Journalists cry harassment in mining area; mining firm says story fabricated

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 February)  — A group of media from Pagadian City cried harassment by the Special Cafgu Active Auxiliary of  TVI Resource Development (Phils.) Inc.  in Sitio Balabag, Baragay Depore  in Bayog town, Zamboanga del Sur on Monday but the mining firm on Tuesday denounced in a statement what it called a “fabricated story and imagined scenarios.”
“It is unfortunate that these reporters used the good name of the National Union of
Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in their unfounded stories,” TVIRD said in a statement released by Ron Jabal, Public Affairs Director.

TVIRD is the Philippine affiliate of TVI Pacific, Inc., a publicly listed Canadian frim focused on the exploration and production of precious and base metals

The NUJP sent out two alerts Monday, about the alleged harassment in the mining area covered by the Balabag Project Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) between TVIRD  and the government.

It quoted Hirohito “Jong” Cadion, Frontline Mindanao Balita publisher and Philippine Star correspondent,  as saying he, “together with 11 journalists and two others” went to the sitio Sunday night “to verify reports of an impending demolition of houses owned by civilians, mostly small-scale miners” residing near TVIRD’s exploration site.

According to the NUJP Alerts, Cadion, chair of NUJP Pagadian/Zamboanga del Sur,  reported to the NUJP Mindanao Media Safety Office that they were about to leave when SCAA members who wore no nameplates and who refused to identify their unit or their superiors,  tried to block their way, allegedly on orders of TVIRD.

According to the NUJP’s first alert, TVIRD’s Jabal called NUJP to deny the allegations. It also mentioned Bayog mayor Leonardo Babasa Jr. as saying Cadiong’s group did not coordinate with them before going to the village.
The next alert at 6:03 p.m. Monday said the journalists were on their way home.

TVIRD denied Cadion’s allegations.  “There is no truth to the reporters’ claim that they were held overnight nor was there any truth to their claim that the company blocked the road leading to the TVIRD project site,” the mining firm’s statement read.

The statement noted that the Philippine National Police in the area and the commander of the 53rd Infantry Battalion reported no such incident happened.

“The truth is that the reporters didn’t reach the project site because of a landslide that had
occurred due to illegal scale mining activities. The truth is that they did not witness any
demolition of houses as there was none. The truth is that the reporters unfortunately did
not get TVIRD’s comment on their allegations because the incidents they were describing
were pure fabrication,” TVIRD said.

Jabal told MindaNews the landslide happened on February 18, a day before Cadion’s group arrived in the area.

“The truth is that the press was being used in the black propaganda of a few large financiers and operators of small-scale mining to discredit TVIRD, which is the legitimate partner of government in minerals development in the area,” the statement read.

“Using the press by providing them deliberate lies is a desperate attempt by financiers and
operators of small-scale mining to continue operating illegally,” it added.

Cadion sent photographs showing “excavation made by the TVI intentionally to cut the road in order to paralyze the people in the mining site.”

Jabal said TVIRD was in the area “to clear the portion of the road that was blocked by huge pile of mud and soil due to landslide. TVI did not excavate but was clearing the area.”

He said the landslide on the 18th damaged the road.

There were no photographs of the demolition.

Cadion claimed the demolition did not push through because of their presence. “But a few weeks ago,” he told MindaNews in a text message, “mayron nangyaring paggiba at pagsunog ng mga bahay,” (there was demolition and burning of houses), an allegation Jabal denied.

“There was no demolition. TVI negotiates peacefully with small scale miners and a lot of small.-scale miners can attest to this,” he said.

Cadion, also anchor of  a daily radio program aired over RPN-DXKP,  was with eight others from the media, not “11 others” that he earlier reported to the NUJP Mindanao Media Safety Office.

He identified his companions as  Gretchin Mondoy, Vira Angei Modesto, Emay Flor Intig — all from  Frontline Mindanao; Tony Bayamban,  Mindanao Biznews publisher and Judys Cogo, also of Mindanao Biznews;  Efren Superal, co-anchor of Radio Frontline Mindanao Balita DXKP, Lito Pedrano of DXWO FM and  Jojo Besandre of DXKV FM.

Also with them, Cadiong said, were Lito Navaro, whom he described as “Human rights defender under Atty Harry Roque” and Edgar Baling, whom he described as “Human Rights Advocate.”
Baling,  consultant to the Monte de Oro Small Scale Miners Association (MOSSMA) said in late  January last year that they wrote President Aquino, asking him to intervene and exempt the 20 hectares from the MPSA of TVIRD.
“Our refined gold products are sold at Central Bank and therefore the government is earning from our labor. If we are supported by the local government, we can be at par with the foreign companies,” he added in  MindaNews report dated January 31 last year.
At that time, it was reported that about 250 small-scale miners and some 5,000 residents of the barangay were facing displacement once TVIRD starts open-pit mining operations under an MPSA covering 4,779 hectares.
Mario Abaster, corporate community relations officer then said the MPSA includes the 20 hectares operated by small-scale miners belonging to the MOSSMA. He said they would finish the exploration of 10 drilling sites before doing actual mining operations.
Ssmall-scale miners, on the other hand, said they  have been in the area since the late 1980s and have been constantly asking the  Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of Region 9 to “legalize” their status.
There were no photographs of the SCAA personnel who allegedly held Carion’s group as they were about to leave between 8 and 9  a.m. Monday. Cadion claimed the situation was tense so they hid their equipment to be safe.

He said they finally left the area at 2 p.m.Monday. (MindaNews)