Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte: Mining row heats up

Community News & Features Nov 16, 2004 at 1:53 pm

MP Broadbent wants erring Canadian mining executives overseas liable

By Edwin C. Mercurio

OTTAWA–Toronto Ventures, Inc. (TVI)-Pacific and other Canadian mining firms in the Philippines face severe penalties for criminal negligence, environmental pollution, questionable land acquisitions and human rights violations.

This developed as a member of the Canadian Parliament, Ed Broadbent, last week told a visiting delegation of Filipino tribal leaders, environ-mentalists and government officials from Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, southern Philippines, that he will introduce amendments to Bill-C45 which will include criminal liabilities for Canadian mining executives operating overseas.

Bill C-45 was enacted by the Canadian Parliament Oct. 31 last year following the Westray Mining disaster in Nova Scotia which killed 26 miners. The legislation, which helps ensure organizations are held accountable when they commit criminal offences, has passed both the House of Commons and the Senate and is expected to receive Royal Assent soon.

The move in Parliament came on the heels of a Canadian mining watch’s warning of a major She cited environmental disaster in Zamboanga if TVI is allowed to continue its mining exploration activities in the area.

After meeting MP Broadbent in Ottawa last week, Soliling Ansino Mato, a Subanon tribal leader, quoted the MP as having pledged to introduce the amendments to Bill C-45.

Soliling Mato, along with Subanon Timuay Noval Lambo, Concepcion Capitana, Lunie Lucas and Geoff Nettleton were on a speaking tour sponsored by Kairos-Canada last week. The group spoke in various symposiums in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto calling attention to the destructive impact of mining activities by TVI in the ancestral domain of the Subanon tribe in Siocon and Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte.

Criminal liability

Bill C-45 modernizes the law on the criminal liability of organizations including corporations to reflect the increasing complexity of today’s corporate structures.

Among others, the legislation would make companies and other organizations criminally for endangering public safety and for other types of criminal negligence. Wanton or reckless disregard of this duty causing death or physical harm would result in criminal charges.

Geoff Nettleton, of UK-based Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links (PIP-Links) who accompanied the group in Ottawa said that TVI has resorted to “dubious methods of land acquisition, the employment of heavily armed security forces that have committed serious human rights violations in securing the company’s mineral rights.”

“These actions would make TVI’s company executives and officers criminally liable overseas once the amendments are passed,” Nettleton also said.

Environmental disaster

Meanwhile, visiting Zamboanga recently, Catherine Coumans of Miningwatch-Canada reported about negative effects of the mine’s operations on the Siocon and Lituban Rivers that the Subanon tribes rely on for irrigation and fish farming. The Subanon, she said, are blaming TVI for the deteriorating fishing conditions in the river’s estuaries.

Most immediately threatened by the mining activities are the indigenous Subanon of Canatuan. TVI has started operations this year and has already bulldozed the top of the mountain that is sacred to the Subanon. There are several villagers living on the slopes of the proposed mine who will be displaced by the mine if it progresses, Coumans said.

Coumans also warned that open pit mining which TVI is using to mine gold and other mineral deposits in Siocon generates enormous amounts of run off from the pit and environmentally toxic waste (waste rock and tailings). The combination of mountain top mining, high rainfall and large amounts of toxic waste have all too often proved disastrous in the Philippines, as elsewhere in the tropics.

“Not only 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 also 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,” the Canadian environmentalist said.
Coumans also said that TVI has not complied with its 1997 Environmental Compliance Certifi-cate due to 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 enclos-ures that are supposed to stop runoff from the fledgling mine are clearly already failing to do so, she added.

She cited reports, including a testimony by a former worker, of the way TVI has been releasing tailings during heavy rains into nearby creaks that feed the major rivers.

Human rights violations

The Canadian mining watch also accused TVI of hiring armed paramilitary guards known as Special Civilian Armed Auxiliaries (SCAA). “These guards are trained and armed by the Philippine military, but employed by TVI,” she said. The guards man several checkpoints between the town of Siocon and the mine in Canatuan.

The SCAA guards control the movement of goods and people on and off the site, which is also part of the government-recognized ances-tral land of the local Subanon people, Coumans said. Leaders of the indigenous community who oppose the mine have been singled out for victimization. The recognized “Timuay” or leader of the Subanon of Canatuan, Timuay Jose Anoy, can no longer pass the checkpoints to go to his home, nor can others from Canatuan who have expressed opposition to the mine.

Again, she said, TVI is clearly not in compliance with its 1997 Environmental Compliance Certifi-cate that requires the company to assure that “public roads shall remain open to allow the free flow of traffic.”

Villagers from Canatuan and of Siocon have faced attacks by the SCAA, reports said. Community opposition to the mine has been met with violence from security forces. There have also been several reports of 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 hit and wounded.
As a result, Coumans said, all affected communities have unified in the “Save Siocon Paradise Movement.”

Subanon, along with environ-mentalists, Church groups and local executives are calling for the Canadian government to stop backing TVI and for the Canadian company to immediately withdraw its abusive security personnel and leave the area in peace.

Ms Coumans also added that 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 from the pit and environmentally 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. Not only 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 also 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.”

BULATLAT