 17, 2004, four picketers, including tribal elder Macario Salacao, were wounded when military and company guards opened fire.
Residents of Siocon fear mining will jeopardize their livelihoods and heighten militarization and conflict in their area. There have been two deadly assaults on company personnel and several incidents where company paramilitaries have shot at and wounded local people. The mine is in a region that is under a travel advisory from the Canadian government. Since TVI arrived in 1994, there has been sustained opposition to the proposed mine from the indigenous peoples on the site and the communities downstream. The mine is displacing indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands against their will. TVI now maintains a heavily armed security force to protect its site and to control the movement of goods and people. This and other excesses have been condemned in statements at the UN presented in Geneva by Mr. Mato and other Subanon representatives. Some opponents of the mine, including Mr. Mato, are now barred from access to their homes. TVI recently cleared all vegetation off the mountain, which Subanon across the region revere as a sacred place. Mining has now begun there. To circumvent local opposition TVI has supported and recognized a Subanon faction made up mostly of people who work for them and are imported from regions outside Canatuan. There are now strong divisions in the community. A traditional assembly of Subanon elders from across the region, headed by Timuay (Chief) Lambo, recently ruled that the organization recognized by TVI has no legitimacy.
Despite strong local opposition and controversy, TVI is receiving financial backing directly from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for a development project in the community. Such projects are viewed locally as efforts to win support for the mine through increasing the patronage of the company. The Canadian Ambassador, Peter Sutherland, recently stressed government support for TVI and identified the progress of this project as a "litmus test" for Canadian mining companies in assessing the commitment of the Philippine government to promoting foreign investment in mining.
Independent organizations however warn against support for TVI. According to Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada, "Ambassador Sutherland has expressed support for TVI as representing responsible Canadian mining in the Philippines, but this company has never operated a mine before and already has an appalling record of community relations in Canatuan. From what I have seen in visiting the site, TVI will do nothing to Canadian mining's image in the Philippines; the embassy is betting on the wrong horse."
The delegation will be in Ottawa and Toronto from 1-8 November and will have meetings with the Department of Foreign Affairs, CIDA, Members of Parliament, the Assembly of First Nations, the Grand Council of the Crees, concerned NGOs, and human rights groups including Amnesty International. A meeting with the company has also been requested mediated by church-based groups in Toronto. As of the time of this release no response has been received from TVI. The visitors are also seeking advice on what legal redress might be possible.
The delegation consists of:
- First Councillor Lunie Lucas, Chair Environmental Committee, Siocon Municipal Council, Zamboanga del Norte
- Timuay Noval Lambo for the Gukom Sa Pito Kadulongan (7 Rivers Council of the Subanon)
- Mrs. Conception Capitania, Save Siocon Paradise Movement
- Onsino Mato of Canatuan and representative of the Siocon Subanon Association Apu Manglang Glupa' Pusaka
[Representatives of the Muslim community in Siocon were denied Canadian visas to join the delegation.]
The tour is supported by MiningWatch Canada, Christian Aid, Tebtebba Foundation and Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links.
See also Background.
For more information contact: Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada, (613) 795-5710 (cell)