The conflict over Taganito Mining Corporation’s (TMC) open pit nickel mine, located in Claver municipality, Surigao del Norte, is a complex case of desperate resistance, led by indigenous and locals, against corporate interests that have caused large environmental destruction, the division of tribes over unpaid royalties, loss of culture and threats to lives and livelihoods. TMC, being one of the largest nickel producers in the region, has operated mines in the ancestral domains of the Mamanwa tribe since the 1960s. While environmental destruction due to mining operations has been ongoing hence for decades, conflicts intensified over unpaid royalties from a Mining Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) for nickel ore exploration in Taganito, granted in 2008. According to the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, indigenous communities are entitled to at least 1% of gross production for mining operations on their ancestral lands .
In this context, on January 29, 2009, a group of indigenous Mamanwa from the Taganito Mamanwa Association set up a human barricade at the highway along Taganito, Claver, to demand the royalties which they were claiming since 2008 .
Following the barricades, TMC paid the royalties amounting to P51.5 million PHP, however only for 2006 and 2007. Furthermore, following a resolution of the National Council of Indigenous People (NCIP), TMC paid them to another tribe association, which had signed the Memorandum of Agreement with the company (MOA). This has caused division and conflicts between the different indigenous groups. It took over a month (March 04, 2009) to lift the barricades in order to enter in conflict settlement agreements between the two tribes and the company .
Meanwhile, the money was frozen by NCIP in a bank account. The Mamanwas filed a case against some NCIP officers for abuse of authority, and consequently, the officers were later (in 2011) suspended .
In 2010, TMC continued to owe royalties, for which reason around 30 members of the Mamanwa tribes stormed TMC’s mining site and torched mining equipment, including a bulldozer . In addition to unpaid royalties, TMC and five other mining companies active in the area were accused of heavy environmental contamination, siltation of rivers and marine ecosystems, as well as the destruction of sacred places of the indigenous [4;5]. Residents reported to suffer from serious health problems and crucial livelihood resources, i.e. fish stocks, were heavy polluted . Evidence of pollution was supported by an analysis of the Natural Sciences Research Institute (UP-NSRI) of the University of the Philippines, showing extremely high levels of nickel in water and soil. Therefore, in May 2011, the tribal commission of Mindanao (TRICOM) and several other communities filed a petition for writ before the Supreme Court demanding an immediate stop of the active companies, among them TMC .
The conflict drastically intensified on October 3, 2011, when 200 armed members of the New People’s Army (NPA) attacked TMC and the Taganito HPAL processing plant in Claver town to punish and block their destructive activities, killing four guards, torching the mining equipment and taking hostage of several mining officials [6;12] (see also video). In parallel, another nearby mining company, Platinum Metals Group Corporation, was attacked the same day by NPA members . Subsequently, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the mining companies entered into agreements of training and employing special militia, funded by the mining companies. The proposal however was strongly rejected by environmental groups, as there is a longstanding record of human rights violations related to increased militarization and private military forces in mining areas .
In 2012, following the demands for investigation of environmental issues, an assessment team led by the Mineral and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) visited the area. Despite documented evidence of environmental problems, TMC and other active companies, except Shenzhou Corporation (see related conflicts), were allowed to continue mining, as they presented plans of how to handle the environmental problems .
As of early 2015, heavy environmental degradation of Claver municipality through nickel companies such as Taganito Mining Corporation goes on, while conflicts and social tensions surrounding the mining operations continue. However, the government seems to evaluate only tax benefits (on February 18, 2015, TMC received by the government a tax payer award), but not the devastating social and environmental costs, which are carried by local people and the environment.