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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – Notwithstanding the apology of a Canadian mining firm for operating within their ancestral domain, leaders of the Subanen tribe in Zamboanga del Norte said they would continue their efforts to hold government accountable before the United Nations for allowing the desecration of what they consider sacred ground.
The tribe held a “cleansing ritual” in Siocon town last month after TVI Resources Development apologized to them.
But Timuay Noval Lambo of the Seven Rivers Council, a traditional governance setup encompassing several tribal territories, said the atonement of TVIRD does not matter because their complaint before the UN “is for violations of the Philippine government against our rights, customs and traditions.”
In July 2007, two Subanen leaders filed a complaint against the Philippine government before the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) for taking their community’s rights for granted by allowing the TVIRD mining project on Mt. Canatuan.
Cathal Doyle of the Irish Human Rights Center, which is assisting the Subanen leaders, said the category of discrimination in this case pertains to government policies that are discriminatory to indigenous peoples.
“We are not imposing (any) penalty nor requiring government to conduct a cleansing ritual. We are (only) asking (for) an admission of their fault and commitment to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, first and foremost,” explained Timuay Jose Anoy, one of the complainants.
TVIRD has a 508-hectare gold-silver and, later, copper-zinc mining operation in Canatuan covered by a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) granted by the national government in 1997.
This mining tenement sits within the 8,100-hectare ancestral domain of the descendants of Apo Manglang headed by Anoy.
Called the Apo Manglang Glupa Pusaka (AMGP), this tribal territory is covered by a certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) issued by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
But TVIRD commenced operation in Canatuan without the AMGP’s consent, which is required under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA).
Worse, the NCIP allegedly constituted a bogus Siocon Council of Elders (SCoE) to represent the tribe in negotiations with TVIRD, sowing division among the Subanen people.
“The government, through the NCIP, is primarily responsible for the chaotic situation in the Subanon community of Canatuan,” Anoy said.
He claimed the NCIP recognized the bogus SCoE “despite their knowledge that I existed as Timuay of Canatuan.”
“TVIRD recognized and secured the consent to mine sacred Mt. Canatuan from the SCoE on the grounds that NCIP told them to do so,” Anoy added.
The Subanens’ UNCERD complaint is among the 40 documented cases of violation of indigenous peoples’ rights throughout the country, the bulk of which are related to the entry of large-scale mining projects that mostly impinged on the tribes’ ancestral domains, Doyle said.
Indigenous peoples advocate Carl Cesar Rebuta said government is obliged to answer the Subanens’ UNCERD complaint by August this year.