Dismissing the case against the accused murderers of Juvy Capion and her sons, Pops and John, “was a go-signal for military and paramilitary groups to continue killing civilians opposed to big mines and other destructive projects.” – Task Force Justice for Environment Defenders
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — “The Aquino administration is lightning fast in defending the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) and DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) including his associates implicated in pork scams, but is slothful in pursuing justice for the Capion family and the more than 30 victims of extra-judicial killings from indigenous tribes during his first three years.” This is the statement of indigenous group Katribu Partylist as they marked the first anniversary of Capion massacre late last week.
With the virtual exoneration of the accused soldiers and paramilitary group in the strafing that killed an unarmed woman and her two children, indigenous peoples groups fear that more killings could follow in the same area.
“Five members of the Capion clan have already been killed. Three members of the Freay clan, another B’laan family, are the latest victims of mining-related killings. The other day, was the second anniversary of the killing of Fr. Pops Tentorio, a well-known Italian missionary who dedicated his life to solidarity with the Lumad people against development aggression,” said Leon Dulce, spokesman of Task Force Justice for Environment Defenders (TF-JED), a support network for environmental advocates’ rights.
He questioned President Aquino’s hand in the environment department’s granting of Tampakan Project’s environmental compliance certificate even when it has “this history of violence towards environmental advocates and defenders.”
“The respect for human rights should always be part of the environmental impact assessment, and Glencore-Xstrata-SMI has clearly failed that assessment,” Dulce said.
Up to now, Katribu reports that the paramilitary group Task Force KITACO (Kiblawan, Tampakan, Colombio) organized by the Armed Forces of the Philippines still freely roams and sows fear among the IPs in the SOCKSARGENDS region (South Cotabato-Sultan Kudarat-Sarangani-General Santos City-Davao del Sur). Task Force KITACO was tagged by witnesses in Davao del Sur as the perpetrator of the gruesome murders of unarmed leaders of the Blaan tribe. Specifically, they have filed charges against Lt. Col. Alexis Bravo, Lt. Dante Jimenez and fourteen other members of the Philippine Army, but the local prosecutors dismissed it last week supposedly for lack of substance.
The Task Force-Justice for Environment Defenders (TF-JED) viewed the case dismissal as a dismissal as well of the peoples’ case against the large-scale mining company Glencore-Xstrata-SMI, which, a congressional probe revealed, has been keeping in its payroll certain local executives and members of state security forces.
Dismissing the case against the accused murderers of Juvy Capion and her sons, Pops and John, “was a ‘go-signal’ for military and paramilitary groups to continue killing civilians opposed to big mines and other destructive projects,” warned Dulce.
The apex of recent killings of anti-mining activists under the Aquino government is in the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project involving 10 of the 28 mining-related killings, the TF-JED noted.
The Tampakan copper-gold mine aims to start commercial operations, but after being delayed three times by massive opposition from local communities, environmental groups and local governments, its target date has now been pushed back to 2019. The Capions are among families of the B’laan indigenous people who are staunchly opposed to the Tampakan mine.
“It is deplorable how quickly the court decided to view the evidence of the massacre of the Capion family as ‘insufficient,’ when the facts clearly implicate the paramilitary group sponsored by Glencore-Xstrata-SMI under the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Task Force KITACO. A year after the barbaric act, justice remains elusive and the threats posed by what will be Asia’s biggest mining project continue ,” said Dulce of Task Force-Justice for Environment Defenders (TF-JED).
Large miners still hope to continue commercial mining in Tampakan
The Philippine-based operator of the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project announced a massive retrenchment of its workforce two months ago following the takeover of Xstrata by Glencore. The long-expected merger created the world’s fourth largest mining company, the Glencore-Xstrata, at a time when the global mining industry is viewed as nearing a downturn (or a standstill, as various analysts differed).
Despite the change in the controlling ownership of the biggest mining project in the Philippines, most local big businessmen have maintained their stake in the Tampakan project. They are led by presidential uncle Danding Couangco and tycoons Manuel V. Pangilinan, Henry Sy and the Alcantara family. They maintained their stakes in the local operator of the project, the Sagittarius Mines, Incorporated (SMI), and adopted a wait-and-see attitude. In mainstream media reports, Pangilinan and Ang were both quoted expressing their desire to see the Tampakan project start its commercial operations.
But for the mining-affected communities, that future commercial operation has already proved fatal to residents.
“The killing of the Capion family bared the true face of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) Oplan Bayanihan and how they are being used as Investment Defense Forces to protect big investors’ interests. The fact that they can evade court proceedings against them and that they are being tolerated by the Department of “InJustice” and other government agencies shows the reign of impunity in many communities in the countryside. This also shows the utter disregard to indigenous peoples’ rights to their ancestral domain and self determination,” read a statement of an alliance of the religious sector and indigenous groups called SKIPNet (Stop the Killings of Indigenous Peoples Network).
The group said the Blaan’s opposition against the mining operations of Glencore-Xstrata-SMI is legitimate and a means to defend their ancestral domain. They said that once the company starts full blast operations, thousands of Blaan would be displaced. It said also that SMI is even requiring the people of Bong Mal to be relocated, meaning they would be uprooted from their ancestral domain.
Bong Mal (meaning big river) is at the heart of Tampakan gold-copper project’s mines development site. It is surrounded by mountains deep into the jungle, estimated to be around 1,300 meters above sea level, with its forest feeding the Mal River that courses down and feeds in turn the lowland agricultural farms in South Cotabato.
KALGAD, an organization where Juvy belonged before she was killed by soldiers last year, is a community-based organization and not an armed group, the SKIPNet asserted, adding that this group has been joining protest actions in major cities in South Cotabato and Davao del Sur to voice their opposition to the mining activities of Glencore-Xstrata-SMI in their territory.
“The members of the Capion family were gunned down defenceless, showing the brutality of the state to people whom they consider as hindrance to their twisted development agenda,” SKIPNet said.
Kalgad stands for the defence of ancestral domain against destructive projects. Indigenous peoples group said its very existence is a way for the Blaan to practice self-determination.
In a rally in front of the Justice department on the first death anniversary of Juvy Capion and her two sons, members of IP groups and the TF-JED asked Justice Sec. Leila de Lima to look into the matter of ongoing military operations against civilians in mining-torn areas and to hasten the cogs of justice for the Capion family.
TF-JED urged De Lima to institute “protocols on ensuring the rights and safety of environmental advocates in conflict-affected sites of development aggression.” They urged the former outspoken Human Rights commissioner to “give up her illusion that there are no more human rights violations under the Aquino regime, beginning with this issue by dismantling all paramilitary groups which her boss BS Aquino approved to be deployed to mine sites.”