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PAGADIAN CITY, Philippines - A Canadian firm has formally apologized to the Subanen tribe of Zamboanga del Norte for desecrating a mountain they consider sacred.
On May 17, representatives of TVI Resources Development (Philippines), Inc. attended a cleansing ritual, the Bintungan nog gasip bu doladjat, in Canatuan village of Siocon town.
The rites were overseen by the tribe’s Gukom sog Pito ko Dolungan (Council of the Seven Rivers), the traditional authority governing seven indigenous territories in the southwestern tip of Zamboanga del Norte that are naturally delineated by rivers.
“It’s an atonement for our sins,” said Joel Alasco, community relations manager of TVIRD who represented the company at the rites held within the compound of Pigbogololan nog Subanon so Canatuan, the tribe’s government.
TVIRD operates a gold, silver and copper-zinc mining project in Siocon town that completely obliterated Mt. Canatuan.
In 2007, the tribe held a “sorrow ritual” dubbed G'longosan sog koguba' nog Konotuan (Tears for the Destruction of Canatuan) to mourn its destruction by TVIRD’s open-pit mining activities.
Alasco’s presence inside the tribe’s government center was also symbolic of the firm’s recognition of the authority of Timuay Jose Anoy, a descendant of Apo Manglang.
Anoy, in behalf of the descendants of Apo Manglang, holds a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) over some 8,100 hectares, which includes the 508-hectare Canatuan mining tenement of TVIRD.
TVIRD holds a Mineral Production and Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the national government, which has ultimate ownership over all mineral deposits of the country.
But the CADT entitles the Subanen tribe to govern their ancestral domain, and to a share of the income from mining.
When it started extracting minerals in Canatuan in 2004, TVIRD refused to recognize the authority of Anoy who, backed by Catholic bishops in the Zamboanga Peninsula, led his in opposing the mining firm’s activities in the area.
Chief Elder Noval Lambo of the Council of Seven Rivers said the ritual undergone by TVIRD is for “spiritual cleansing.”
On the part of TVIRD, Lambo added, it was an “act of offering reconciliation to the people of Canatuan and our ancestors after they admitted the violations of Subanon customs and traditions that resulted to destruction (of) the ancestral domain and chaos (in) the community.”
In December 2007, the Council of the Seven Rivers imposed upon TVIRD a Kosolaan (penalty) consisting of a fine of 12 rolls of cotton cloth per cubic unit of land destroyed by TVIRD’s mining activities. One roll is estimated to cost P1,200.
The “unit of land” upon which the fine is based is to be measured using the length of the stretched arms of Anoy, approximately 1.5 meters.
This means P14,400 for every 3.4 cubic meters of land destroyed by TVIRD.