Far from a counter-insurgency operation, the massive militarization and dislocation of communities in Surigao del Sur and the Caraga region had more to do with protecting business interests, primarily mining and energy investments. Although there is nothing particularly new in all this, the Arroyo regime had actually taken the extra step to ensure that the military would act as veritable security guards of these companies.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA – When the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched in recent months military operations in the Caraga region that led to the displacement of thousands of Lumad residents, officials defended it as part of their campaign to defeat the communist movement by 2010.
But a closer look revealed that, far from a counter-insurgency operation, the massive militarization and dislocation of communities had more to do with protecting business interests — primarily mining investments — in the Caraga region. Human-rights group say this is done at the expense of residents, especially the indigenous tribes that live in the areas affected by these investments.
Although there is nothing particularly new in all this, the Arroyo regime had actually taken the extra step to ensure that the military would act as veritable security guards of these companies, in effect signaling to investors, especially those in the extractive industries that tend to displace locals, that their interests would be protected by the might of the state.
In February last year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced the creation of the Investment Defense Force (IDF), a special unit of the AFP tasked to safeguard mining operations and investments. The IDF’s function, according to Arroyo, is that of a “protective shield” for power and mining facilities.
During a visit to Siargao, Surigao del Norte, in April 2008, Arroyo emphasized the importance of the IDF. She told reporters that she had ordered an increase in military deployment in Caraga for the protection of mining companies.
“I asked the military to post military units…the Investment Defense Force that would not only secure the mining companies but also do civic actions in coordination with the local government,” Arroyo had said. “Mining investments must be protected as they contribute much to government coffers and create new jobs.”
The latter claim might be true in some respect but there is no denying the toll these investments have taken on local residents. The formation of the IDF, according to Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, who is one of Mindanao’s leading advocate for tribal rights, has resulted in increased military deployments in communities where there is active resistance to, among other things, large-scale mining interests threatening the environment, as well as the people’s livelihood and native ways of life.
“The indigenous communities have been fighting these big companies because their intrusive operations have destroyed the natural environment, thus also the homes and livelihood of the locals,” Ilagan said in a recent statement. “But every opposition is met by harassment and human rights violations by the military.”
Mining in Surigao del Sur
The Caraga region, particularly Surigao del Sur, is known for its rich mineral resources. Among the major mining companies there are CTP Construction and Mining Corporation, Benguet Corporation and Carrascal Nickel Corporation (CNC).
CTP Construction and Mining Corporation is owned by Clarence T. Pimentel, a brother of Surigao del Sur Governor Vicente T. Pimentel. In its website, the company claims to have two mining properties in Carrascal town, covering a total of 4,000 hectares. This town was among those heavily militarized recently.
Benguet Corporation has mining operations in several provinces throughout the country, and carries out coal mining in Surigao del Sur. Its chief executive officer (CEO) is Benjamin Philip Romualdez, the president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. Among the members of Benguet Corporation’s executive committee is Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, a close political ally of Arroyo’s. The Romualdezes own 44 percent of Benguet Corporation.
CNC’s president is Antonio L. Co, who is also the chairman and president of Grand Asia Steel Resources and Dragon Asia Rolling Mills. Among its other major investors are Chen Fa Guan, also chairman of China’s Fujian Wuhang Stainless Steel Products; Carlos Chan, also chairman of Liwayway Marketing Corporation (Philippines), Chan C. Brothers, and Liwayway (China); Ferdinand Borja, also president of FS Borja Mining Corporation; and Fu Kong Sang, also president of Fulim Global Mining and Export Corporation.
The Lumad communities of Surigao del Sur are also among the areas recommended by the Department of Energy (DoE) for the mining of coal in the recently concluded Philippine Energy Contracting Round. In the Philippine Energy Contracting Round, which was concluded last June, the DoE offered a coal-mining area covering 6,000 hectares in San Agustin and Lianga towns, and another one covering 4,000 hectares in Tandag and Tago. All these towns have been affected by the militarization in recent months.
Caraga: A Major Mining Area
The presence of large mining companies in Surigao del Sur is best contextualized by the fact that it is part of a region that has long been on offer as a haven for large-scale mining.