Friday, July 29, 2011

Indigenous peoples visit TVI mining site in Zamboanga del Norte province

From left, Barangay Captain Edgar Rusiana of Pangandaw hopes that the progess and development in Canatuan should likewise happen in his barangay; Patagan Barangay Captain Abraham Magawa says he is impressed with the services of the company clinic. Subanon chieftain Timuoy Sotero Catipay expresses his thanks to TVIRD for giving his fellow Subanons in Canatuan progress and development through responsible mining.

ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Philippines - Barangay Captain (village chief) Edgardo Rusiana is a native Subanon from Pangandaw, a farming village in Manukan, Zamboanga del Norte.

Recently, with 35 other tribal and village leaders from Pangandaw and neighboring Patagan village, he went to visit Canatuan in Siocon town, site of the Copper-Zinc mine operated by TVI Resource Development (Phils.) Inc. (TVIRD).

Their mission: to witness for themselves the operations and socio-economic developments introduced by the mining company in the ancestral domain of their fellow Subanons.

They were not disappointed. “I thought all the while that large-scale mining destroys the environment but that’s not what I saw in Canatuan,” Rusiana said. “This company even protects the environment and at the same time provides development to the community. I can’t wait for TVIRD to come over and operate in our place.”

The village chief cannot help but compare how good life has been for the Subanons in the mining community they visited -- a far cry from the hardships his people have to endure back in Pangandaw. “Life is hard in our place; our people barely survive through coconut and corn farming. I am happy to see the progress of my fellow Subanons here as they are being taken care of by the company. They, too, take care of the environment while mining the area. I would like the same thing to happen in our barangay,” he added.

The majority of indigenous people residing in barangays Pangandaw and Patagan had given their consent for TVI Minerals Processing, Inc. (TVIMPI) to conduct exploration activities in their areas. TVIMPI, an affiliate of TVIRD, has a pending application for Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) with the Philippine government. Aside from Pangandaw and Patagan, this application covers 39 other villages in the municipalities of Katipunan, Roxas, Manukan, Jose Dalman and Sergio OsmeƱa all in Zamboanga del Norte.

The Subanon visitors began their day-long tour at the company medical clinic where they were apprised of the services the clinic extends to the community. They, too, experienced some of the services first-hand as a number of them took turns to have their blood pressures checked even as while others were given medicines and vitamins.

They learned from Dr. Jayson del Cruz, the company physician on duty, that aside from taking care of the health of employees and their dependents, the clinic likewise serves the health needs of neighboring communities with patients coming from as far as Siocon town proper, Baliguian and Sirawai in Zamboanga del Norte and RT Lim and Tungawan in adjacent Zamboanga Sibugay province.

Aside from the basic medical, dental, laboratory, lying-in and emergency room services it provides, the TVIRD clinic is also a partner of the government in the implementation of health programs and initiatives such as immunization and pre-natal checkup for pregnant mothers. This prompted Barangay Captain Abaraham Magawa of Patagan village to say that the company “works even better than the government in this particular case.”

At the open pit, Mine Manager Pete Remoto explained the mining process being employed in the Canatuan facility. The sight of heavy equipment milling around the 30-hectare mine area prompted a visitor to ask if the company plans to plant trees after the area has been mined.

Remoto replied that planting trees is just one of the sworn obligations of the company after the mine life. “Our Environment Department will be left behind after we decommission the mine. Their duty is to reforest and rehabilitate the area,” he explained.

The group then proceeded to the reforested area south of the mine site. There, they were further enlightened by saw Remoto had just pointed out. In the 11-hectare expanse of what was once a ‘waste dump’ area are arrays of growing mahogany and acacia mangium seedlings that in a few years will become fully grown trees and transform the area into a forest.

Gemma Dandana Tolentino, the company forester and a Subana, herself, explained that they have prepared an additional 73,000 seedlings of various tree species for the progressive reforestation and rehabilitation of the area.

The visitors saw more trees at the nursery of TVIRD’s Community Relations and Development Office (CReDO). “We have prepared around 32,000 rubber tree seedlings and 15,000 seedlings of fruit trees for distribution to our host communities in the Subanon ancestral land,” said Carlos Tuerco, CReDO’s senior agriculturist. “This initiative is part of the company’s sustainable agriculture program for residents of Canatuan and neighboring areas.

The group likewise went to the Sulphide Dam where mine tailings are impounded. They admired the beauty of the dam, which one visitor described as resembling a serene lake amidst a backdrop of lush forest.

They were visibly awed when told that the company spent some 700 Million Pesos to build the structure. Ed Nercuit, TVIRD Canatuan Civil Engineering Services department manager and a native of Siocon, explained that the dam was built following international standards. “We constructed this dam for the sole purpose of ensuring that no waste from our mining operation will pollute the rivers and water tributaries downstream.”

After the tour, Subanon Timuay Sotero Catipay expressed his admiration for everything he has seen. Now, he knows what responsible mining is and what it can contribute to the community. “The Subanon people here are very happy because of the development that the company has brought to them,” he said. “Now, I know that TVI will take care of my land and provide for my community’s development.”

During the exit conference, TVIRD Canatuan General Manager Ely Valmores assured the visiting indigenous people that that, as in Canatuan, where many of the company’s employees are Subanons, the residents of Pangandaw and Patagan will be given employment priority once the company begins operating in those areas.

Before this mine tour, the provincial office of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) supervised the consensus building among Subanons in the areas covered by TVIMPI’s application. While a number of indigenous communities like Pangandaw and Patagan had given their consent, the NCIP has recently issued a suspension on the processing of Certification Precondition, which is an integral part of the ‘Free Prior Informed Consent’ (FPIC) process.

The Certification is a requirement of the Indigenous Peoples Right Act (IPRA) before any project in an ancestral domain is given government approval. The suspension order was released following complaints by several Subanons in the area who were threatened and harassed by a group identified with a Cebu-based syndicate of businessmen and former military personnel which is said be interested to mine in the same area being eyed by TVIMPI.

The mine visit of the Subanons from Manukan gave fresh hope that, like their fellow Subanons in Canatuan, they can also benefit from a brighter future that responsible mining can bring. The visitors now believe that the promise of a better life is no longer impossible.

“We were right all along when we gave our nod of approval (to TVI),” Rusiana said. “We are now hopeful that our approval will usher in a secure future for us.”

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