CARRASCAL, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/04 May) – Besieged by tribal discontent and a strong Catholic Church-backed anti-mining opposition, Marcventures Mining and Development Corp. (MMDC) finally decided to temporarily shutdown its operation in Barangay Cabangahan in Cantilan town, Surigao del Sur.
Jegie Pereda, MMDC vice president for operations, confirmed Wednesday the company closed its Cabangahan operations but did not say for how long the suspension will last.
“We cannot enter the area because of the barricade. It is temporary (closure). As of now, we are operating at another area not affected by the barricade,” the official said.
Members of the Manobo tribe have been barricading the road in Barangay Cabangahan leading to the mining operations of MMDC in the past several weeks.
Pereda did not disclose where the new mining operation is but anti-mining groups claimed the company is operating in Sitio Pili at Barangay Panikian in Carrascal. The mining executive did not confirm or deny this.
This town’s Mayor Vicente “Baby Boy” Pimentel separately confirmed that the mining firm shutdown its Cabangahan operations and has pulled out its equipment allegedly due to threats from Lumads to burn them.
Pimentel told MindaNews last Tuesday that it will be a “great loss” for the people of Cantilan to lose the investment of MMDC, accusing anti-mining groups, including the Cantilan local government unit, of depriving its people of the economic benefits of mining.
“Look at our municipality, we have our heavy equipment, our new hospital which I have upgraded and soon its state-of-art equipment will be available for free to our people. I just pity the people of Cantilan that they are not enjoying the benefits of mining,” the mayor said.
The mayor, known for criticizing anti-mining groups, blamed Manobo tribal chieftain and evangelical pastor Jimmy “Datu Dagsaan” Bat-ao as the “troublemaker” that led MMDC to suspend its operation in Cantilan.
Pimentel alleged that Bat-ao and his clan asked a very “unreasonable demand” of P50 million outside the one percent royalty fee mining firms are mandated to give to indigenous peoples.
The mayor disclosed that MMDC will transfer its mining operation in his town, which could further boost the municipality’s income to an estimated P220 million in 2014 from P185 million in 2012.
The transfer of MMDC’s operation could pave the way for the cityhood of the town with the increased revenue that will be contributed by the mining firm.
Pereda declined to comment on the alleged P50 million demand, saying he is “not aware of those figures because I am not part of the negotiating team.”
“Of course, the company will not agree to unreasonable demands,” he said, noting the barricade is illegal and that the company intends to file charges against the protest leaders.
Told that the Lumads will not lift the barricade even with the company’s closure announcement, Pereda reiterated the barricade is illegal and the “law will prevail in due time.”
Get out of our land
Bat-ao said he was happy at the development “because this is what we want in the first place.”
The Bat-ao and Hunanhunan clans of Barangay Cabangahan are claimants to areas covered by MMDC’s mining operation.
Earlier, Bat-ao said they want MMDC out of their ancestral lands and to pay them damages amounting to P150 million for the desecration of their burial grounds and other sacred places and the destruction of their main water source.
The “hawudon” or elder of the Bat-ao clan also reiterated an earlier stance that their demand is “just and based on our customary laws and constitutional rights.”
Bat-ao said the demand set by their family is based on the customary laws of “salaon” or penalizing the “dayuhan” or outsider for desecrating their burial and sacred grounds.
He denied the P50 million demand, as alleged by Pimentel, as well as demanding a royalty fee and a 10 percent share solely for their family.
“Those are all lies. If you are the land owner and somebody uses your property without asking permission from you, will you not demand payment from the one who used what is yours?” Bat-ao asked.
He also admitted that there was a March 18 meeting held between the Bat-ao family and MMDC, but there was no agreement reached based on their demand.
The Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) requires companies operating in ancestral lands to obtain the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the tribe.
“Is it not written in the law that before anyone can use and exploit our lands, they (private companies) should ask and consult us?” Bat-ao said, noting they were not consulted in the FPIC process.
Bat-ao said they also wanted the mining company out of their ancestral lands because “the truth is that there is little that they have contributed to the welfare of the people in Cabangahan.”
He cited that of the 1,000 Manobo residents in the village, the company employs only 137 individuals working on a contractual basis but allegedly out of jobs since last October.
The scholarships offered by MMDC also benefited a handful of youth only, Bat-ao said.
Mayor Pimentel, who is one of the stockholders of CTP Construction and Mining Corp. based in the town, branded Bat-ao a notorious “tulisan” (bandit) in the province for carrying out such “unreasonable demand” from MMDC.
He also said that Bat-ao “is no longer a Lumad Cabangahan resident because his children and immediate family members are already immersed in the mainland.”
The mayor also lambasted the anti-mining groups for displacing people from their work as a result of the stoppage of operation of MMDC in Cabangahan.
But Bat-ao was not affected by the accusation, saying he leaves it to “Magbabaja” or the tribe’s God to forgive the mayor.
Bat-ao also denied that anti-mining groups, which include the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tandag, the Cantilan LGU, irrigators’ group and other socio-civic organizations, were behind the Lumad’s barricade against the MMDC.
“The anti-mining groups are not part of this. They are only offering their solidarity to our cause as people who are fighting for what is ours,” Bat-ao said in the vernacular.
Bat-ao said that 18 Manobo elders have asked him to file charges against MMDC but he declined because he is already a signatory to another case filed against the mining firm that led to the issuance of a temporary environmental protection order. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)