By Harald Eraker
When NorWatch reported on the controversial Mindex project after visiting Mindoro in June (see NorWatch no. 11/99), managing director Anders Hvide rejected that there is a strong opposition against the nickel project in the newspaper Dagsavisen (30.08.99). On the contrary, he said that the company had the signatures of 100,000 people who support the project.
But Ned de Guzman, one of the coordinators of the alliance against the project, ALAMIN, is very critical towards this. Guzman says that according to the latest census, there are 654,639 inhabitants in the province of Oriental Mindoro, where most of the project will be located. He finds it ridiculous and meaningless that 15% of the total number of inhabitants in the province suddenly should have signed an appeal to support Mindex.
LIHAM, the organisation which claims to have collected the signatures, is an organisation which is hardly visible in Mindoro, and which was established in order to let the members benefit from aid from the adoption organisation PLAN International. LIHAM is run by Nilo H. Baculo who, according to Guzman, has a bad reputation, among other things because of LIHAM's previous cooperation with PLAN International.
In addition, Guzman and the opponents of the project have evidence that signatures have been collected by swindling people. In Pakyas in the municipality Victoria (where the mine will be situated), signatures were collected by a representative for LIHAM who told people that the appeal was against Mindex. This was also written on the front page of the petition.
Because people knew the LIHAM-representative from their neighbourhood, many signed the appeal without reading its content. The truth was that the petition concludes by supporting the mining project. The opponents have a letter, signed by 40 people who certify that they were hoaxed in this manner. The opponents' inquiries of the case also show that many LIHAM-members who signed the appeal believed that they signed completely different things, such as demands for electricity and lists of attendance for LIHAM meetings.
Protests from mayors
Nor is the recently signed agreement (Memorandum of Agreement) between Mindex and the indigenous peoples' organisation Kabilogan, which supports the nickel project, generally respected. As reported in newsletter no. 11/99, Kabilogan was founded in April this year, after the traditional indigenous peoples' organisations turned against the mining project.
Kabilogan's members have received extensive financial support and gifts from Mindex, and now they support the Norwegian company's plans as a return service. Guzman says that the organisation's consent has caused discord between the members, and that many have terminated their memberships in protest.
In contrast to the alleged wide support, there have been several reports on demonstrations and resolutions against Mindex since NorWatch visited Mindoro. In July, the mayors in all the municipalities in Oriental Mindoro passed a resolution against the mining project. The resolution, which is signed by 14 mayors, expresses "strong opposition" against the project, which in their opinion will cause environmental devastation, increased risk of flooding, pollution, and deprive the local population, including the indigenous people, of their livelihood.
The governor and the vice governor of the province are also declared opponents of the project. This implies that the entire political leadership of Oriental Mindoro is among the opponents. Criticism has also been raised against the consulting firm Dames & Moore which, on assignment from Mindex, carries out the environmental impact assesment (EIA) of the nickel project.
In addition to lacking confidence in Dames & Moore with regard to the contents and method of the impact analysis, the consultant is also accused of unfair methods. One of the sharpest critics is the chief administrator of the province, Alfonso V. Umali. In a letter to Arne Isberg, head of Mindex Resources Development in Manila, Umali dissociates himself completely from Dames & Moore using his name and forging his signature in support of the project.
The chief administrator demands, on behalf of the province, that Dames & Moore must be taken off the job, and he emphasizes that they will be firm in their "opposition to the project in the best interest of the people and the preservation of the environment".
The critical letter ends with the following: "We would leave no stone unturned in upholding this position and will never tolerate such acts by Dames and Moore and similar firms again."
Mindex ghost set on fire
By June the 4th ALAMIN had collected 29,313 signatures against the Mindex project, according to Guzman. Since that time, there have been demonstrations against the project with up to 8,000 participants in the towns Victoria, Pinamalayan, Soccoro, and the province capital Calapan.
The last-mentioned rally took place on July the 31st, when more than 6,000 people marched through the streets, according to Philippine newspapers. Among the demonstrators were Calapan's mayor Arnan C. Panaligan, and the province administrator Alfonso V. Umali, who represented the province's governor.
When several priests had made their appeals, in which they - among other things - referred to the church's opposition against mining in the form of open-cast mines, the demonstrators showed their detestation of the project plans by setting fire to an excavator with a doll representing a Mindex ghost placed in the driver's seat.
The newspaper "Philippine Daily Inquirer" refers to the Catholic priest Edwin A. Gariguez, who came with the following appeal:
"We should not sacrifice the poor communities and the impoverished tribal people for profits to be derived out of mining. The Church joins the clamor of the people in opposing the destructive mining of Mindex."
Mindex in the Philippines
Mindex ASA is quoted on the Oslo Stock Exchange, and owns100% of the subsidiary Mindex Resources Development, Inc. in the Philippines. Mindex Resources Development stands behind the plans of a nickel/cobalt project in Mindoro, which is the only project which the company is actively promoting in the Philippines today.
In addition, Mindex ASA has the following subsidiaries in the Philippines: Aglubang Mining Corporation, Alagag Mining Inc., Wisetech Services Inc., and Pili Point Processing Inc. Mindex's 9700 hectares mining concession area in Mindoro is divided into two parts: Approximately one third of the area is controlled by Mindex Resources Development, Inc., while the rest is controlled by Aglubang Mining Corp.
In September this year, Mindex ASA and the Canadian mining company Crew Development Corp. signed an agreement to merge. The new group will be named Crew Development Corp. It will have its head office in Vancouver, and another office in Oslo. The present top management of Mindex will be part of the Crew top management, and Mindex will have two representatives on the new board.
Norwatch Newsletter 15/99