by Catherine Coumans, November 2004
Canadian mining company TVI Pacific Inc. (TVI), listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX:TVI), faces social opposition to its proposed mining activities in the Philippines from a united front of citizens from diverse cultural backgrounds in the town of Siocon, in south-western Mindanao, the Philippines. The Indigenous Subanon, who live in the mountains where TVI wants to locate its mine, have come out against the project. Down-stream communities in the fertile valley below the mine are opposed to the mine as they have already observed negative effects from the mine's operations on the Siocon and Lituban Rivers that they rely on for irrigation and fish farming. Muslims from Siocon, living on the coast, rely on fishing for their livelihood and they too blame the mine for deteriorating fishing conditions in the river's estuaries. All three affected communities have unified in the Save Siocon Paradise Movement. In elections held in May of 2004, mayoral candidate César Soriano campaigned on the platform that if elected he would oppose the TVI mine. He won a landslide victory, winning twice as many votes as his nearest competitor.
Most immediately threatened are the Indigenous Subanon of Canatuan. TVI has started operations this year and has already bulldozed the top of a mountain that is a sacred place for the Subanon. There are numerous villagers living on the slopes of the mountain who will be displaced by the mine if it proceeds.
In addition to social opposition, TVI is also facing serious political challenges. The mine is located in Zamboanga Del Norte Province on the southern island of Mindanao. The Canadian Embassy has a travel advisory out against travel by Canadians in this region. This area has long suffered from sectarian violence from Muslim separatists known as the MNLF and MILF. It is also the territory of the Abu Sayyaf, known for kidnappings and local violence, and allegedly associated with al-Qaeda. The U.S. now has troops stationed in the region. A mine property known as Kingking, also on the island of Mindanao, was recently in the news ("Blood Money" - Former Exec: American Company Paid Terrorist Group to Protect Overseas Interests, by Brian Ross and Rhonda Schwartz, ABCNEWS.com) for having allegedly paid "revolutionary taxes" to the Abu Sayyaf. TVI was a part owner of Kingking project and two representatives of TVI were on its board of directors. In 2002, there were two violent attacks on TVI personnel resulting in 15 people being killed. The second of these attacks happened on December 26, 2002 when, according to TVI, "an unidentified group of armed terrorists ambushed a vehicle carrying TVI employees" travelling between Canatuan and Siocon. Thirteen people were killed and 12 people were wounded.
TVI employs armed paramilitary guards known as Special Civilian Armed Auxiliaries (SCAA). These guards are trained and armed by the Philippine military, but employed by TVI. The guards man numerous checkpoints between the town of Siocon and the mine in Canatuan. Having recently visited the area, I can attest to the fact that at least the first of these checkpoints is on the public road outside of the mine's concession area. The SCAA guards control the movement of goods and people on and off the site, which is also part of the government-recognized ancestral land of the local Subanon people. Leaders of the indigenous community who oppose the mine have been singled out for victimization. The legitimate and recognized "Timuay" or leader of the Subanon of Canatuan, Timuay José Anoy, is no longer allowed to pass the checkpoints to go to his home, nor can others from Canatuan who have expressed opposition to the mine. TVI is clearly not in compliance with its 1997 Environmental Compliance Certificate that requires the company to assure that "public roads shall remain open to allow the free flow of traffic."
Residents both from Canatuan and from the town of Siocon have faced attacks by the SCAA. Community opposition to the mine has been met with violence from security forces. There have been several shooting incidents involving company security. The most recent was in March 2004, when picketers opposing the movement of mining equipment were fired upon by company security and military. Four people, including tribal elder Timuay Macario Salacao, were wounded.
The environmental challenges faced by TVI are the same ones that have plagued other mining companies in the Philippines, including more experienced ones such as Canada's mining giant Placer Dome. Most mineral deposits in the Philippines are volcanic in origin and located in the mountains. The Philippines is also a tropical country with a high annual rainfall. Open pit mining generates enormous amounts of run-off and toxic waste (waste rock and tailings) that must be stored in such a way that it does not effect the wider environment. The combination of mountain top mining, high rainfall and large amounts of toxic waste have all too often proven disastrous in the Philippines, as elsewhere in the tropics. High profile catastrophic failures, such as the one that occurred at Placer Dome's Marcopper mine in the Philippines in 1996, are a concern, but so are the slow and steady releases of uncontrolled erosion from the mine site and the inadvertent - and sometimes deliberate - releases of tailings into waterways to relieve pressure on overfull tailings facilities.
In the case of TVI, my recent visit made clear that one of the ways in which TVI is already violating its 1997 Environmental Compliance Certificate is its completely inadequate management of erosion from the mine site. Although the actual mine operations have only gotten under way this year, the sand bag enclosures that are supposed to stop runoff from the fledgling mine are clearly already failing to do so. Additionally, the first tailings impoundment, used to hold tailings from TVI's processing of small scale miners' material, is not a modern engineered structured and there are already reports - including a recorded description by a former worker - of the way TVI has been releasing tailings from that facility during hard rains into nearby creeks that feed the major rivers.
The Subanon of Canatuan are calling for:
- The Canadian government to stop backing TVI
- Responsible Canadian investors to not invest in this project
- TVI to withdraw its abusive security personnel and leave the area in peace
- An independent fact-finding mission to investigate the abuses and assess the level of local support
- Canadian NGOs and Indigenous organizations to monitor the actions of TVI and oppose the denial and violation of Subanon rights in their ancestral land.
"Toronto Ventures Inc. (TVI) has started its illegal operations, and has desecrated our altar, the tip of Mt. Canatuan, which is our most sacred place. They bulldozed the tip of the mountain, destroyed our most holy place, and in a matter of weeks, our community will be wiped out due to their mad drive for gold." – Timuay José Anoy, Leader, Subanon Tribe Ancestral Domain of Apo Manglang
For more information contact: Catherine Coumans, MiningWatch Canada: (613) 569-3439