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Legislator calls for probe of alleged abuses of Canadian mining firm in Zamboanga del Sur

16 March 2012 No Comment

NEWS RELEASE

March 15, 2012

Reference: ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. Antonio L. Tinio (+639209220817)

 

Legislator calls for probe of alleged abuses of Canadian mining firm in Zamboanga del Sur



ACT Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio is calling for a Congressional investigation into human rights abuses allegedly committed by a Canadian  mining firm against small-scale miners and indigenous Subanen in Zamboanga del Sur.

Tinio filed House Resolution 2246, calling on the House Committee on National Cultural Communities to look into the activities of TVI Resource Development (Phils.), Inc. (TVIRD), as it seeks to establish and operate an open-pit gold mine on Balabag Hill in Sitio Balabag, Barangay Depore, Bayog municipality in Zamboanga del Sur.

TVIRD is a subsidiary of TVI Pacific, Inc., a publicly-traded Canadian mining company based in Calgary, Alberta. TVIRD currently operates a copper-zinc mine in Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte.

According to Tinio, TVIRD’s effort to set up gold mining operations in Balabag, beginning with the deployment of its Balabag Pioneer Team in April 2011, has brought it into conflict with small-scale miners and the indigenous Subanen population. “Currently, there are around 600 homes and establishments on Balabag Hill, where over 3,000 small-scale miners and their dependents live and work, together with the local Subanen. TVIRD needs to evict them from the area before it can start mining for gold.”

 

The party-list solon said that TVIRD has been conducting “clearing operations” in Sitio Balabag since November 2011, making use of paramilitaries supplied by the Philippine Army. “According to internal documents of TVIRD that have been brought to our attention, the mining firm has been implementing a security plan known as OPLAN Bongkag (Operation Plan “Dismantle”) since the last quarter of 2011,” said Tinio. “The objectives are to secure the area for mining operations in the face of strong resistance from the small-scale miners, many of whom have been working in the area since the 1980s. ” He added that the plan, approved by TVIRD’s Vice-President for Philippine Operations and Chief Operating Officer Yulo E. Perez, called for the deployment of regular troops, along with at least 220 paramilitaries from the 1st Infantry Divison of the Philippine Army, all of them acting under the direction of TVIRD’s Security Manager, retired Army Colonel Valentino V. Edang.

Tinio explained that such an arrangement was made by possible when, in October 2011, President Benigno S. Aquino III authorized the deployment of paramilitaries, known as Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit Active Auxiliaries (SCAA). These SCAA are recruited, armed and trained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines but assigned to private mining companies to provide them with additional security. Under this arrangement, the mining companies pay for the compensation of SCAA. “Reports of abuses committed by paramilitaries acting in behalf of TVIRD against ordinary citizens highlight the perils of allowing the State’s armed forces, funded by taxpayers, to protect and defend the private interests of foreign mining companies.”

 

Tinio cited reports that TVIRD, with the aid of paramilitaries, committed numerous human rights violations against small-scale miners and the local Subanen in the course of implementing OPLAN Bongkag. These include the demolition of Subanen homes, bulldozing of subsistence plots, destruction of small-scale mining equipment, illegal searches and arrests, setting up of checkpoints, and imposition of a blockade to prevent supplies from reaching the community on Balabag Hill.

TVIRD also reportedly fenced off the mountain spring that serves as the main source of water for the community. It also used heavy equipment to excavate two sections of the Diplahan-Guinoman-Balabag road, a public road that serves as the main access route to Sitio Balabag, rendering it virtually impassable. As a result of the restrictions on access and the militarization of the area imposed by TVRID, enrolment in the Balabag Primary School, the only one serving the remote community, dropped from 105 to 50. “We are particularly concerned about reports that the activities of TVIRD in the past few months have kept many children in the community from going to school,” said Tinio.
Tinio also noted that TVIRD “special intelligence units” have been conducting “close monitoring” activities on local personalities, leading the resistance to the entry TVIRD in Sitio Balabag, including officials of the local small-scale miners’ association, journalists, and a municipal councilor.

“According to one of their security officers, the ‘full combat status’ of their ‘forces’ is ‘on standby mode until further order [sic].’ That’s alarming and dangerous rhetoric coming from a senior TVIRD official, given the nature of the security forces at their disposal,” said Tinio.

“We’re calling for a congressional investigation to look into the reported abuses of TVIRD. Recognizing the widespread opposition to the entry of foreign mining firms in the country, it’s our duty to make sure that those already in operation are doing so in accordance with our laws and with utmost respect for the rights of our citizens,” he concluded. #

 

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