By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
MANILA — A former chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), who is also one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s most trusted men, is one of the directors of a big mining company that operates in a number of provinces, among them Bukidnon, which is one of the provinces where several indigenous-peoples’ communities are suffering under a reign of terror perpetrated by the military and paramilitary groups.
Michael Defensor, former presidential chief of staff of Arroyo who is running for mayor of Quezon City in the 2010 elections, is a member of the board of directors of Geograce Resources Philippines, which has agreements with several other mining companies operating in Bukidnon. He is listed as such in documents that the company submitted to the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) earlier this year.
Listed as chairman of Geograce’s doard of directors is Renato V. Puno, brother of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, another staunch Arroyo ally.
Incorporated as La Suerte Gold Mining Corporation in 1970, the company became an investment holding company and was renamed Global Equities Inc., according to its website, and as Global Equities, either invested in or managed corporations manufacturing personal-care products and providing specialized corporate facilities for end-users.
“On September 14, 2006 and October 27, 2006, the Company’s Board of Directors and stockholders, respectively, approved the change in the Company’s business to engage in exploration, exploitation and development of the Philippine’s mineral resources,” the Geograce website states. “On November 21, 2006, the Securities and Exchange Commission approved the amended articles of incorporation of the Company, including the change in the Company’s corporate name to Geograce Resources Philippines, Inc.”
“To achieve the shift in its primary purpose to a mining company, Geograce has acquired the exclusive rights to explore, develop and operate mining tenements throughout the Philippines for a variety of mineral deposits,” the website item continues. “Geograce has to date negotiated for exclusive access and acquisition rights over nearly 240,000 hectares of claims in nickel, gold, copper and chromite.”
Since June 24, 2008, Geograce has been in partnership with the Brazilian Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, said to be the world’s second-largest mining company, next only to the Australian-British BHP Billiton, which is also operating in Bukidnon.
As of Nov. 11, 2008, Geograce has been in agreement with Nickeloadeon Mines, Ophiolite Mining, Nickeloreon Mining, and Orex Mindanao – all of which operate in Bukidnon – regarding the development and operation of their mining tenements.
The operations of these companies cover a total of 36,624 hectares in Malabalay City and the towns of Impasug-ong, Manolo Fortich, and Malitbog. In Malaybalay City alone, Nickeloadeon Mines and Ophiolite Mining cover a total of 17,840.25 hectares.
Last year, Geograce was reported to have bagged multi-million dollar mining contracts, a deal that was criticized by environment groups. Arroyo later defended Defensor and the contract.
Bukidnon, Under a Reign of Terror
Malaybalay City, Bukidnon’s capital, is the same place where no less than 11 villages are enduring a reign of terror perpetrated by the military and paramilitary groups.
Based on data from the Northern Mindanao-based human rights group Panaw Kalinaw (Exodus for Peace), 64 individuals were forced to surrender as “New People’s Army” (NPA) members in the villages of Cabanglasan, Canangaan, Mapulo, and St. Peter – all in Malaybalay City. They were coerced by the military, the paramilitary groups, and coopted tribal leaders to surrender, Panaw Kalinaw stated.
In these and the seven other militarized villages, according to Panaw Kalinaw, “the military conducts house-to-house census, hold mass meetings, formed Barangay Defense System (BDS) and placed checkpoints in every purok manned by the paramilitary units it formed. These paramilitary units are tasked to strictly monitor the entry of foodstuffs in their respective areas, while the regular troops are encamping in populated areas. The government soldiers occupy the Barangay (village) Office, Nutrition Building and Day Care Centers. Residents revealed that some military (men) were staying in their homes.”
The residents of these communities are active in resisting the incursions of big mining companies, agribusiness corporations, and government-led “development” projects into their ancestral land.
In a speech in Tagum City, Davao del Norte on Feb. 8, 2008, Arroyo announced the formation of the Investment Defense Force (IDF), a special military unit which, she said, will have the function of giving a “protective shield to power assets, other infrastructure, and mineral development projects.”
In the same speech, she also identified Bukidnon as one of the provinces where “guerrilla fronts” of the NPA have to be dismantled. She also reiterated her government’s thrust of ending the “armed rebellion” by 2010, showing that the militarization in the province, apart from the protection of mining interests like Geograce’s, is also in line with the implementation of the government’s internal-security plan called Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL or Operation Freedom Watch).
Based on documents given to Bulatlat three years ago, Oplan Bantay Laya, or Operation Freedom Watch, aims to counter the “insurgency” by destroying what the government describes as the “political infrastructure” of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (CPP-NPA-NDFP). The so-called “political infrastructure” of the CPP-NPA-NDFP, as described by documents pertaining to the OBL, is made up of legal and progressive organizations, which are labeled as “front organizations” of the underground revolutionary movement. Under OBL, these “front organizations” as well as its leaders are targets for “neutralization”.
Benefits for Defensor
Among those deriving benefits from all of these is no less than Defensor himself, who not only used to head the DENR but was ironically also a student activist — chairman of the National Union of Students of the Philippines — before entering government service.
Elected as Quezon City councilor in 1995, Defensor served in that position until 1998, when he ran for a seat at the House of Representatives. He won and, in 2000, was one of the representatives known as the “Spice Boys,” a group of young representatives who supported the impeachment complaint against then President Joseph Estrada.
Arroyo appointed him as secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) in 2001. Three years later, he served as the spokesman of Arroyo’s presidential campaign. He was appointed to the helm of the DENR on Aug. 18, 2004, and was in that position until he was appointed as presidential chief of staff. He ran for the Senate in the 2007 elections, but lost.
Since then, he has been director of Petron Corporation, head of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) III Task Force, and acting chairman of the Philippine National Railways (PNR). (Bulatlat.com)