ZAMBOANGA CITY—Members of the indigenous Subanen communities in at least three villages of Bayog town in Zamboanga del Sur, where large mining firms have concessions, are opposed to mineral explorations there but are too afraid to speak up against them, a Protestant prelate said.
Bishop Antonio Ablon of Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s Diocese of Pagadian issued the statement after leading a 100-member fact-finding mission in the villages of Bubuan, Liba and Conacon in Bayog.
The fact-finding mission started its investigation of mining operations in July.
Bayog Mayor Leonardo Babasa Jr. admitted that at least three companies hold concessions in Bayog. These are TVI Resources Development (TVIRD), 168 Ferrum Pacific Mining and Peng Cheng Metallic Resources Corp.
“The people are afraid to talk. Fears are in their eyes. Many expressed their sufferings, their fears of armed men working for mining corporations and politicians but they refused to put it into an affidavit,” Ablon told the Inquirer here on Friday.
From among villagers they have interviewed, Ablon said only two, one of them a teenager, spoke about harassment by armed men but they, too, would not put their complaints in writing.
“A frightening situation has gripped the town of Bayog as more than a hundred people have been reported to have been summarily executed [over the past months]. Residents believe that the extrajudicial killings going on were related to the operations of TVI Resources Development,” he said.
Kaycee Crisostomo, TVIRD communications director, admitted that the company was operating in Bayog but its activities were limited to clearing the area of toxic substances and explosive materials that illegal miners had left behind, and the conduct of a “pilot plant test.”
“We gather some samples from Balabag (a sitio of Barangay Conacon in Bayog) and compare them to those extracted from Canatuan (a village in Siocon town) to determine if we can mine the optimum quality of minerals,” Crisostomo said.
Aside from those activities, she said TVIRD would not engage in actual mining because it would need “permit and approval” from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB).
Arnel Cudia, head of the MGB’s mining environment and safety division in western Mindanao, said TVIRD could not engage in mineral extraction in Balabag as its permit is only within Canatuan.
Babasa dismissed the claim of Ablon about the fear of mining companies among Subanen folk saying it could be a ploy by illegal small-scale miners’ groups, such as Monte de Oro, to railroad the planned operation of legitimate companies.
“From my understanding, [Ablon’s group] is in favor of small-scale mining operations,” he said.
Babasa said he also could not understand why Ablon’s group was making it appear the concession holders had been operating already when the truth was that they were still in the exploration stage and that they still needed to secure permits before they could embark on actual mining.
Ablon said the government conduct further investigation on the dates of reported killings, protect witnesses and victims, and uphold the interest of the communities. Julie Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao