Lumads, labor groups rally behind embattled Filipino mining firm top executive in Agusan

BUNAWAN, Agusan del Sur (MindaNews / 5 April)—Manobo Lumad groups and mine workers here vowed to protect the embattled top executive of a gold mining company “at all cost” against moves of its Australian counterpart to remove him from office.

Embattled lawyer Raul Villanueva, president of the Philsaga Mining Corp., speaks before mine workers in Bunawan, Agusan del Sur on Monday (3 April 2023), against the backdrop of the message supporting him. MindaNews photo by CHRIS V. PANGANIBAN

Some 1,000 Manobo leaders and members gathered Monday morning at the Manobo Heritage Center in this town to express their full support to lawyer Raul Villanueva, president of Philsaga Mining Corp. (PMC), who has been embroiled by moves of PMC’s Australian partner, Ten Sixy Four Limited (known as X64), to oust him.

“I will bet my own life to support Atty. Raul Villanueva all the way,” declared Rolito “Hawodon Tagdoan” Peñaloga, chairman of Bunawan Manobo Ancestral Domain Management Council Inc. (BMADMCI) who also sits as Municipal Tribal Chieftain of Bunawan.

Later in the day, the Philsaga Employees Labor Union (PSELU), in a gathering at the company’s mine site in Sitio Upper Coo in the village of Consuelo, expressed their all-out support to Villanueva after hearing that another Lumad group pushing to oust Villanueva only wanted to get the biggest royalty share, a claim denied by the group.

Jaime Pizzaro, PSELU president, said he really does not want chaos in the company. He added that he wanted a status quo after he learned that Villanueva was willing to hear calls for fair wage pays.

“I will give my all-out support to Villanueva without ifs and buts,” Pizarro said.

BMADMCI and three other organized Manobo groups have declared the supporters of X64— namely, Joseph Mahusay, Ramon Austria, Ramon de Jesus Jr., Ferdausi Cerna Fernando Curato and Manobo leader Mary Jane Rodrigo Hallasgo—as persona non grata.

But Hallasgo, chair of Rodrigo Clan and Settlers Indigenous Peoples Organization Inc. (ROCSIPO), denied they were after the biggest IP royalty share, which is one percent of the sales of the gold mined in the area.

She told MindaNews they only asked to hold the release of the share of BMADMCI and three other Lumad groups while ROCSIPO has a pending appeal with the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to revalidate Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) No. 136.

Hallasgo said the Rodrigo clan, which spans seven generations, were the original settlers in the more than 1,000 hectares that are part of the CADT areas, especially the mine site in Upper Coo, which she claimed was the hunting ground of their forefathers in the distant past.

Hallasgo also denied claims from Peñaloga’s group that she was appointed as one of the new board of directors of PMC under the X64 management, saying that ROCSIPO only wished to rightfully claim their ancestral land, which apparently has overlapped with the claim of the opposing Lumad group, referring to BMADMCI.

“I could never imagine such a big role in the corporate world when I did not even finish my elementary education,” she said in the vernacular.

Jeff McGlinn, managing director of X64, has communicated to the anti-Villanueva Lumad group that he had already ordered PMC managers not to follow Villanueva.

X64 is the Australian partner of PMC since 2013 with a 40% share; its Filipino partner controls the other 60%.

The partnership had gone awry in February this year when X64 failed to remit about US$4.47 million to PMC for the sales of gold and silver to Hongkong. The issue was mentioned in Villanueva’s letter to Komo Diti Traders Limited, X64’s trading partner, dated February 17.

Joseph Mahusay, who was installed by McGlinn to replace Villanueva as president, sought the court’s help to prevent Villanueva from holding a special stockholders’ meeting, citing that Villanueva had no authority to act in behalf of PMC because he had already sold his shares to Mahusay.

But Villanueva denied he sold his share of stocks to Mahusay, saying the documents were fabricated.

He said several lapses were found in the document, including the forged signature, which Villanueva claimed is enough ground to file a case against Mahusay.

The temporary restraining order granted by a Davao City court to Mahusay stemmed from an earlier action of X64 lawyer Peter John U. Javier against Villanueva for allegedly violating certain parts of his employment contract with Medusa Mining Limited, now known as X64.

Javier said Villanueva had been given a notice that his contract was terminated effective February 15. (Chris V. Panganiban / MindaNews)