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First Posted on Inside Mindanao (www.insidemindanao.com) on March 21, 2008

Mining guards demolish 50 houses of Mamanwa tribe

"The last remaining 50 houses were all demolished by the armed guards of SRMI. All the houses of the Mamanwa tribe are now gone in our village. I don't know if someone is hurt or killed in the demolition. I'm hiding now," said Bae Chermelita Montero, Tribal Chieftain of Hinaki Tribal Association in Sitio Hinaki, Brgy. Tagmamarkay, Tubay, Agusan del Norte.

More than 500 indigenous people belonging to the Manobo–Mamanwa tribe live peacefully since time immemorial in Sitio Hinaki.

In early 2005, the San Roque Metals, Incorporated (SRMI), a large–scale mining company started making exploratory activities along five coastal barangays of the municipality; namely, Fraternidad, Binoangan, Tagpangahoy, Tinigbasan and Lawigan.

The exploration was aimed at determining the quantity of nickel and gold and other minerals in the area. And having found positive in quality and quantity of the minerals desired to be extracted, the SRMI started shipping in heavy equipment to Tubay.

SRMI operates a nickel–cobalt mining project on a 60–hectare site in La Fraternidad, Tubay, Agusan del Norte––adjacent to the provincial capital of Cabadbaran or about 63 kilometers from Butuan City.

On September 24, 2007 the Filipino–owned mining company was shut down for reasons cited by DENR Secretary Lito Atienza that the company has exceeded its allowable annual production of 50,000 metric tons other than holding a small–scale mining permit––the area is not yet declared as Minahan ng Bayan under R.A. 7076 (Small–scale Mining Act).

The environment chief has issued an order suspending the operations of SRMI pending results of the investigation of a composite team created to investigate the mining firm.

The environment fact–finding team, led by Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio, will determine the extent of SRMI's mining operations and their environmental, social and economic impacts on the communities in the area (DENR Special Order No. 2007–671).

The small–mining permit of SRMI was issued by the local government of Agusan del Norte. Such permit only allows the use of artisanal method, locally known as mano–mano, where only tools such as crowbars, hammers and picks can be used.

It's a public knowledge that SRMI used heavy equipment in their operation since 2006.

A number of tribal houses were demolished by SRMI guards even right after the temporary closure.

During the presentation of the DENR–environment team held last March 8, 2008 at the bishop's house in Brgy. Ampayon, Butuan City, the team recommended that SRMI will be fined at P7.65 million, subject to validation and documentary evidence.

This will be the biggest fine imposed on a violation of an Environmental Compliance Certificate ( ECC) condition in Philippine history.

Bae Chermelita Montero reported that last February 3, 2008, four houses were demolished by the armed men of the SRMI company.

She said armed men went to their village and started to rip off their houses headed by Restituto Asobe, aka Tito Maganis identified by the tribe as the chief security of SRMI with Eddie Dag–dag, retired Master Sergeant, assistant to the chief security.

DENR–Investigation team also relied from the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) field investigation report last February 1, 2006.

Said investigation report states that the area has no sign of indigenous peoples (IPs) cultivation and/or occupation on site except at areas near Malinao River, more or less two kilometers. The small–scale mining site of SRMI is about 10 kilometers away to the nearest IP community and about 12 kilometers away from the claimed ancestral domain of IPs.

Certification of Precondition was issued by the Municipal Tribal Chieftain of Tubay, Datu Katipunan–Julio Pangadin on January 31, 2006 that the mining area is about 10 kilometers from the nearest IP community and that the mining area does not overlap with the areas they are claiming as ancestral domain.

The Certification was duly conformed by the Provincial Tribal Chieftain, Datu Ambongan–Lito Manlubatan. This was also the bases for the DENR investigation team that the mining area is not within the ancestral domain.

All the remaining houses of the Hinaki tribal association including their tribal hall were demolished around 11:00 am early this week by more than 40 armed guards of SRMI.

"We were not informed that they will demolish our house. They started ripping off my house and rest of the Hinaki community members. We run and hide and cross the river because we're afraid of their guns," Bae Chermelita Montero said.

"Sitio Hinaki, Brgy. Tagmamarkay, Tubay is outside the mining area of SRMI. Another barangay is between our village and the existing mining site of La Fraternidad which is Brgy. Sta. Ana, Tubay," she said.

"We were not consulted and not given our free and prior informed consent (FPIC) for their mining operation if our community is included in the mining area," she added.

SRMI applied for a large–scale mining permit and any time this month will be approved pending clearance from the DENR Secretary as announced by DENR last February 2008.

"We have existing Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) application received by NCIP, DENR and even the LGU of Tubay, Agusan del Norte," Bae Chermelita Montero said.

"Why don't they recognized us as IPs in Sitio Hinaki?" she asked.

"At this moment, all houses are demolished by the guards. Now, they are happy to say that no IPs in this land," she said.

Report from Carl Cesar C. Rebuta/ Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center/ Friends of the Earth (LRC/FoE)

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