In today’s commercialized culture, love is often expressed through gifts of 18-karat gold rings, pendants or necklaces. The means employed in the extraction of the gem, however, are far from romantic.
By EDWIN C. MERCURIO
TORONTO, Canada – Hidden from the watchful eyes of the North American and European public, the operations of transnational mining corporations are considered unacceptable by Church groups and NGOs. Such operations are environmentally and culturally destructive and violate the fundamental tenets of ancestral land rights of indigenous peoples. They also disregard the health of citizens in underdeveloped countries.
In a forum titled “Mining: The Dirty Role of Canadian Corporations” last October 6 at St. Vladimir Institute in Toronto, Canadian Church, labor and community leaders presented a 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.
Bern Jagunos of the United Church of Canada and 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
Jagunos who hails from the Philippines spoke about the environmental disaster caused by Marcopper Mine 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 three million tons of toxic mine tailings spilled into Boac river, killing all aquatic life and destroying the homes and properties of the communities around it. At that time, a badly sealed tunnel in an old mine tailings pit burst open and gorged 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, 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), Pacific
Incorporated is accused harassing the Subanen indigenous 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 various local and international groups.
Crew Development Corp. in Mangyan ancestral lands
Crew Development Corp. which is 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 (MPSA), granting it the right to explore and develop over 2,200 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.
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 hang precariously on edge as “Crew plans to dump about four 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,” Jagunos said.
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, 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 Jagunos, the mining projects divided the communities in all three cases. The Indigenous People’s Rights Act in the Philippines (IPRA) 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 approval 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 fisherfolk in Calancan Bay and farmers in Mogpog. It also denied culpability for cases of metal poisoning and other illnesses affecting some villagers,” Jagunos said.