IT MAY be just an unhappy coincidence that TVI’s activities in Canatuan began in 1997, the same year a mine-tailings accident occurred at the Marcopper Mining Corporation site in Boac, Marinduque. The mishap, which involved Vancouver-based Placer Dome, Inc, is still considered the worst in Philippine mining history. TVI’s projects do not seem to be challengers for that dishonor, but the company has nevertheless encountered one controversy after another in Canatuan, some 800 kms south of Manila.
To start with, TVI has been accused with dealing with a “bogus” set of Subanon, the indigenous tribe that had been awarded a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim (CADC) covering over six million hectares in Siocon in 1997. According to Subanon elders Timuay Fernando Mudai and Timuay Boy Anoy, that TVI executed agreements with the Siocon Subanon Association Inc. (SSAI), after a controversial election in November 2001 when new leaders were elected to the SSAI board.
The SSAI’s original leader, Timuay Jose Anoy, says that the Subanon who participated in the poll lived outside the ancestral domain area and were thus not eligible to seek election. As a compromise, the government set up a Council of Elders from both the former SSAI leaders and the new faction that supported TVI.
A report by the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links (PIPlinks) and the international charity group Christian Aid describes this council as having no traditional status in Subanon society. But Glenn Noble of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) says the government gave TVI the go-signal even with two warring Subanon factions because “the quarrel or fight between the IPs (indigenous people) is between them.”
TVI itself argues that the Subanon’s free, prior and informed consent was not required by law because the mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) it bought in 1997 for its Canatuan project preceded the Indigenous People’s Rights Act. Still, says TVI public affairs director Rocky Dimaculangan, TVI entered into a memorandum of understanding and a memorandum of agreement with the Subanon “as a gesture of affirmative action.”
Critical UN report
TVI, however, was apparently unable to win all of the Subanon to its side. By 2003, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, former United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of Indigenous People, wrote in a report following his visit to the Philippines: “It has been reported that the company’s presence on their ancestral land has caused militarization and acts of violence, by the company’s security guards and other armed units, such as rape, the establishment of checkpoints and the maintenance of blockades, barring of food and essential commodities, blocking health services and religious practices, desecration of the sacred sites and breaking the ritual requirements of the sacred ground. They further allege that the presence of TVI Pacific has led to the destruction of hunting grounds and herbal medicine areas, the disruption of education and divisions between indigenous peoples.”
For sure, the presence of armed guards has done little to assuage the wariness of locals toward the company. At one point, it was even the fatigue-suited members of TVI’s Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (SCAA) who had tried to persuade the 93 or so families residing in the mining area to leave. According to PIPlinks, SCAA personnel offered Josie Gonzaga, a long-time Sitio Canatuan resident, P175,000 to relocate. This was upped to P250,000, but she still turned it down. Then she was invited to a meeting and asked to become an SSAI member, accept the money, and sign a waiver.
“If we did not agree to sign then we would not be granted a green card, which entitles us to pass TVI’s checkpoints.” Gonzaga told PIPlinks. But she refused to give in, which earned her an eviction notice. PIPlinks says at least one home was later bulldozed, along with farm lots near the TVI project area.
TVI says though that those who lost their homes were invited to live in a new community being built by the company, and that they “are being offered opportunities to benefit from TVI’s social and community development programs.”
Dimaculangan also says that the SCAA was formed in 2002 in reaction to an ambush on two company vehicles that had left several TVI employees dead. (The company says 15 were killed but the government count was 13.) The ambush was attributed to a “lost command” of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but the rebel group had denied this.
In any case, Dimaculangan says that there is a Council of Elders resolution stating the need for protection, and that TVI has a memorandum of agreement with the military. “SCAA provides security not only (for) the company, but (for) the community,” he says.
Much of the grumbling over TVI in Canatuan, however, eventually reached the civil-society community in Canada. By 2005, the Canadian Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Development (SCFAIT) was prompted to investigate TVI’s Canatuan activities. It recommended that the Canadian government conduct a probe on the impact of TVI’s Canatuan project and that Ottawa refrain from promoting the firm pending the outcome of the investigation.
“Of course our government never did that,” says MiningWatch Canada’s Catherine Coumans. Instead, the Canadian government conducted roundtable discussions, with civil society and the mining industry representatives coming together and talking about the issue. Yet another set of recommendations emerged from those discussions — and that is how far they have gotten.