By Hilary Beaumont
Hundreds of sombre indigenous protesters marched through the dark streets of Manila Sunday nightafter travelling for days to the Philippine capital. They held banners and signs calling on the government to end the escalating violence and killings of Lumads in the mineral-rich southern Mindanao region.
The Lumads, an indigenous group with traditional land in the Mindanao, say the government is sanctioning military and paramilitary operations on their land in order to displace them and allow mining companies, including those with Canadian, Australian and British interests, to enter the region.
In recent months, increased violence and murders of Lumads in the Mindanao region has forced thousands to evacuate communities and schools. On Aug. 18, five Lumads were killed, allegedly by government soldiers, according to Human Rights Watch, and on Sept. 1, three leaders of a Lumad community were allegedly killed by a paramilitary group. Bishop Modesto Villasanta told Filipino newspaper Sun Star that soldiers stood by and did nothing as the paramilitary murdered them.
That’s why hundreds of Lumads led a caravan called a Manilakbayan from the Mindanao area to Manila, stopping to hold rallies along the way, to bring attention to the murders.
The government, meanwhile, has denied any responsibility. In early September, Philippine president Benigno Aquino said “there is no campaign to kill Lumad people. We are serving the people … Serving the people does not mean killing its citizens.”
350.org has accused mining companies including UK-based Philex, Swiss company Glencore, which has a Canadian mining arm, Japanese company Sumitomo, Australia’s Red 5 Limited, and Canadian-linked Toronto Ventures Incorporated (now known as TVI Resources Development) of “land grabs” in the Mindanao.
Speaking to VICE News at the Manila protest, Vennel Chenfoo, chair of the Panalipdan Youth Mindanao Organization, accused mining companies including SMI, Xtrata and TVI of contributing to conflict in the region.
“These mining companies are the ones which are funding the paramilitary groups that are attacking the communities, schools, and the leaders of the indigenous peoples that do not want the entry of these large scale mining,” Chenfoo said.
“So this Manilakbayan is also calling for an end of the entry of these large scale companies and especially these mining companies that are entering Mindanao.”
TVI Pacific is a Canadian mining company based in Calgary. A corporate presentation on the TVI Pacific website dated October of this year says the company, which is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, holds a 30.66 percent interest in TVI Resource Development (Philippines) Inc., “a private Philippine production and development company seeking to list on the Philippine Stock Exchange in 2015, [a] listing [that] is expected to enhance TVI’s investment and market value considerably.”
In the presentation, TVI Pacific calls itself the “successful operator of the Canatuan gold-silver/copper-zinc mine, the first foreign-invested mine to reach production after the passage of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.” Mining watchdog MiningWatch has accused the Canatuan mine of displacing the Indigenous Subanons in the region. However, TVI Pacific reportedly closed the mine in January 2014.
The company did not respond to request for comment. VICE News could not find any direct link between either TVI Pacific or TVIRD and the Lumad killings in the Philippines.
This week, the Canadian chapter of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines is sending a letter to the Philippine government with nearly 100 signatories, including Canadian unions, church leaders, environmental groups, and university professors.
The letter asks the government to pull paramilitary and military forces from the Lumad region, stop its counter insurgency programs, and resume peace talks with the insurgent groups.
“The killings and the military operations are reportedly conducted to move out the Lumads from the area where there are mining concessions,” said Bern Jagunos, the coordinator for the group’s Canada chapter. “The Lumad are resisting that because they have been moving forever, since the time of the Spaniards they have been moving forever. And they are up in the mountains, they have nowhere to move, that’s their land … and that’s the source of their livelihood, so they are resisting this.”
She said it’s very difficult to link Canadian companies to mining in the region because their subsidiaries are often registered under different names in the Philippines, “but certainly Canadian companies together with American, Australians, British companies are the major countries that have mining interests in the Philippines.”
She said it’s important for both the Philippine government and these countries to recognize the rights of the indigenous people to their traditional land.
“[The government should] respect the right of indigenous people including the Lumad in the Mindanao to determine their own path to development,” Jagunos said. “That means that if they see that mining or resource development in their own territory, in their ancestral land, is not good for their community, that their right to refuse such plans be respected.”