Groups bid to exorcise ‘ghosts’ in mining communities in Zambo Peninsula

PAGADIAN CITY (MindaNews/05 November) — Some 80 civil society leaders in Western Mindanao and the Lanao provinces gathered here today in a bid to “exorcise the ever-present ghosts of the mining industry that have been haunting host communities in the region.”

The two-day All Leaders Summit on Mining Issues will focus on the plight of communities affected by ongoing mining operations or mining exploration activities and examine how their interests can be advanced under existing policies that regulate industry behavior, explained Roldan Gonzales, executive director of Gitib, Inc., one of the convenors of the gathering.

Religious leaders from various denominations, national legislators and top officials of the four provinces of the Zamboanga Peninsula were invited to participate in the summit.

“All too often, the voices of communities are drowned out in the heated debates about mining that pitted large personalities and institutions who either favor or oppose certain policy positions relating to the industry,” Gonzales said.

“If mining is undertaken to serve the genuine development interest of the country and its peoples, then there is no reason for the process of crafting industry policy not to consider the plight of communities,” he added.

The summit was convened amid the renewed debates on how to effectively regulate the industry to earn more revenues for government while minimizing environmental destruction.

Based on data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, some 40 percent of the entire Zamboanga Peninsula is the subject of mineral prospecting.

Executive Order No. 79 issued by President Benigno Aquino III was initially seen as a middle ground among the various competing positions. However, its implementing rules and regulations is the subject of various criticisms anew.

“On the one hand, campaigners against environmentally destructive mining activities see EO 79 as government capitulation to business interests.  On the other hand, mining companies felt shortchanged because it supposedly watered down their privileges accorded by the Mining Code of 1995,” Gonzales noted.

“While another round of debate begins to rage, the situation of the peoples and the communities affected by mining remained appallingly uncertain. Killings have ensued, community peace and order deteriorated and divisions within the people in the community and local government units in some areas have exacerbated,” he said.

“Christendom remembered the departed souls the last few days. Let us do justice to the hapless victims of mining-related atrocities by keeping alive the struggle to change the situations in their communities,” he appealed.

Local human rights activists have documented at least five killings of individuals residing in mining communities in the Zamboanga Peninsula in this year alone.

The most recent case was the ambush of Subanen leader Timuay Lucenio Manda last month. While Manda survived, his 11-year old son Jordan was killed.

“The escalation of human rights violations in mining sites and the prevailing culture of impunity have not been addressed by EO 79, in fact, has reached alarming levels today,” Gonzales said.

One mining flashpoint in the Zamboanga Peninsula is the conflict over who has legitimate mining rights between small-scale miners and Canadian firm TVI Resources Development Inc. in the hinterlands of Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur.

Government authorities recently cracked down on the small-scale miners saying their operations were illegal.

Summit organizers however said that some provisions of EO 79, “the expansion of no-go zones and the implementation of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative,” are a welcome relief.

“These can be harnessed to create a favorable policy environment not only for the industry and economy but also for the peoples and communities affected by mining,” said Gonzales. (Ryan Rosauro/MindaNews contributor)