Arrogance of mining companies irks Zambo Sur town officials

BAYOG, Zamboanga del Sur (MindaNews) – Town officials here are bent on declaring the operations of various mining companies as illegal because of their arrogance, the overlapping claims of mining areas, and disrespecting elected officials by refusing to submit company records.

Furthermore, they are also complaining against the security guards heavily armed with assault rifles and brandishing them for the townsfolk to see.

Mayor Leonardo L. Babasa and the municipal councilors have unanimously decided that unless the mining companies and their security guards behave, the municipality of Bayog will exert its powers and force the mining companies to stop operations.

The town officials’ decision was triggered after a mining forum was held Wednesday, wherein it was found that mining companies have failed to comply with the requirements for them to explain their corporate profiles, registration documents, mapped mining area, identification of security agencies hired and reveal the kind and number of weapons theirs security guards carry.

“For failure to present all these, we will consider the mining companies operating in this town as illegal,” said Councilor Saturnino Amor, chair of the committee on environment and natural resources.

Amor complained that some mining operators have been “invited four times and refused to appear [in the municipal council] four times.”

The mining companies, he noted, armed their security guards with highpowered firearms, and feared that violence could erupt in the town anytime because the guards of rival companies are in danger of shooting at each other.

Timuay Lucenio Manda, barangay chairperson of Conacon, a Subanen community whose lands were contested by mine operators belonging to Bayog 9 Metals Mining Corporation and Glupa Pegegetawan Mining Company, narrated to MindaNews an incident when Mayor Babasa was stopped by a group of armed men belonging to AY-76, a security agency hired by Glupa Pegegetawan. They were armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

Glupa Pegegetawan, headed by Casiano Edal with a handful of tribal leaders, has a Special Ore Extraction Permit signed by former Environment Secretary Lito Atienza. The permit covers 30,000 hectares of land, or about 85 percent of the total land area of the municipality, which Edal’s group claimed as part of their ancestral domain. The vast claim also encompasses majority of the mining rights of other companies.

Ricky Sumallo, representative of Bayog 9 Metals to the forum, reported that a group of foreign geologists hired by the company to conduct surveys within its claimed mine site, were also harassed by armed security groups.

Some also complained that AY-76 security guards have set up checkpoints along the barangay road, asking residents of their movement and the location of their homes.

Col. Santiago Baluyot, commanding officer of the 102nd Infantry Battalion, said that when he once headed Task Force Zamboanga, they intercepted a large shipment of AK-47 rifles. They learned that the firearms were brought to Bayog.

He said the military and the police should account for all the those firearms. “Granting they have the right to possess firearms, they have no right to publicly display those,” he stressed.

Baluyot encouraged local officials to sue the company that employed AY-76, referring to Glupa Pegegetawan, but advised them to avoid a bloody confrontation.

Edal and his group in Glupa Pegegetawan did not attend the forum.

Pablito Matias, municipal environment and natural resources officer, said that the mining companies, after getting their Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) or exploratory rights, apparently thought that they will henceforth deal only with national authorities and ignore the local elected officials.

Timuay Manda told the crowd that the Subanen community of Bayog have not really decided to mine their ancestral domain and that this matter should not be decided by only a few personalities of the tribe.

“Let that be known to all agencies and officials here,” he stressed.

Abdul B. Puengan, regional officer of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), said that the local government and the NCIP need to first validate the legitimate timuays (tribal leaders) and members of the council of elders of Bayog.

Amor urged mining companies to pay courtesy call to the local government unit before they would claim rights over lands. “They cannot just come here and disrespect our mayor,” he said.

Participants of the mining forum signed a “manifesto of support for peaceful co-existence, responsible mining, respect of human rights, prevention of environmental destructions and elimination of crimes and child labor within the mine sites.”

This manifesto embodied municipal Executive Order 11-007 signed by the mayor which asserts “administrative and supervisory control in the entire jurisdiction of the Municipality of Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur in the implementation of Environmental Laws and Regulations based on Article 14 Section 484 of RA 7160 or the Local Government Code of the Philippines.”

The manifesto pointed out that because of the advent of mining, the town’s population has swelled and caused trouble in the area. “This condition cannot be tolerated,” they said, adding that the LGU, law enforcement agencies, the mining companies and other stakeholders should do something about it.

The mining forum, initiated by the local government of Bayog, was attended by military officials, police officers, officials of the NCIP and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), barangay officials and representatives from mining companies.

Mining companies represented were Monte de Oro Small Scale Miners Association (MOSSMA), Zamboanga Mining Company, TVI Resource Development Corporation Philippines, 168 Ferrum Pacific Mining Corporation, Bayog 9 Metals Mining Corporation, Alpha First Asia Mining Corporation, and Yen Cheng Mining Company.

Mining companies who failed to attend were Global Titans Mining Company, ANSECA, Glupa Pegegetawan Mining Company, and Pacifico Sol Minirakaw Mining Company. (Violeta M. Gloria / MindaNews)