Cordillera Rights Watch Demands Soldiers’ Pullout from Strike-Bound Lepanto

As support for the striking workers at the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) continues to pour in, soldiers have decided to increase their presence in the area but using as an excuse the sightings of New People’s Army rebels in nearby areas where the strike was being held.

Northern Dispatch
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BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila) — More human rights violations in the offing?

The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) believes that this could happen as soldiers were recently deployed in Mankayan, Benguet allegedly due to sightings of New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas, especially at the strike-bound Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC). The rights watchdog called for the immediate pullout of the army unit.

In a statement, the CHRA said that the presence of the military would only lead to more cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the Philippine National Police (PNP) deployed in Lepanto following the Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) order by Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas last May 10.

The PNP has committed cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment, grave coercion and physical injuries to the workers and their families, said the CHRA.

Meanwhile, the Lepanto Employees Union (LEU) whose strike is already on its third month reported that 14 dispersals have taken place since June 17 at the picket lines since June 17, injuring hundreds of workers including women. Most of the dispersals happened from 2-5:30 a.m.

Twenty-three workers were arbitrarily arrested in two instances last July 7. These workers were released with the assistance of the CHRA and other human rights lawyers from Baguio City, it was also learned.

PNP Senior Supt. Villamor Bumanglag said the police are not responsible for these HRVs. The CHRA, however, disagreed and even noted that the PNP ignored the Benguet Sangguniang Panlalawigan’s (provincial council’s) Resolution No. 05-213 signed last June 26 which ordered the PNP to stay 50 meters away from the picket line.

Alleged NPA sightings

Armed Forces of the Philippines-Civil Relations Group (AFP-CRG)’s Maj. Vicente Basilan and PNP’s Bumanglag confirmed the presence of the military in Mankayan. According to the army’s intelligence reports, at least 40 NPA guerrillas were seen in Barangay Bedbed recently. Another 140 guerrillas were reportedly seen in the Benguet (Mankayan) and Ilocos Sur (Cervantes) boundary.

A local television interview with Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) spokesperson Preme Monta last June however confirmed that the police and military deployment is meant to protect expansion operations of Lepanto in Cervantes and to aid in the entry of foreign mining companies.

In an interview with LCMC resident manager Augusto Villaluna on May 31, he said that the military deployment in the area was also due to the alleged NPA sightings.

Meanwhile, Baguio-based human rights group Dinteg Indigenous Law Center expressed concern over the “mounting violence over the handling of the (striking LCMC) workers” in a letter to Sto. Tomas.

“Several of our advocates and lawyers were witnesses to the violent engagement in the recent march-rally last July 23 where several workers and police elements suffered from physical injuries in the aftermath of stone throwing and gun shooting. It has also come to our attention that a kid was locked crying inside a bunkhouse as PNP elements forcibly padlocked the bunkhouses of so-called dismissed workers,” Dinteg said in a letter signed by its Board of Directors Chair and City Councilor Atty. Jose M. Molintas.

Dinteg also called for the immediate pullout of the PNP’s Task Force Lepanto and to refrain from deploying armed personnel at the picket lines. The group stated that the presence of armed elements has violated the workers’ right to strike.

Dinteg further said that the solution to the labor dispute is for Lepanto management to reinstate the 19 union officers and members.

Support from various groups

Rev. Dr. Benjamin A. Justo, bishop of the Baguio Episcopal Area, denounced the LCMC for the inhuman ways of dealing with the workers. He said that while the Lepanto management wallows in richness and profit, the workers are denied of their rights to have a decent living.

Before leaving the picket lines after a four-day exposure trip that ended last Aug. 12, Justo and 36 pastors, lay leaders and the district superintendents of the United Methodist Church agreed to shell out P10,000 for the workers’ immediate needs like rice. Justo assured the workers that the United Methodist Church, in particular the Baguio Episcopal Area, will always be one with them.

For its part, the Denmark-based International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) said in a statement that they found the human rights violations against the LCMC striking workers “very serious.” The IWGIA stressed that the LEU already adjusted their earlier demands for wage increases but the management failed to agree on this adjusted demands.

The IWGIA is an international organization that supports struggles of indigenous peoples for human rights, self-determination, right to territory, control of land and resources, cultural integrity and right to development. The group brings its documentations on violations against indigenous peoples to the concerned governments and the agencies of the United Nations such as the Commission on Human Rights under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Founded in 1968 by human rights activists and anthropologists, IWGIA is among the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that hold consultative status with the UN ECOSOC.

“This kind of support is well and good for all of us. It can help enlighten the Makati-based executives of Lepanto that we are supported for our just struggle,” said Ronald Maslian, spokesperson and auditor of LEU.

He said that the LEU continuously receives solidarity support from here and abroad including the groups of Cordillera domestic workers in Hongkong. With reports from Arthur L. Allad-iw / (

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