By LINA SAGARAL REYES
Special Correspondent .
First of a four parts
CLAVER, Surigao del Norte — The outstretched arms of Minimar Noah Buklas hang loose as these move alternately up and down, mimicking the graceful flutter of birdwings. As he stomps his feet on the rust-red ground rhythmically, the beaded anklet around his right foot jiggles.
The 14-year-old Mamanwa boy is dancing the ritual jig called tumba-a. A while ago he sang snippets of the chant called tug-om, stumbling over forgotten lines. He just graduated from the elementary grades with 29 others at Punta Naga Elementary School (PNES) two days ago.
For the boy Buklas, who belongs to a lineage of tribal leaders, and the four other Mamanwa students in that room whose walls are festooned with paper cut-outs of letters spelling out words and phrases of the Minamanwa language, it would seem inconsequential that issues bother the elders of their tribe.
But if these concerns become conflict flashpoints, their studies could be at stake, particularly if their parents would decide to resort to barricade the mining camp as they did in 2009.
Among the catalog of woes is their tribe’s invisibility from the 2016-2020 Social Development and Management Plan (SDMP) of the Taganito Mining Corp., the oldest and biggest nickel ore mining company within the Surigao Mining Reservation in Claver and within the Mamanwa ancestral domain claim CADT 048, about 80 kilometers southeast of Surigao City in
All operating mining companies in the country are required by law to directly spend for and implement programs that benefit mining communities. This mandate is the rationale behind the SDMP.
Funded by a mandatory annual budget based on the prior year’s operating costs under the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7249), the SDMP is described by the DENR as “a five-year comprehensive program to sustain improvement in the living standards of host and neighboring communities by creating responsible, self-reliant, and resource-based communities capable of developing, implementing and managing community development programs, projects and activities.”
At the tribal hall, a stone’s throw away from the school, Junjun “Joel” Hurod, a tribal council member and tribal in-charge in the absence of tribal head Renante Buklas, sits on a concrete bench among kids, sucking and licking a pink lollipop, near sheaves of cogon grass. He prefers candies to cigarettes. He takes pride in the PNES and the 180 graduates it had produced in the past six years, almost half of whom are Mamanwa.
For Hurod, the tribe claims moral ownership over the school. For the tribe, the school was not given on a silver platter by the mining companies, because they have demanded for it as part of the negotiations to allow mining and ore processing on their ancestral domain.
The seven-building school campus was constructed by TMC and Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp. for the tribe’s children of school age. THPAL Nickel Corp. is a hydro-metallurgical nickel ore processing plant that TMC in turn supplies with limonite ore to process into mixed nickel-cobalt sulfides for export to Japanese refineries. As a permit holder, THPAL Nickel Corp. is also required by law to implement its own SDMP.
Both firms belong to the Nickel Asia Corp. conglomerate, the country’s largest nickel ore producer, which has four mining sites — three in Caraga and one in Palawan.
The PNES is among the four schools in the province where the Indigenous Peoples Education Curriculum is being implemented for the children of the province’s Mamanwa population of 14,000. The campus sits within the reforested relocation site in Barangay Cagdianao overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The relocation village of around 120 houses is meant for about 200 Mamanwa families whose previous habitats were within the TMC mining project locations in barangays Taganito and Urbiztondo.
The reality had bitten the elders hard. Hurod said that the tribal council of the Ampantrimtu (Asosasyon sa Madazaw nga Panaghiusa nan mga Mamanwa sa Taganito ug Urbiztondo) — an association of Mamanwa of Taganito and Urbiztondo — thought that they had been excluded from the SDMP only about two years ago as the fourth cycle began in 2016, only to realize that not a cent has been earmarked for them since 2011.
“They have eased us out from the CTWG (community technical working group) since 2011, and then we were told that our former elder, Datu Rizal Buklas, has committed to waive our rights to the SDMP,” said Hurod.
The CTWG is an internal monitoring mechanism composed of local government officials, and civil society groups in the mining communities.
Datu Rizal Buklas was the tribe’s leader who negotiated with TMC way back in 2006. Upon his death, his son, Renante succeeded him in 2009.
By “they,” Hurod meant the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the members of the CTWG.
Despite Hurod’s sweeping accusation, in reality, however, the mandate of the NCIP covers only issues on the ancestral domain and royaltes, and has no jurisdiction over the implementation of the SDMP. Only the MGB has oversight functions over evaluation, approval, and implementation of a mining firm’s SDMP. The CTWG, together with the TMC community relations office, provides internal monitoring.
Under the Mining Act of 1995, the TMC as an operating permit holder renewed its Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) in 2008 on 4,875.03 hectares of Mamanwa ancestral land for another 25 years, and is required to set aside 1.5 percent of the prior year’s operational costs for social development programs and activities of host and neighboring communities directly and indirectly affected by its operations.
The TMC is pre-eminent among the 26 nickel mining projects in the country. It was the biggest producer of nickel ore in 2014, the year the Philippines became the world’s largest producer of nickel. It also has Caraga’s largest nickel ore reserve, pegged at more than 291 million wet metric tons, and the largest area covered by an MPSA in the region.
It follows therefore that it also has the biggest SDMP in the region, valued at over P108.759 million covering the period from 2011 to 2015. TMC’s SDMP in 2016 reached almost P52-million, at P51,904,706.
According to Department Administrative Order 2012-13 of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that consolidated the revised implementing rules and regulations of the mining law since 1996, of the mandatory SDMP fund, 75 percent is allotted for accredited programs and projects in the areas of human resource development, access to education and educational support, enterprise development, health services and socio-cultural preservation.
But beginning in 2011, a year after the Mamanwa received the first of many tranches of the royalty, which is one percent of yearly gross output of TMC, no projects under the SDMP were earmarked for the tribe.
The royalty for indigenous peoples came in bulk amounts for the indigenous community collectively owning the area. Each family used to receive at least P50,000 per quarter, which went down to P4,000 per quarter in 2017. But then, no SDMP projects were allotted for the Mamanwa residents unlike the previous first two five-year cycles beginning in 2000 till 2010.
The Gold Star Daily learned about the exclusion when it obtained copies of the two latest SDMPs of the mining company from the website of the Philippine Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI) , of which TMC is a voluntary participant.
While EITI, a global standard for transparency in the extractive industries of which the Philippines is a member, primarily gathers annual reports on revenues and taxes of the participating 26 large-scale metallic industries in the country beginning in 2012, it has encouraged these companies to also disclose their social and economic contributions, such as the SDMP and corporate social responsibility (CSR) expenditures.
According to PH EITI, such transparency “encourages and facilitates review of these disclosures to ensure that such contributions have sustainable impact.”
Aloysius Diaz, previous TMC mine site manager, noticed in 2015 that such SDMP funds in the past 15 years had been spent mostly for buildings or infrastructure, which he described as “dead-end” and lacks impact.
The first two cycles, from 2000 to 2010, of TMC’s SDMPs were understandably infra-heavy because these programs were developed following guidelines set in DENR Department Administrative Orders 1996- and 99-57, which explicitly described credited activities to include establishment/construction of infractures such as schools, hospitals, churches, recreational facilities, access roads, bridges, piers, among others.
But by the end of 2010, prior to the implementation of the third SDMP cycle, to be implemented from 2011-2015, the guidelines had been revised in DAO 2010-13 and 2010-22, to give priority to human development and institutional building, livelihood, educational support. While infrastructure is still a credited project, any construction must be in support of livelihood programs.
And yet, it seemed that program shift was difficult for TMC as it implemented its third cycle.
Consequently though, under the helm of Diaz, for both SDMP and CSR funds (2016-2020), TMC gives priority to access to education and educational support, an aspiration which it shares with the Mamanwa leaders. In a participatory community peace and conflict assessment conducted by the GIZ, the German Technical Cooperation Agency, in 2009, Mamanwa tribal heads joined other Caragan indigenous leaders in prioritizing the education of the young generation as essential to their collective survival, second only to the assertion of their human rights.
The second part of this series tackles the calls from government and industry to change policies on SDMP to ensure sustainable development in mining communities in Caraga and elsewhere in the country; and yet, nothing addresses nor prevents the exclusion of IPs from the mandated development program.
(This four-part series was funded under the Covering the Extractive Industries fellowship program of the Philippine Press Institute in partnership with the Philippine Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative.)