“TVI is not concerned about the spiritual aspect…or the ecological aspect. They are only concerned about the economic aspect. Do they intend to live alone and us to die?” – Gody Galos, Save the Siocon leader.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Mt. Canatuan in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte (390 kms. northwest of Davao in southern Philippines) is sacred land to the town’s 2,000-strong Subanon tribe. Having a number of creeks all flowing into the Siocon River, it is the town’s main water source. It is said to be the ancestral domain of Apo (Old Man) Manglang, who settled in Siocon – the first person ever to do so – in the 17th century.
It is now home to Timuay (Tribe Leader) Jose “Boy” Anoy, a descendant of Apo Manglang.
But since last April, he has been able to climb the mountain only once. And he had to do it undercover. The Toronto Ventures, Inc. (TVI), a Canadian mining firm, “has been preventing me from reaching my home in the mountain,” he told Bulatlat in an interview Oct. 22.
Gold was discovered in Mt. Canatuan in 1990. Six years later, TVI acquired a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA), covering 508 hectares lying within the ancestral land of Siocon’s Subanons.
The Subanons of Siocon were issued a Certificate of Recognition of Ancestral Domain Area (CRADA), covering 6,524 hectares, on May 31, 2002. “But even before we were given the certificate,” Anoy points out, “we have been the rightful owners of that land because Subanons had been living there long before we were born.”
Gody Galos, a lowland farmer and leader of the broad Save Siocon Paradise Movement (SSPM) formed earlier this year, wonders why TVI’s MPSA was not cancelled even as the Subanons’ CRADA includes the area of TVI’s MPSA.
Based on documents from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the rights of ancestral domain claimants include: “The right to negotiate the terms and conditions for the exploitation if natural resources in the claimed domain for the purpose of ensuring the observance of ecological and environmental protection and conservation measures pursuant to national and customary laws, rules and regulations.”
Anoy reveals that Siocon’s Subanon tribe had opposed TVI mining activities since 1994, when the Canadian mining firm began exploration operations in the area, precisely because they would destroy the tribe’s “most sacred ground.”
Due to strong local opposition, TVI halted operations in 1999, but made a comeback in 2002 riding on the crest of the Macapagal-Arroyo government’s support for large-scale mining operations.
For a long time, said Galos, it was only the Subanons in the mountains who opposed TVI’s operations. “But when one time we saw all the heavy equipment (like tractors and bulldozers) being brought into Mt. Canatuan, we saw the real threat of disaster.”
“Already,” he said, “the river is stilted because of erosion from TVI’s open-pit operations.”
The SSPM, says Galos, was formed out of consultations among various farmer, community, and church groups in Siocon concerned with the effects of TVI’s operations on the Siocon community.
On March 14 this year, the SSPM staged a picket about 20 kilometers from the mining site to block the tractors and bulldozers. Three days later a unit of the paramilitary Special Civilian Armed Auxuliary (SCAA) opened fire on the picketers, wounding four of them.
Undaunted, the SSPM picketers stayed on for several days more, until the tractors and bulldozers started coming less and less frequently.
“Perhaps our fellow picketers, sensing that there was less and less pressure, started going home and resuming their regular work,” said Galos. Unfortunately, he said, TVI took advantage of that to resume its operations.
The SSPM decided to bring their case to the attention of the DENR, the Mining and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), and even to the local government units by issuing position papers and conducting dialogues. However, their case has been largely ignored, say Anoy and Galos.
Anoy and Galos are now in Metro Manila, in cooperation with church groups like Kairos-Canada and the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), as well as non-government organizations like the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment, the Center for Environmental Concerns, and Minewatch. They intend to bring the Siocon case against TVI to the attention of national authorities, in the hope of prodding them to take necessary steps.
“TVI is not concerned about the spiritual aspect. Neither are they concerned about the ecological aspect. They are only concerned about the economic aspect,” Galos said. “Do they intend to live alone and us to die?”