By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — “Why are the police guarding the interests of big mining companies? Instead of keeping peace and order— their mandate to serve and protect the people— they attacked and tried to break up our barricade as they escorted the employees of the mining company so they could bring in more equipment to the drilling site?” asked Marlou Pablo, president of Save Mankayan Movement (SMM).
Since last week of January, residents of Tabeo have barricaded the drilling site of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) and Gold Fields Mining Company joint venture, Far South East project (FSE). Residents questioned the lack of a Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the community and the destruction of their water sources.
But last September 17, at 6:00 AM, more than 100 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Benguet led by Regional Deputy Intelligence head Supt. Chief Glenn Lonogan and Supt. Darnell Dulnuan, escorted nine provincial sheriffs and employees of the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) to demolish the barricade put up by members of SMM and residents of Sitio Madaymen, Tabeo in Mankayan town of Benguet.
According to Pablo, the company personnel is set to fence off the perimeter of the drilling site after clearing out the peoples’ barricade. He said the nine court sheriffs came to serve the Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued by Regional Trial Court Branch 64 Presiding Judge Agapito Laoagan, allowing LCMC to fence off the area.
The sheriffs and the community elders held a short meeting but the protesters were neither intimidated nor forced to leave their positions and lift the barricade. Also present in the negotiation were Commission on Human Rights-Cordillera Administrative Region (CHR-CAR) Director Harold Kub-aron, and representatives of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP-CAR).
Because of this, Pablo said, the residents barricaded and blocked the entrance from the road linking arms and their vehicles. He said the police tried to push away the barricaders with their shields and truncheons.
“It was really chaos, there are some who threw stones, there were people shouting. We feared something worse may happen,” he said.
Pablo said one of their companions suffered a head laceration while others sustained minor bruises. He added that many of their companions’ clothes were torn. He himself heard four policemen had been injured. “One of the policemen had blood on his head, another got a black-eye. None of us had wanted anyone to get hurt,” said Pablo.
The police nabbed SMM vice-president Tony Ugalde during the scuffle. Pablo said that Ugalde was brought to the Mankayan PNP headquarters, slapped a case of direct assault against persons in authority, and made to sign a waiver to post bond at the provincial capitol.
Ugalde went to the capitol but he arrived at past 5 PM and the clerks had already gone home. He was forced to sleep at the provincial jail and post bail the following day. Ugalde paid P12,000 for his temporary liberty.
Pablo also the people are preparing petitions to remove or transfer Mankayan Chief of Police Ferdinand Coytop out of their municipality. “Coytop displayed a conduct unbecoming of a gentleman when he threw unsolicited words against the community,” Pablo said.
“And he also shouted at our lawyer. He did not know anything,” said Pablo of the police chief.
The locals said that they will continue with their vigilance even as some will try to seek help from offices and people whom they know can really help them. Pablo said they are also counting on Benguet Governor Nestor Fongwan who had promised them that he will talk to police authorities to monitor the issue until it was solved.