“Why do the military insist that the reasons we are so determined to stop the foreign mining companies are the NPAs, who are supposedly pushing us to do so? Don’t we, lowly people, also have the right to unite to protect our lands?”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Anti-mining residents of upland towns of Nueva Vizcaya decried the deployment of soldiers and paramilitary groups into their communities.
Since April this year, even as the residents were engaged in numerous legal actions to register their opposition to the mining operations of Australian Royalco Mining Company in their area, they put up barricades on the road to bar the entrance of employees and supplies of the mining company. As a result, their leaders and active members are slapped with charges in court filed by Royalco which is claiming it has permit to conduct mining operation despite the residents’ opposition.
This week, aside from court battles, the residents are faced with increased number of soldiers and members of paramilitary groups in their communities.
At 4:00 a.m. on August 19, several residents in a nearby anti-mining barricade at the village of Binuangan reported they met around 40 armed men marching from the village of Belance. The armed men headed to the village of Yabba where Royalco Mining Corporation is conducting mining exploration.
Ten other armed men reportedly tailed the residents who rushed directly to the Binuangan barricade. These armed men reportedly introduced themselves to the barricade as members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
“The ten men sowed fear as they interrogated those manning the barricade. They pretended to be looking for other members of the New People’s Army who, they claimed, were at the barricade,” said Gesler Tacdac, chairman of the Alliance of Upland Baranggays for Sustainable Development (AUBSD).
Tacdac said in a statement sent to Bulatlat.com that the people at the barricade have told the armed men what they are doing is “a legitimate collective expression of the people’s decision and that firearms and any ammunition are not allowed in the barricade.”
He added that the people pleaded with the armed group to leave the barricade “as this may do more harm to the civilians.” But the armed men reportedly insisted on staying in the barricade until the following day, Tuesday.
Opposition to mining is residents’ way of protecting their land, livelihood
“Why do the military keep on insisting that the reasons we are so determined to stop the foreign mining companies are the NPAs, who are supposedly pushing us to do so? Don’t we, lowly people, also have the right to unite to protect our lands, the source of our livelihood, from destructive forces?” Tacdac asked.
At first, several of the armed men had their faces covered. But later in the day, they were recognized as members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgu) while the others were seen alighting from the military truck of the Philippine Army which was parked at the Cafgu barracks in the village of Belance days before the incident, Tacdac quoted the reports sent by their members.
“It was clear for the barricading villagers, the soldiers are after them to sow fear, to discourage the people from joining and to spread lies to discredit the people’s resounding gains due to the barricade,” Tacdac said.
In an interview with Bulatlat.com a week before, another leader of the anti-mining barricades, Janett Nazaria, 30, reiterated their calls for the Royalco Mining Company to stop their mining operation in their areas.
Nazaria is one of ten persons named by the mining company in a preliminary injunction that was granted last July 1. While the case is ongoing, “We cannot participate anymore in the barricade, because their motion for preliminary injunction was granted,” said Nazaria.
She said that the people became more challenged because of the charges filed against some of them. “Although some are threatened, the supporters even grew. The community became more aware of the situation. More organizations support us,” she told Bulatlat.com.
Another resident who asked not to be named said they saw the effort of KIRED, another organization in another community in Nueva Vizcaya, that put up an anti-mining barricade earlier than the AUBD.
“We saw the land would be seized by the mining company, so we discussed it in our community and we decided to put up the barricade and block the entrance of mining,” the resident said.
A history of repressing the locals for logging and now, mining
Since the start of the people’s struggle against the Royalco Mining Company in Kasibu, Dupax Del Norte and Nagtipunan in Quirino, the locals reportedly observed that the military’s presence in the area has been intensifying.
Tacdac shared that the act of serving the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to the ten leaders regarding their participation in the barricades by the court sheriff had also involved elements of the 86th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the PNP of Malasin, Dupax Del Norte.
Nazaria, a diminutive member of indigenous tribe, recalled how mystified they were when they saw the place crawling with soldiers, as she herself is too small, unarmed, and cannot be viewed as a threat requiring soldiers in battle gear. A simple police matter was turned into a battlefield scenario last June 13, said Tacdac.
Despite the military-escorted serving of the injuction order, the people were not moved and they persisted to maintain the barricades. Tacdac said they added two more barricades after the incident. From 3 they now have 5.
As people crowded into the barricades, Tacdac said elements of the 3rd Infantry Battalion based in Ganao, Dupax Del Sur and of the 703rd Division Reconnaissance Company in Belance village in Dupax Del Norte conducted mass meetings and interrogated the people there, forcing them to divulge “incriminating information. The military’s acts have caused fear and disunity among the residents.”
Even the village executives and members of local government councils were reportedly not spared from the interrogation of the men in uniform, as the village captain of Pao, Kasibu was also repeatedly asked to point to the whereabouts of the NPAs.
Tacdac said the leaders in charge of the five anti-mining barricades were now being tailed by persons they suspect of being “civilian intelligence” of the military. The others, he said, were visited in their homes by the police and the military.
Even the priest of St Joseph Parish of Belance, Jaime Noto, and one of the leaders of the barricade, were reportedly subjected to surveillance by armed soldiers within the vicinity of the church.
AUBD said that their communities cannot easily forget the victims of the strings of military atrocities committed in the past “from the time of rampant illegal logging in the area to the present heated mining issue.” The most recent of which, they said, was the incident in March 29 in Ganao village, Dupax Del Sur when several drunk members of the 3rd IB of the Philippine Army intruded into the house of a local, assaulted the male resident and sexually harassed his wife.
The couple reportedly sought the help of the local government unit but due to continued harassment they were forced to settle the case “amicably.”
AUBD further shared that the military has violated the Philippine Constitution it professes to uphold and the International Humanitarian Law whenever they encamp in public places and put the civilians in danger.
Last March, the military reportedly encamped at the rural health clinic in Kinabuan, Dupax Del Sur and in May, they encamped at the village Hall of Mattaddi, Quirino while soldiers of the 3rd IB encamped near the public school of Ganao, Dupax Del Sur. In Belance, Dupax Del Norte, the military and Cafgu barracks are reportedly located at the center of the village where most of the people live.
“We are calling on the military to stop preventing us from protecting the land because the land is our life. By tilling the land and developing it, it is our only source of livelihood. When they destroy the land, we lose our livelihood,” Tacdac said. He added, “The military should help us drive away those foreign companies. They should not be protecting these foreign mining companies. What we are fighting for is not just for us but for everyone and the next generation.”