After years of violating the human rights and customary laws of the Subanon People, TVI Resource Development, Inc. (TVIRDI) this month admitted to its wrongdoings in a cleaning Ceremony led by the Subanon’s traditional judicial authority.
TVIRDI, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining firm TVI Pacific, began exploiting the resources within Mount Canatuan in 1994. However, the company never obtained the Subanon’s consent to occupy the mountain, which is located within their ancestral domain lands in the Philippines province of Zamboanga del Norte. The Subanon refused to give their consent to TVIRDI, because Mount Canatuan is sacred to them.
Over the years, the Subanon did everything in their power to protect the mountain; but with the Philippine government being a major investor in the mine, their efforts always fell through.
In 2007,with no other options in sight, the Subanon decided to turn to their own Traditional judicial authority for help. The Traditional authority, known to the Subanon here as the Gukom sog Pito ko Dolungan (Gukom of the Seven Rivers Region), agreed to step in.
After months of deliberation, the Gukom found that TVIRDI was guilty of violating human rights and Subanon customary law. The verdict mentioned, in part: TVI’s refusal to recognize Timuay (traditional leader) Jose “Boy” Anoy as the traditional leader of the Subanon in the area; damages they caused to personal property and the environment, the physical abuse of certain individuals; and their failure to obtain the Subanon’s free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).
The verdict required TVIRDI to take part in a mandatory cleansing ceremony and pay fines to the Subanon for their actions.
Initially, the company would have no part of it; but, “In August 2009, after a series of consultations, Timuay Boy Anoy was formally installed by the Gukom as the legitimate Timuay in the titled ancestral domain in Canatuan. During the event, TVIRD also publicly declared their recognition of Timuay Anoy’s leadership and declared its willingness to discuss ways of resolving their conflict with Timuay Anoy and his Council” the Gukom state, in a May 18 Press Release. “The act paved the way for further negotiations of the other penalties.”
Two years later, on May 17, 2011, TVIRDI took part in that Ceremony.
During the Ceremony, the company finally acknowledged that Mount Canatuan is a sacred site and admitted that they were wrong for desecrating it. They also admitted to their other misdeeds and agreed to pay the fines as stipulated by the Gukom.
“Since TVIRDI admitted its fault and presented themselves to Timuay Boy Anoy whose authority they violated, the imposed penalty could be negotiated to an agreed minimum amount,” explained Timuay Fernando Mudai. The fine was presented by a TVIRDI representative before the formal opening of the Boklug Ceremony.
Some may view the Ceremony–and indeed, TVIRDI’s admission—as little more than a symbolic gesture; however, as Mines and Communities points out, “For the legitimate leaders who have struggled for recognition (and lost much in the process because of their anti-mining stance), this event is more than symbolic. The submission by TVI to tribal justice marks a victory in overcoming the huge imbalance of power faced by tribal people like the Subanon when confronting such companies.”
The victory is of the rarest kind, given how Canadian mining companies incessantly claim they’re accountable only to themselves.
That said, with the ceremony now over, TVI has to prove that it means it. Mines and Communities suggests that “TVI should back up its apparent new-found respect for the Subanon, by assuring that the Canatuan mine is closed according to best international practice and by agreeing not to mine on the lands of other Subanon peoples without their Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”
Back in 2007, when the Subanon first approached the Gukom, they also filed a complaint with the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) against the Philippine Government for its own role in the Canatuan mine.
As the Gukom explain in their press release, the government is just as responsible for what happened as TVI. Only they don’t want the them to go through a ceremony. They want to proceed with the complaint. As Timuay Noval states, “…our complaint in the UNCERD is against the violations of the Philippine Government to our rights, customs and traditions. The Buklog… is TVIRDI’s compliance to the Gukom’s imposed penalty.”
“Whether we accept or not TVIRDI’s atonement, it does not matter to our UNCERD complaint because the fact remains that the Philippine Government violated our rights,” added Timuay Lambo.
“We are not imposing penalty nor requiring the government to conduct a cleansing ritual, what we are asking is an admission of their fault and commitment to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, first and foremost,” said Timuay Jose Boy Anoy.
For more information, please contact:
Soliling Eufemio Undadi
Media Relations Officer
Mobile Phone: +63 (0)921-254-6917
Timuay Noval L. Lambo
Mobile Phone: +63 (0)926-485-9820
Gukom sog Pito ko Dolungan Office
Block 7 Lot 8 Phase I
Country Homes, Ayala
Indigenous Peoples are putting their bodies on the line and it's our responsibility to make sure you know why. That takes time, expertise and resources - and we're up against a constant tide of misinformation and distorted coverage. By supporting IC you're empowering the kind of journalism we need, at the moment we need it most.