Sharon found it unfortunate that it was only after her husband’s death she realized the value of fighting for their ancestral domain against mining companies and their hired mercenaries.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Sharon Liguyon, 36, would never forget how she fervently tried to convince her husband Jimmy to sign his consent for the mining company to operate in their area.
“He said he would never sign it even if he would be killed. And he was killed,” Sharon said.
Jimmy, village chief of Dao, was killed on Mar. 5. Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad went inside Liguyons’ house and shot Jimmy three times. Salusad is a leader of the New Indigenous People’s Army while his father Ben heads the San Fernando Matigsalug Tribal Datus. Both paramilitary groups are working with the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Their group also reportedly holds the certificate of ancestral domain and has been a staunch supporter of mining corporations to operate in their community since 2009.
Since Jimmy’s killing, Sharon and her children were forced to leave their home. On Mar. 14, 19 families belonging to the Liguyon clan established a campsite outside the city hall of Malaybalay. “Life has been very difficult since we moved to the campsite,” she said.
At the campsite
Sharon said her family was forced to leave their homes and seek the assistance of the local government. “It is very hard because we are living in makeshift tents. Whenever it is raining, our beds would get wet,” she said.
But Sharon is no longer reluctant to fight this time. In fact, she is indignant. Sharon said her family would not leave the camp site until Salusad is arrested and justice is served for her husband’s killing.
Their displacement has been very difficult for their family. They have no livelihood. Sharon said she is thankful to various organizations that are helping them survive on a daily basis. Nuns would drop by at their campsite to give food.
“At times, my children would ask me if we could go back to our community. But I always try to make them understand why we have to live there for a while,” Sharon said.
“If we go back there without the assurance that Salusad would be arrested, I might fall under the same fate that your father had,” she added.
To date, Sharon estimated that there are now 36 families living in the campsites. More families came there, saying that after Jimmy’s death, Salusad turned their community into his own little kingdom. His group reportedly stole the gold gathered by the locals.
Children in the campsite, on the other hand, are getting sick because they are exposed to extreme weather conditions.
Before Jimmy’s death, Sharon said, her family tilled over 20 hectares of land, which is part of their ancestral domain. They would get 100 sacks of corn every harvest time. “It is not much because we do not have enough money to finance the production,” she said, adding that their family would sell half of their produce and use the other half for their consumption.
Aside from farming, many locals are also involved in small-scale mining. They would use nets to gather gold deposits from the riverbed. Sharon said their community is so rich in gold that they could earn $37.5 per gram.
Salusad exacts 10 percent of all the income of the locals, Sharon said. She added that despite this Jimmy was not contented with what he is getting. Since he is in favor of the operations of the mining company, “and Jimmy did not want it, (Salusad) killed him,” Sharon said.
Now, they have nothing.
“Since we rely only on donations to survive, there are times when we have nothing to eat. If we have leftover rice, we cook it again to make porridge. The children get to eat first,” Sharon said, adding there are passersby who would give them food from time to time.
“They probably feel sorry for us,” she added.
In a letter, Malaybalay Mayor Ignacio Zubiri told the refugees to leave the premises. The police, Sharon said, goes there to tell them they stink. In one instance, the police went as far as destroying their streamers and confiscated their sound system.
“But we are not scared. We became braver,” Sharon said.
Coping with the loss
Sharon found it unfortunate that it was only after her husband’s death that she realized the value of fighting for their ancestral domain against mining companies and their hired mercenaries. “Ever since we met, Jimmy was known to be a very helpful person,” she said.
“My children are very close to Jimmy. I am the disciplinarian in the family while he never scolded them,” she said.
In one incident, their youngest son asked Sharon, “When will papa go home?” To which she replied, “Your papa is already dead.”
Her husband’s fondness for children did not only include his own. “When he has money, he would treat all the children in the community. No wonder that when he died, a lot of small children went to his wake crying,” Sharon said.
If there is one thing now that Sharon regrets is how their children are no longer able to attend school since Jimmy’s death. Her three children now live with Sharon’s parents. Two are staying with her in the campsite. The other two already have a family of their own.
“Jimmy’s dream is for them to finish schooling. I do not know if it is still possible,” Sharon said.
As of this writing, Sharon is here in Manila to bring to the attention of the national government their plight and waht they are going through. She said justice is grinding ever slowly for Jimmy and other victims of human rights violations in Mindanao.
Months have passed and yet, Sharon said, they were told by the police that they could not arrest Salusad because he is armed. “Even the governor assured us that they would find a way for justice to be served but nine months have already passed and no one has been arrested yet,” she added.
Salusad’s warrant of arrest reportedly came out on Mar. 13.