Villagers in mining area fear for lives
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Residents of a former small-scale mining village in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte, said they now live in fear following the March 6 death of a farmer in the hands of a security guard working for Canadian mining firm TVI Resource Development Inc.
But TVI, in a statement, said the guard—Arnie Omongia—acted in self-defense because the farmer, Rudy Segovia, had attacked him with a machete.
Segovia was part of a group that picketed the road leading to a mine pit in Sitio Canatuan in Tabayo village in a bid to stop TVI activities, which they said were polluting their community.
The picketers alleged that the dust generated by vehicles coming in and out of the TVI mining site has become unbearable.
But Rocky Dimaculangan, TVI public affairs director, said the guard acted in self-defense.
He also denied that Omongia was hired by TVI.
But Dimaculangan admitted that Omongia works for a cooperative operated by the Subanens, which has a contract with TVI.
“The Siocon Subanens, by virtue of their partnership with TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc. (TVIRD), hosts the company’s 508-hectare mineral production sharing agreement area within which TVIRD operates a 31-hectare copper-zinc mine,” Dimaculangan said.
He also said that Segovia was not a farmer but part of the group of “holdover small-scale miners, who operated in Canatuan prior to the 2004 start of TVIRD’s operations.”
Shift of livelihood
Segovia’s family and neighbors said he was indeed a former small-scale miner but had shifted to farming when he was not included in the cooperative that the Subanens formed.
Segovia was a Visayan. Until his death, he cultivated bananas, sweet potatoes and cassava to support his family.
Quoting Timuay Anoy, head of the Subanens in the area, Dimaculangan said the shooting started when Segovia and four other holdover small-scale miners tried to block the dump trucks of a TVI contractor.
He said Omongia approached the group to ask them to remove the road blocks, but Segovia allegedly verbally abused the guard.
“Segovia then drew his bolo and attacked Omongia, who was forced to step back to avoid the attack. But according to witnesses Segovia kept on charging. Omongia drew his gun and aimed at his attacker’s leg but missed. He again fired and hit the assailant,” he said.
Dimaculangan said the Subanens vowed to cooperate with the police.
He also said the picket was not about dust emanating from the operation but “unreasonable monetary demands.”
“Even before TVIRD started actual mining operations in mid-2004, the company had begun negotiations with about 380 families to relocate away from the mine area primarily for safety reasons. They have been offered a disturbance compensation that is many times higher than those prescribed by the provincial ordinance governing real properties,” he said.
Ely Valmores, TVI Canatuan manager, said the “compensation” package was meant to provide the families of small-scale miners “a good opportunity to earn a decent and lawful living and have a fresh start outside Canatuan.”
Leandro Hortillano, chair of the Canatuan miners cooperative, said TVI and its guards had been harassing them even before Segovia was killed.