Citing urgent need for immediate environmental clean-up and rehabilitation
Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte/ February 2013 – 26 out of 28 barangays – almost the entire town of Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur – together with leaders of indigenous Subanen residents, recently urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to speed-up the issuance of the Environment Compliance Certificate (ECC) to TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. (TVIRD), Filipino company and local affiliate of Canada-based TVI Pacific, Inc. The community is urging TVIRD to begin its mining project in the area, welcoming the large-scale mining company to immediately begin operations in Sitio Balabag.
The community summarized their request in resolutions submitted to the DENR, which emphasized the immediate need for the environmental clean-up of the area once overwhelmed with small-scale mining operations as well as for potential economic gains through royalties, employment and livelihood opportunities for the Subanen hosts.
In its resolution, Barangay Kahayagan representatives said that illegal miners left toxic wastes like mercury and cyanide in the area and that neighboring communities urgently need “rehabilitation and remediation works soonest to save the area from the severe, if not irreversible environment destruction.” Kahayagan is the second largest barangay in Bayog.
Support from indigenous cultural communities
All other barangays also voiced similar concerns on the environment issue, including Conacon, which is headed by Barangay Chairman Timuay Luceno Manda – a chieftain of Subanens in Bayog. Subanens comprise a significant segment of Bayog’s population.
Earlier, some 25 Subanen village chieftains under the Pikumpungan Subanen Lupa Pusaka (PSLP) – an organization of Subanen tribe officials representing 8,000 Subanens – signed a resolution comprising the same concerns and urged the DENR through the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) to approve the application for ECC of TVIRD.
Emphasizing the need to rehabilitate the area, which still abounds with toxic and hazardous wastes remaining from the illegal mining operations, the group said that, “it is high time to issue the ECC of the company.”
The two-page resolution also said that its members “will greatly benefit from the payment of royalty fees, which is computed on the gross revenue of the company. The payment of royalties to host indigenous communities is mandated by Republic Act 7942.” The PLSP represents one of the only two Subanen groups inhabiting the town.
ECC is requisite to environmental clean-up
TVIRD President Atty. Eugene Mateo earlier said that the first stage of the company’s operations is environmental clean-up, which is geared to rid the area of the toxic waste. “Environmental clean-up is first priority to ensure the area is safe for the surrounding communities and to ensure TVIRD can start its mining operations right,” he said.
TVIRD is MPSA holder of the 4,779-hectare Balabag property and is authorized by the government to operate its gold-silver project in the Sitio once overwhelmed by illegal mining operations for more than two decades. These illegal mining operations used environmentally-harmful methods, avoided paying taxes to the government, employed children as laborers and did not provide social development projects as required by the mining laws. Moreover, these have also created numerous geohazard areas with a high probability of potential landslides and continued soil erosion, which have caused a number of casualties.
Largely untouched after the illegal miners were removed in October 2012, Balabag has become replete with hundreds of abandoned mine tailings ponds contaminated with mercury and cyanide. It is widely believed too, that the hundreds of un-engineered tunnels may also contain hidden stockpiles of illegally acquired explosives, cyanide and nitric acid.
”TVIRD is unable to begin any reclamation and environmental clean-up activities until it has received all the necessary permits, particularly the ECC.” said Mateo.
Since the enactment of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, TVIRD was the first local company to secure a mining license and has since operated its gold, silver, copper and zinc minerals processing operations in Canatuan, Zamboanga del Norte. The company is set to implement the roll-out of the same successful business model in Bayog as well as its sustainable social and environment programs, pending the DENR’s issuance of its ECC and the establishment of more viable mining policies.