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"Like an abusive visitor who sues the host"

Violeta M. Gloria / MindaNews

ILIGAN CITY -- Dipolog Bishop Jose Maguiran likens the situation in Siocon town as a "family with visitor who abused the house… and when the owner of the house protested, the visitor sued the host."

The bishop said this after TVI Resource development, Inc., a Canadian mining company operating in Mt. Canatuan, Siocon, got 12 residents who joined a month-long picket in March at Barangay Pisawak to bar the entry of equipment to the mine site, locked up in jail.

They were detained starting at 3:20 p.m. Friday but were freed at 5 p.m. on the same day after Mayor Cesar Soriano helped put up their bail bond of P2,000 each.

Elena Comisas, Nino Davi, Seth Davi, Loloy Tabaya, Ofelia Davi, Mario Torino, Godofredo Galos, Nanida Aganan, Julie Lobrigas, Valentine Sumondod, Apolinia Bulagao and Timuay Macario Salacao were detained at 3:20 p.m. Friday but were freed at 5 p.m. on the same day after Mayor Cesar Soriano helped put up their bail bond of P2,000 each.

They were arrested for violation of Section 107 of Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, for alleged "illegal obstruction to permitees or contractors."

This is an upside-down situation because those people who sacrificed lives to protect God's creation from destruction were jailed while nothing happens to the genuine destroyer, which is TVI which claims to be a responsible miner," Maguiran said in a statement sent to MindaNews.

The bishop had repeatedly advocated against environmental exploitation at the expense of communities.

He, along with leaders from the Iglesia Ni Cristo, Seventh Day Adventist, Muslims, Subanon and other religious groups held an ecumenical prayer outside the jail. The bishop joined a protest march to "escort" the arrested villagers from the convent, where they were served their warrants of arrest, to the jail.

"Our bishop condemned TVI for the harassment done against the poor people of Siocon," said Tito Fiel, a worker of DIOPIM (the dioceses and prelatures of Dipolog, Ipil, Ozamiz, Pagadian, Iligan and Marawi) Committee on Mining Issues (DCMI).

Fiel noted that some participants at the March-April picket "were asking why TVI only filed charges against these very poor people and did not sue the religious and other prominent leaders who joined the picket at Pisawak."

"TVI's selective action to sue poor people is a clear manifestation of harassment against the community's genuine aspiration for sustainable development," Fiel said.

Mayor Soriano said the arrest of the 12 was political harassment.

Soriano, who has been among the protesters, said TVI has filed 42 cases against him since he became mayor.

"TVI aimed to oust me from Siocon so that no one could help and support the people who are opposed to any form of environmental destruction, especially large-scale mining," said Soriano, who frequented the anti-TVI barricades in March-April

Soriano and his party won overwhelmingly in the May 10 polls.

"TVI has circulated misinformation to the people. That is why I am opposed to TVI," said Soriano, a former Mindanao bureau chief of ABS-CBN before his election as Siocon mayor.

Soriano also debunked reports TVI has overwhelming support from Siocon residents.

"That alleged public support claimed by TVI is not true because the local government of Siocon had clearly stated its position against any form of environmental destruction, including the operation of TVI, through a municipal council resolution," he said.

TVI boasted recently that Subanens supported their mining operation.

Officials of 26 barangays of Siocon are also opposed to the mining operation, as contained in barangay resolutions.

Timuay Fernado Mudai, one of those three Subanen leaders sued by TVI for allegedly masterminding the ambush on December 26, 2002, said TVI "is wielding a new form of corporate terrorism, a political power to legitimise their operation and to hold total control of their business interest over Mt Canatuan."

"Harassing the residents through threats, forcing them to uproot their residences in Canatuan, militarising the mountain by hiring hundreds of security forces armed with high powered fire arms, and firing those who protested, and suing those who oppose them -- this is corporate terrorism, too."

But Rey Magpantay, president of TVI, dismissed allegations that TVI is abusive and is engaging in 'corporate terrorism' as "plain headline-grabbing statements."

"I felt that those who lacked information about TVI or those who declare false information are those with vested interests when we will be evicted in Canatuan," said Magpantay, adding, "they are just diverting the real issues."

"We respect their freedom of _expression but they violated the law when they blocked the road and caused delay of our operation, hence causing delay for us to pay (1%) royalty (to the Subanon), he said.

"I am not keeping a personal issue with the bishop but those who picketed are answerable to the law," he said, adding they could have asked the police to disperse the protesters "but we did not."

Asked why TVI only sued a few persons and excluded the prominent leaders, Magpantay replied, "dapat pa ba naming damihan? (must we sue more people?)