The dirty role of Canadian mining in R.P.

Community News & Features Oct 16, 2004 at 11:16 am

By Edwin Mercurio

TORONTO – Love, acceptance and positive relationships often begin with an eighteen (18) karat gold ring or diamond studded necklace.

However, the means employed in the extraction of the things we value and appreciate are far from romantic. Mining companies that extract gold, diamond, silver, copper, aluminum and other minerals often adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude in dealing with their toxic mine tailings in the third world. Hidden from the watchful eyes of the North American and European public, the activities and operations of transnational mining corporations are considered morally and socially unacceptable by Church groups and NGOs, environmentally and culturally destructive and violate the fundamental tenets of ancestral land rights of indigenous peoples and disregard the health concerns of citizens in underdeveloped countries.

Canadian mining companies with all their pretensions to the contrary are among the world’s worst polluters and transgress the laws of their host country with impunity. Their mining activities result in the degradation of the environment, promote genocide and biocide and human rights violations.
These were the salient points of a ‘Special Forum’ entitled “Mining: The Dirty Role of Canadian Corporations” held on October 6 at St. Vladimir Institute in Toronto.

Canadian Church, labor and community leaders presented an over all background on the operations of Canadian mining corporate activities in the developing countries of Asia and their impact on the economy, politics and environment of the region.

Ms. Bern Jagunos, Asia-Pacific Coordinator of the United Church of Canada and a member of the Philippine Solidarity Group of Toronto addressed the issue of foreign mining interests and the ongoing militarization in the Philippines.

Placer Dome’s (Marcopper) broken promises

Ms. Jagunos who hails from the Philippines, spoke about the environmental disaster caused by Marcopper Inc. which is 40% owned by Vancouver-based Placer Dome. Marcopper which operated in the heart-shaped island of Marinduque for more than 30 years has evoked fear about the risks of mine tailings dumped by the company into the Calancan Bay. That fear has turned into anger when in March 1996 more than 3 million tons of toxic mine tailings spilled into Boac river, clogging its arteries, killing all aquatic life and destroying the homes and properties of the communities around it.

It happened when a badly sealed tunnel in an old mine tailings pit burst open and disgorged its toxic contents. “Placer Dome recognized its responsibility and promised to clean up the river within six months. The company dredged a channel at the ocean mouth of Boac river to catch the tailings flowing down the river. However, because the coast was already previously covered with tailings from the spill, the channel was filled to capacity within months, causing further deterioration of the coast,” Jagunos said.

Placer Dome twice applied for permit to dump the tailings into the sea using Submarine Tailings Disposal or STD ( a method of disposal not allowed in Canada). “Twice, the application was denied by the Philippine government on the grounds that all offshore and submarine areas in the country are environmentally delicate and critical. The company was ordered to complete the clean up, and the rehabilitation and compensation of the victims. It refused to accept the ruling and halted all work on the river.”

The 1996 spill was not the first calamity caused by Placer Dome in Marinduque.

In 1993, a siltation dam collapsed pouring toxic mine waste into Mogpog river. That disaster killed all marine life and caused flooding which destroyed the rich farming areas along the river.

Toronto Ventures Inc.
Strong arm tactics

Calgary-based mining company Toronto Ventures Incorporated (TVI), PacificIncorporated is accused of harassment and intimidation of indigenous Subanen people in the province of Zamboanga del Norte. “ Violent dispersal, physical assault and harassment, illegal entry, food and economic blockades, illegal arrests and detention of Subanen people who opposed the mining operation” have been documented by local support groups, the Mennonite Central Committee in the Philippines, DCMI, a broad coalition of six Roman Catholic dioceses, non-governmental organizations and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.

Crew Development Corp., based in Vancouver, acquired the gold mine concession in the island of Mindoro when it merged and later got full ownership of the Norwegian company Mindex in 1999.

In December 2000, a Crew subsidiary, Aglubang Mineral Corporation was granted a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement or MPSA, granting it the right to explore and develop over 2200 hectares of the concession area for 25 years. A substantial portion of Crew’s mining concession overlaps with the ancestral domain of the indigenous Mangyan peoples.

The island of Mindoro is considered as the third largest food producing province in the Philippines. The island’s watershed is critical for the irrigation of 70% of the rice farms, fruit trees and drinking water source. It is also one of the top bio-diversity sites in the world.

The fate of Tablas Strait hangs precariously on edge as “Crew plans to dump about 4 million mine tailings into the sea at Tablas Strait using Submarine Tailings Disposal, the same strait where Placer Dome dumped tailings from its spill. When that happens, all of these natural resources will be threatened with destruction. This will in turn result in the massive displacement of indigenous Mangyan people,” Ms. Jagunos explained.

Public opinion against the environmentally destructive mine tailings disposal galvanized the opposition to the plan. Those opposing include the Roman Catholic bishop, priests and religious groups, Protestant churches, people’s organizations, indigenous peoples, farmers, NGOs, professionals and human rights workers. A broad coalition was formed which also drew support from the provincial government and municipal councils.

Due to overwhelming public opposition, the Philippine government was forced to revoke Crew’s MPSA in July 2001 citing the need to protect critical watersheds and the food security of the province. In January 2002, the provincial government passed an ordinance banning all forms of mining in Mindoro for 25 years.

Mining divides communities

According to Ms. Jagunos, the mining projects have divided the communities in all three cases. The Indigenous People’s Rights Act in the Philippines stipulates that mining companies must secure the free and prior approval of the affected communities.

In Mindoro, after Mindex/Crew was told by the Philippine National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) that the best way to secure support for the mine was to set up a new Mangyan people’s association, it formed an association called Kabilogan (the whole community) composed mainly of Mindex/Crew employees, including its chair.

Leaders and members of the new organization admitted to receiving rewards from the company in the form of water buffalos, agricultural machinery and cash.

After the new association held a meeting inside company premises and issued a statement of support for the mine, NCIP issued a certification that the Crew subsidiary, Aglubang Mining Co. had the agreement of the community.

In Zamboanga del Norte, a similar divide and rule tactic was used by Toronto Ventures Inc. After years of failing to secure the support of the Subanon Sioco Association in the concession area, employees of the company and supporters including Subanon from another community, with TVI support, attempted to take over the Association and replace the leadership with company workers and supporters.

In Marinduque, Placer Dome Inc. (PDI) commissioned a Social Impact Assessment which reported that giving generous compensation to the spill victims would encourage dependency. PDI, then, employed local NGOs to recruit community support behind Placer Dome’s proposed development projects. Those who questioned it were labeled anti-development.

At the same time, “PDI denied its responsibility for lost livelihood of fishermen in Calancan Bay and farmers in Mogpog. It also denied culpability for cases of metal poisoning and other illnesses affecting some villagers,” Ms. Jagunos said.

In the Boac, Marinduque case, “ the committee which oversees compensation continued to delay paying the victims. It now required victims to pass a lie detector test claiming they are lying.”
“An October 2001 report by the consultant hired by Placer Dome to assess all dams and structures at the mine site came out with the findings that five structures need urgent repairs and a dam on the mountain in Mogpog and a tailing pit were in such a bad shape that collapse was very certain in the near future resulting in certain loss of lives downstream.

“The Philippine government ordered Placer Dome and the local company to fix the structures or face criminal charges should another disaster occur. In December 2001, Placer Dome completely left the Philippines without warning and failed to fix the dangerous structures until today.”

Militarization and Human Rights Violations

“The manipulative tactics of these Canadian mining companies gave rise to violence and grave human rights violations,” Ms. Jagunos explained.

Last March, protesters who were trying to prevent the start of TVI’s mine operation by blocking the entry of equipment to the mine site were fired at by company security guards. Twelve people, mostly indigenous people, were arrested.

In the mid 1990s, the company deployed at least 100 armed security guards, set up check points along the roads leading into the community of the Subanen tribe and for seven long years imposed a blockade which prevented food and other basic necessities from going into the community. People who attempted to cross the barricade were shot and injured. Company security guards spiked foot trails with hidden nails.

In Mindoro, the entry of Mindex/Crew also showed the sharp increase of militarization in the province.
After 9/11, the government used the pretext of “War Against Terror” to deploy more troops in Mindoro. The government exploited the situation in Mindoro to go after political opposition and critics of the government, including human rights workers. Thirty people have been killed in Mindoro since 2001 including leaders and members of organizations in the coalition opposing the Crew’s project.

Role of the Canadian Government

“Despite all these, the Canadian government continues to support TVI/Crew.

Two days after the Philippine Government revoked the permit of Crew in July 2001, Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines, Robert Collete, wrote to President Arroyo to protest the revocation. Collette also accompanied Crew’s CEO to visit the governor of Mindoro to discuss the latter’s opposition to the mine,” Ms. Jagunos stated.

“Going for the total liberalization of the mining industry will shave off our mountains from the trees that hold the land; poison the rivers, seas, farmlands and abort the yields of our land; worst, it will dig and shatter the very foundations of our mountains down to the core.” An Aeta (indigenous people
of Central Luzon) leader from Central Luzon, Philippines.

The year 1995 saw the passing of the Philippine Mining Act. The act signed by former President Fidel Ramos aims to attract foreign mining companies to exploit mineral resources in the country. It liberalized the mining industry by removing restrictions and offering numerous incentives such as tax holidays and easement rights – meaning the right of mining companies to remove settlers and indigenous peoples from their ancestral abode.

Ten years of resistance by churches, communities and social movements appeared to have scored a success when the Philippine Supreme Court declared in January this year that several provisions of the Mining Act of 1995 violate the constitution. However, two months after the Supreme Court ruling, the government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo reversed its decision that revoked Crew’s mining permit.
Meanwhile, the struggle of communities affected by Canadian mining companies continues.