Canatuan’s IP `Responders’ show that security means community involvement
Joel Simbawan and Sunny Alipan may not stand out in a crowd. Simbawan is the silent type. He tends to speak very little in social gatherings and meetings. Alipan, on the other hand, is what his peers consider `vertically challenged’, even among members of his indigenous tribe. Both Subanons, however, exude an aura of dependability and their presence is always reassuring.
Simbawan and Alipan are security team leaders for TVI Resource Development Philippines, Inc. (TVIRD), a mining company the Subanons have partnered with since 2004 to jointly develop the Canatuan ancestral domain in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte. Subanons comprise 52 percent of the security force, tasked “To Serve and Protect” the community and the company, which will soon begin the second phase of its operations here through its Sulphide (Copper-Zinc) Project.
Above, Joel Simbawan carrying youngest child Jane with (from left) his mother-in-law Paula, wife Julieta carrying 2nd daughter Jennifer, and eldest child Jennilyn. “My people have gained so much with TVIRD’s presence in Canatuan,” says Simbawan. Below, Sunny Alipan (extreme left) at the dining table with wife, Virgie, and kids. Alipan stands tall in the eyes of his colleagues and members of the community for his outstanding performance as a Responder team leader and for being a good provider to his family.
The members of the force proudly call themselves “Responders”. After all, their duties involve responding to the needs of security to protect the community and the company from outside intrusion, as well as theft or anti-social behavior; to emergencies as a result of the training they had in search and rescue as well as first aid and firefighting; and to any call for help by members of the community.
“The company can always count on me,” says Celestino Guinagag, 52. “Many good things happened to my family since I became a Responder. I now have a house I can call my own. I can send my children to school and can bring them to the doctor if they need it.”
His wife Merlin agrees. She said that before TVIRD came to Canatuan, Celestino did not have a permanent job. “Those were the most difficult years for our family,” she relates. “Food was scarce. It was I who felt the burden of not having a permanent income because I cooked the food, took care of our four children, and brought them to the doctor if they were sick. I do not wish to go back again to those times.” she adds.
Four sons. Celestino Guinagag (in blue) and family: extreme left is Jerrick, on his lap is Jerald, center is Jeremiah, wife Merlin with John Lennon on her lap, and Richel Cardinal, Merlin’s younger sister. “Many good things happened to my family since I became a Responder,” Guinagag says.
From the early 1980s to early 2000, Canatuan was besieged by small-scale miners, mostly non-Subanon transients who operated illegally. Subanons, including women and children, worked as laborers in tunnels, were paid a pittance and were exposed to harmful chemicals like mercury and cyanide.
When asked if she is proud with the work that her husband is doing as protector of Canatuan, Merlin was quick to reply: “Yes of course! I am happy that he was given the opportunity to work with TVIRD. Most of wives of Responders feel the same. Aside from the fact that our husbands have plenty of time with their respective families, the security force that they work for is always visible in the community, doing many other good things for residents.
“For instance, the Responders share their knowledge on new techniques in farming that they learned from TVIRD,” she continues. “They help us mothers save more money by providing free hair cuts to schoolchildren – more than 200 elementary and high school students in Canatuan!”
Responders respond to…boys’ need for haircut! “Our participation in off-duty activities assures us that we are closer to the people we have sworn to protect.”
At just over 5 feet in height, Alipan stands tall in the eyes of his colleagues and members of the community for his outstanding performance as a Responder team leader and for being a good provider to his family. Last month, he earned a considerable amount of additional income for his backyard gardening, a hobby that is fast becoming the favorite past time in Canatuan since TVIRD launched the Food Security Program three months ago.
“When we began the `green revolution’ in Tanuman (a Canatuan sub-district), we thought that it would only be us, Responders, who would participate in the program,” Alipan narrates. “However, when fellow tribesmen saw us harvesting and selling our vegetables, they went to our detachment to ask for seedlings so they could also plant vegetables in their backyards. They also asked us how to do contour farming – planting on mountain slopes. Perhaps they were already embarrassed after asking for lettuce from my wife for several weeks.”
Responders securing food for their community and families. Backyard and communal gardening (above) is fast becoming the favorite past time in Canatuan since TVIRD launched the Food Security Program three months ago. Tending to poultry and livestock (below) have become bonding moments for Responders and their spouses.
Virgie, his wife, is equally elated with what her husband has been doing. “We always look forward to his coming home after his duty at the detachment,” she says. “Our bonding moments together with our 5 year-old son are always spent in our garden, or in our pigpen, or in our chicken coop. We also help tend the communal garden at the Tanuman detachment, together with the families of other Responders.”
One such family is that of Rey Limbang, whose wife and children stay in Makiang, a few kilometers from Canatuan. “But she comes up here with our only son to help us in our gardening during off duty hours,” he said.
Rene Limbang talks about safety with children near the Tanuman detachment. Responders always find time to share what they know with members of the community.
Simbawan points out, however, that people should not mistake the Responders’ involvement in other activities as setting aside their duties and responsibilities as security personnel. “Our participation in off-duty activities assures us that we are closer to the people we have sworn to protect.”
TVIRD Security Manager Paul Vincent Arias always tells his men that for them to be able to win hearts and minds in the community, they must always respect the people’s customs and traditions; share what they know or have; extend help when it’s needed; be transparent in all their dealings; and resolve issues and problems through constructive dialogue.
TVIRD Canatuan Security Manager Paul Vincent Arias (in khaki pants) with Guinagag. By having security personnel who are disciplined, well-trained, well-equipped, and who respect the rights and cultures of people, we make both the community and TVIRD safe. We make Canatuan a difficult target of bad elements.”
“I always remind our Responders not to be overbearing or arrogant,” Arias points out. “That is why during their training, we emphasize their duties and responsibilities as members of the security team. In their training as well as during our daily briefing, we explain to them the importance of discipline and duty. We instill in them the importance of respecting human rights and the culture and tradition of Subanons. Our orientation sessions with all our new recruits always include these tenets. By having security personnel who are disciplined, well-trained, well-equipped, and who respect the rights and cultures of people, we make both the community and TVIRD safe. We make Canatuan a difficult target of bad elements.”
Acting Siocon Mayor Ceasar Soriano acknowledges the “great help” of the Responders in the maintaining peace and order in Canatuan. “Because of their close coordination and cooperation with our municipal officials, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and with the Philippine National Police, we have achieved peace,” he said. “All our efforts are geared towards achieving peace and stability in the entire municipality”
TVIRD Canatuan Asst. Security Manager Arnel Cabunillas gives his “blessing” to a Responder’s daughter, as her mother looks on. (In Filipino tradition, the blessing gesture is shown as in photo, where an elder presses back of right hand on the forehead of younger relative or member of community) “We always bear in mind that these people are our partners.”
For his part, Arnel Cabunillas, TVIRD assistant Security manager adds: “When we extend help to community folks, when we explain to them why it is bad to engage in slash-and-burn farming, or when we assist children by escorting their school bus up to the far reaches of the ancestral domain, what we always bear in mind is that these people are our partners in business.”
“My people have gained so much with TVIRD’s presence in Canatuan,” Simbawan, not known to speak a lot, relates. “The school where our children study is far better compared with the old dilapidated structure where students went to during the small-scale mining days. The schools in Canatuan now have computers and enough teachers and books. We have a school bus that most of the towns of the province do not have. We have a health clinic with adequate medicine and health facilities and that is manned by professional medical practitioners. TVIRD treats the Subanons with respect and as partners in the business, not as inferior people as some are wont to believe.”
“Most of all we are taught how to live decently through skills training and capacity building to prepare us when the end of the mine life comes,” Simbawon says. “We may be known as the meek and gentle people of the rivers, but with these gains we have had with TVIRD, we will not allow other people to dictate to us, or to stop us from supporting the company for our children’s future.”
The Responders are committed to their duty not only because Canatuan is home to their kith and kin, Subanons and non-Subanons alike, but more importantly because they have found that their partnership with TVIRD has helped them discover their path to progress, their place under the sun, and their dignity. (Lullie Micabalo)
More than half of TVIRD security personnel in Canatuan are Subanons. “We may be known as the meek and gentle people of the rivers, but with these gains we have had with TVIRD, we will not allow other people to dictate to us, or to stop us from supporting the company for our children’s future.”