Expressing support to responsible mining in their ancestral domain, two tribal leaders in Zamboanga City asked the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to speed-up the issuance of an environmental certificate allowing TVI Resources Development Philippines Inc. (TVIRD) to start mining operations in the gold-rich Balabag hill.
Casiano Edal and Lucenio Manda, Timuays, or chieftains of the Subanens of Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur, have expressed their support to TVIRD’s operations in their ancestral domain, which is endowed with minerals but is still reeling from the environmental damage wrought by decades of illegal mining.
The leaders of the now-unified “Pigsalabuk Bawang Dangen Subanen Gasal Gukom de Bayog,” or Subanens of Bayog, requested to the DENR to fast track the issuance of an environment compliance certificate (ECC) so TVIRD can commence its environmental rehabilitation, paving the way for its mineral processing operations.
“In my capacity as the barangay chairman of Conacon, we likewise made a barangay resolution asking the DENR for the same thing,” said Manda.
Edal, on the other hand, is anticipating the commencement of the company’s environmental clean-up in the area, just like it did in its Canatuan mine site.
Before ramping-up its operations in 2004, TVIRD’s first order of business was to conduct the extensive environmental clean-up and the rehabilitation of geohazard areas and damage to Mount Canatuan—prior damage that was caused by small-scale illegal miners who also exploited the indigenous communities.
Similarly, the company is set to conduct the same clean-up and rehabilitation in Balabag, town of Bayog, which has also experienced decades of illegal mining.
“As of this moment, it is getting more dangerous because the place is full of holes,” said Edal.
“It’s posing grave danger especially to our children now that our livestock and domestic animals have begun to disappear,” he said, referring to Balabag hill where hundreds of tunnels left by the illegal miners are ominously present, posing danger to the inhabitants in the area.
The place is also full of tailings ponds contaminated with the toxic chemicals mercury and cyanide.
Balabag is part of over 4,000 hectares of Mineral Processing Sharing Agreement (MPSA) area awarded by the government to TVIRD.
Subanens of Bayog comprise almost one-half of the town’s entire population. Their unity was forged to strengthen their claim for one ancestral domain covering 21 barangays of the town.
Around 70 percent of TVIRD’s MPSA will belong to the ancestral claim of Edal’s group while part belongs to the Pikumpungan Subanen Lupa Pusaka (PSLP) and to an indigenous community in Kabasalan, Zamboanga Sibugay. Both groups stand to benefit from the mining operations through royalties, employment as well as social and environmental development programs.
PSLP is an organization of Subanen tribe officials covering six municipalities in the province of Zamboanga headed by Datu Dalepusan Isis Guilingan.
Support from ground
Twenty-six barangays out of the total of 28 have so far submitted their resolutions stating the similar appeal to the DENR, citing primarily environmental concerns. Meanwhile, reelected Mayor Leonardo Babasa Jr. of Bayog expressed strong support for the Subanens.
“It [TVIRD’s mining operations] will not only generate employment, livelihood opportunities and income through royalties to our Subanen natives, but it will also increase our income through taxes and spur economy, thus improving our basic services in the process,” he said.
Babasa has been instrumental in successfully weeding-out illegal miners, when the Mines and Geosciences Bureau issued and implemented the cease and desist order against illegal miners in October last year. Elected Vice Mayor Celso Matias pledged that he, together with the municipal council, will also initiate action in support of the Subanens.
The Filipino-owned TVIRD is the local flagship company and affiliate of TVI Pacific Inc. in Canada. Since the enactment of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, it was the first local company to secure a mining license and has since operated its gold, silver, copper and zinc minerals processing operations in Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte.
To date, TVIRD has invested some $25 million in exploration and predevelopment work in Balabag, and estimates an additional $25 million to bring it to commercial operations.
The company is primed to implement the roll-out of the same successful Canatuan business model in Bayog, as well as its sustainable development programs that include support to education, public health, environmental management, livelihood and infrastructure. These are pending the DENR’s issuance of its ECC and the establishment of more viable mining policies.