In Compostela Valley’s villages, a de facto martial law exists. Civilians have been tortured, detained, harassed and killed as the military increases its presence in the resource-rich province in order to protect, according to residents and activists, plantation and mining companies. The deaths of killing of two civilians by soldiers last Wednesday were the offshoots of yet another case of “development aggression.”
By Grace S. Uddin
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 12 April 29-May 5, 2007
NEW BATAAN, Compostela Valley — Ciano Muñez is distressed no end that, these days, he is the one taking care of his two children. The irony is that his wife, Nenita, is minding other people’s children — she works as a babysiter in Panabo City, earning a meager 1,500 pesos a month.
Prior to this, the 35-year-old Ciano earned between 200 and 400 pesos a day as a small-scale miner. Every day, he went up the mountains of this town to pan for gold. And every day, he came home bone-tired but comforted by the fact that his family would have something to eat the next day.
“My wife used to stay home and took care of the children because my earnings were sufficient for us,” Ciano told davaotoday.com last week.
Things changed in March, when armed men drove Ciano and about 200 other small-scale miners from Santa Fe, in Camanlangan village of this town where they worked the mines. Ciano is convinced that the armed men were soldiers who were acting as goons for Philcor Mining Corporation, a company that also mines the area.
According to the small-scale miners, the company did not want competitors for the rich gold deposits in this town, which is not far from the famous Diwalwal gold-rush site.
Fernando Cañeda, 38, another small-scale miner who had been mining in the area longer than Philcor, was not as lucky as Ciano. “The goons came to our area, then they blocked our paths and threatened us. They told us to leave within three days, otherwise we should prepare our coffins,” Fernando recalled.
On March 5, armed men forcibly took Fernando. “I was tortured and brought to the New Bataan police station where I stayed for five days,” he said. He was accused of stealing from the gold veins in the mining area where he had been working for years now.
Fernando said the men who arrested him wore civilian clothes and had their faces covered with cloth. “But we knew they were soldiers because they were assisted by some Cafgus, some of them I knew,” he recalled. He got out of jail after his wife posted a bail of 8,000 pesos, which she had borrowed.
What happened to Ciano and Fernando mirrors the worsening human-rights situation in this town, which has seen an upsurge in the number of soldiers deployed, residents said. Along with the deployment came the usual abuses against civilians.
The heavy presence of soldiers in this town, according to residents and nongovernment groups, was directly related to the entry of mining and plantation projects that threaten the livelihood of people like Ciano and Fernando.
This province convulses every so often with the conflict between big miners and small miners; the presence of troops, according to critics, is an attempt to stifle whatever dissent from the grassroots that usually follows these major investments.
In resource-rich Mindanao particularly, the phenomenon called “development aggression” — the entry of big investments, mostly foreign-owned, that disrupt communities and threaten the livelihood of ordinary folk — has worsened over the decades, displacing tribes and villages from their lands, and breeding conflicts that, in turn, stoke the long-running communist and Moro insurgencies. The army usually comes in to try to contain the dissent and, in many instances, practically acting as security guards for these companies.
In the case of New Bataan, a rubber plantation and a mining project are being eyed in the town, according to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, a nongovernment group composed of peasants and farmers.
An area of nearly 1,000 hectares are being considered for the rubber plantation, the KMP said. Traditional tree species would be cut to pave the way for rubber trees. According to the KMP, there is already an existing nursery of rubber tree seedlings at the Department of Agriculture compound here. The KMP says the project was approved a long time ago but its implementation only started this year.
The mining project, meanwhile, will be undertaken by Viclode, a sister company of Apex Mining Corp., one of the country’s biggest mining companies with ties to some of the world’s mining giants. The mining area will cover about 700 hectares and will affect, according to the KMP, villages that include Uduan, Tagima, Macopa, Piagabangan, Piyagbasan and Kagan, all in New Bataan.
While these areas are considered mining zones under the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title owned by the Lumads in the area, the impact on the residents would be disastrous, the KMP said.
Moreover, the area includes the Manurigao River, a major tributary and water source that supports communities downstream.
Clearly, however, these are major investments — investments that the government has been crowing about and the army has been tasked to protect but which, according to the KMP, explains the surge of soldiers in the area in the past months.
Checkpoints, House Searches
According to the New Bataan Farmers’ Association (NEBFA) and the Concerned Citizen for People’s Rights (CCPR), the military presence has grown here over the months: from a mere platoon, there is now a regular company fixed in the town. Elements from other units in the province and region would often augment the company, particularly during operations.
NEBFA and CCPR have counted more than 30 military operations between Jan. 30 and March 31. These include checkpoints in indefinite places and time, the scrutiny of passengers of motorcycles and tricycles as well as civilians in the streets, and house searches.
The soldiers also go from school to school, conducting forums against leftist groups. They also give cellphone numbers to residents. In one case, a soldier, using a ballpoint pen, wrote a phone number on the arm of Roelle, an 11- year-old pupil in one of the schools in New Bataan.
“I was about to go home from school when one of the soldiers called me,” he recalled in Visayan. “He grabbed my left arm and wrote something on it. It was a cellphone number. He told me to text him right away if I saw a rebel.”
Leaders of NEBFA and CCPR believe that acts like this create a psychological effect on residents. In the case of farmers and small-scale miners like Ciano and Fernando, they no longer go to their farm or upland areas for fear that they might be suspected as members or sympathizers of the New People’s Army, said Jimmy Bertulfo, chairman of NEBFA.
This was true in the case of Genito Obires, 43, a farmer. Obires said he stopped going to his farm in Mapaso because he felt harassed. “They would ask me, ‘Are you an NPA or not?’ Of course, I was afraid each time because they were armed,” Obires said.
The New People’s Army has been waging a Maoist insurgency all over the Philippines for more than three decades now. They operate in practically all provinces in the country, including Compostela Valley, where they are said to have grown stronger over the years.
Obires had the same experience in 1986 when he was still in Monkayo, another town near here. One day, he refused to obey the soldiers who told him not to go to the uplands. He was beaten as a result. He has learned his lessons since then, he told davaotoday.com.
Aside from the constant and surprise checkpoints and body searches that border on harassment, the military has likewise practically turned a school, the Bukidnon State University, into a garrison: military hardware and equipment such as two light armored cars, two cannons, three military trucks and two ambulances filled with ammunitions have been placed inside the campus.
“The several military checkpoints and the conduct of house-to-house searches and psychological warfare campaigns in the area are a manifestation that New Bataan is experiencing de facto martial rule in the hand of the fascist elements of AFP,” said Kelly Delgado, secretary-general of Karapatan in Southern Mindanao.
Last week, around 300 small- scale miners and farmers affiliated with the Kilusang Magubukid sa Pilipinas held demonstrations in this town to protest these alleged abuses by the 28th IB.
‘Only A Few’
Brig. Gen. Carlos Holganza, commanding officer of the 1001st Brigade, told davaotoday.com in a phone interview that “only a few” of his men are deployed in New Bataan. He said the troops’ presence here was meant to augment the police in keeping the peace, as well as deal with the alleged extortion activities of the New People’s Army.
“We have received complaints from the community about the extortion activities of the rebels,” Holganza said. He also cited the recent burning by the NPA of of a 10-wheel logging truck last April 3.
He criticized the leftist groups for opposing the presence of the military in the town, pointing out that the oft-repeated word “militarization,” which the leftists often use to describe the deployment, “is a highly abused word.”
In previous statements to the press, Holganza asserted that these leftist groups have ties with the NPA.
New Bataan Mayor Lorenzo Balbin Jr. says his office has not received any formal complaint against the soldiers or any complaint questioning the conduct of the military.
He acknowledged receiving reports of the military’s school-hopping but pointed out that campaigning against its perceived enemies is part of the military’s advocacy.
“They go from school to school for their advocacy. They try to explain the functions and role of the military over the civilians, which is to protect their lives and properties. That is part of their job,” Balbin explained.
According to him, the military might really be checking houses of residents because there could be possible presence of NPA rebels in these houses.
The problem, he said, is between the military and the NPA. “New Bataan is a passageway to other provinces, that is why rebels happen to pass here,” he said.
Balbin said that the 28th IB has been in his town for a long time now and that their removal was out of his hands. He has requested the military, though, to camp elsewhere, far from civilians.
“They should not be worried,” the mayor said of his constituents. “The situation is still under control.” He even encouraged farmers and miners to go back to the uplands and continue their livelihood. (Grace S. Uddin/davaotoday.com)