Sunday, September 2, 2012

Philippine Army defends small-scale miners; denies mining firm claims of Balabag gun battle

PAGADIAN CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 20, 2012) – The Philippine Army on Monday rejected claims by an affiliate of a Canadian mining firm operating in Zamboanga del Sur province that illegal miners attacked its security guards that resulted in a gun battle.

Major General Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, said one person Wilfred Catampungan was killed and six others wounded after security guards of the TVI Resources Development, Inc. opened fire on a group of small scale miners. The incident occurred on July 25 in Bayog town.

He said police filed criminal charges against 7 private security guards working for TVIRD.

“Using the pieces of evidence gathered to include accounts from several witnesses and sworn statements of the complainants, cases of two counts frustrated murder and six for attempted murder have been filed at a local court against the seven security guards of the TVIRD who are all under the Big JR private security agency,” Cruz said in a statement sent to The Manila Times.

Cruz branded the security guards as members of a “pseudo-organization employed by the said mining company to execute dirty works” commonly known among miners in Balabag area as 'K9'.

He also quoted Police Senior Inspector Eilen Fermindoza, chief of the Provincial Investigation and Detective Management Branch in Pagadian City, as saying that “there was no actual gunfight between the two parties. Majority of the firearms used by the TVIRD security guards were 12-gauge shotgun and, surprisingly, only spent cartridges of the same firearm have been found at the crime scene. Furthermore, all the involved guards’ firearms yielded positive on gun-powder residue upon examination.”

According to Cruz, soldiers from the 53rd Infantry Battalion led by Captain Rafael Balincamaya also confirmed that all the spent cartridges they recovered in the area were from a 12-gauge shotgun. They cartridges, he said, were just a few feet from the security post where the laborers were situated and that Balincamaya did not find any bullet holes at the outpost, denying the allegation of the TVIRD those laborers fired at its security guards.

“Indigenous people of Bayog and Sindangan town in Zamboanga del Norte province condemned the illegal actions of the TVIRD management that resulted to the unjust killing and wounding of the Subanen small-scale miner-laborers. The truth shall always prevail,” Cruz said.

“In the spirit of Bayanihan (cooperativism), we will always support whatever investigation will be undertaken by any investigative bodies such as our Philippine National Police counterparts when needed. Every Tabak trooper should remain vigilant and at all times be protectors of the people in our communities,” he said.

TVIRD has strongly denied Cruz’s allegations.

“We do not have pseudo organizations in our company; much less people whose responsibilities resemble that of ‘K9’ dogs.  Instead, we have functional departments carrying out specifics tasks and duties for our operations and our sustainable development work for the communities and the environment,” said Yulo Perez, TVIRD’s Vice President for Operations and Chief Operating Officer.

Perez added that Jungoy, a native of Bayog town, is tasked to report and carry apprehended illegal mining equipment of illegal miners and to support tree-planting activities carried out by the Security Force Department.

“The group of Catumpangan carried sacks of cyanide, blasting caps, illegal toxic chemicals, and diesel fuels. Police authorities and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau personnel are tasked to apprehend illegal miners who smuggle these restricted materials inside TVIRD Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) site in Bayog’s Balabag mountain.

The TVIRD executive was deeply concerned by Cruz’s irresponsible statement which described Jungoy as a member of an illegitimate organization that does “dirty” works for the mining firm.

“Before issuing libellous statement, the Armed Forces of the Philippines should have read the police report on the Balabag incident. They could have known that the suspect was just defending his life against his attackers and that the company does not condone criminal acts,” Perez said.

“We brought Jungoy to the police immediately after the incident. We did not hide him because we trust our law enforcers so justice can take its course. Instead of making irresponsible statements, authorities should stop these unprovoked acts of unlawful aggression,” he added.

According to TVIRD, Jungoy told police that he and his team where on a routine inspection inside the MPSA when they ran into some 20 laborers engaged in illegal mining activities carrying cyanide, activated carbon and diesel fuel use in their outlawed gold processing plants.

“Jungoy related to the police that he was attacked and mauled when he tried to stop the group of laborers. He fired a warning shot, but the group ignored it and continued their attack. Sensing serious danger to his life, Jungoy fired another shot that unfortunately hit one of his attackers,” TVIRD said.

TVIRD - an affiliate of TVI Pacific - said the company finds it necessary, together with local government and police authorities, to set up security checkpoints and patrols in Balabag due to the dangerous operations by illegal miners in the area.

It said even Zamboanga del Sur Governor Antonio Cerilles and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources ordered a stop to all hazardous and illegal mining operations in Bayog town, particularly in Balabag.

Most of the miners operating in Balabag belong to the Monte de Oro Small Scale Miners Association, but the Provincial Mineral Regulatory Board recently passed a resolution denying MOSSMA’s application to have the area declared as “peoples’ mining area’ because it does not comply with the requirements set forth by law to conduct mining activities.

Illegal miners have been operating in Balabag for more than a decade now and were largely blamed for the destruction of the mountain and environmental pollution in the town, according to the Mines and Geosciences Bureau. (Mindanao Examiner)

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