Read First part: Mindanao natural resources, protectors under siege
“The Talaingod Manobos who are now just returning to their lands are still in need of food, medicines, blankets and other materials in order to rebuild their lives. They need our support in filing complaints and lobbying against the military before the Commission on Human Rights, Philippine Congress, Philippine courts, and up to the level of the United Nations.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — What is happening in Mindanao today, based on reports of participants in the recent National Humanitarian and Fact-finding Mission, is an intense, costly and savage military campaign being conducted by the Aquino government, using public funds and US military support, largely for the profit motives of foreign investors, but at the expense of the people.
With its inherent fertile soil and convenient climate, not just the town of Talaingod but the entire Pantaron Range is attracting plantation owners. Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and one of the delegates to a National Fact-Finding Mission in Southern Mindanao, noted that vast tracts of banana plantations were being established in lower areas of Talaingod and foothill side of Pantaron in Bukidnon province.
He added that in areas not under the IP organization Salugpongan, illegal and commercial logging continues to destroy the remaining forest.
The rich mineral potential of Pantaron Range has resulted in the biggest number of approved mining applications in the Davao region, namely the applications of IndoPhils, Kinimi Copper Exploration and Mining Corp., Pacific Heights Resources Inc., McWealth Mining Corp., Geoffrey T. Yenco and One Compostela Valley Minerals Inc., Kalikasan PNE said.
Elsewhere in Mindanao huge logging operations, expansion of banana and pineapple plantations, and mining projects continue to force inroads into IP and peasant communities, despite their opposition to it, like what is being shown by the Manobos of Talaingod.
But in a seeming move to do away with people’s opposition, the Aquino government and the AFP are vilifying people’s organizations as “reds,” to include them in the military and para-military order of battle and to justify attacking them.
President Benigno Aquino III has dubbed the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as “investment defense forces.” In response, locals in Mindanao have formed organizations functioning as environment or ancestral domain defense forces.
Aquino’s supported investments include large-scale, destructive mining, logging, expansion of plantations, construction of power plants, which pollute the environment, to provide power to these operations, etc.
The affected locals, citing the people’s displacement, loss of ancestral domain and sources of livelihood, and the destruction to the environment, have formed various organizations in defense of their land and livelihood. In the past, the Manobos were forced to declare a pangayaw, a tribal war in defense of their sacred grounds. Two years ago, the Blaan also declared a pangayaw to defend their ancestral domain, which the largest mining operation of Glencore-SMI-Xstrata would erase off the face of the mountain should it start full commercial operations.
In some cases, their broad campaigns prompted local governments to issue resolutions and ordinances banning the entry of destructive mining.
As such, as pointed out by participants to the mission, the Aquino government is isolating itself while driving the people of Mindanao to supporting the revolutionary groups led by the Communist Party of the Philippines.
In a statement, the CPP said they are “in complete solidarity with the demand to end the destructive and plunderous logging, mining and plantation operations that these abusive AFP military campaigns protect.”
The revolutionary group said their armed wing, the NPA, continues to carry out their directive “to punish and drive away the biggest plunderers in order to make available land for land reform and preserve the ancestral lands of the Lumad.” Recently, the NPA reported it succeeded in disabling large-scale mining equipment of Asia Alston in Agusan del Norte and the Apex Mining Company in Compostela Valley. It said it carried out as well a campaign to put a stop to widespread logging operations in Compostela Valley “being run by military officials and bureaucrat capitalists in collaboration with officials of the Aquino regime.”
A report from Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan PNE coordinator who joined the fact-finding mission in Southern Mindanao recently, noted how the Philippine government continues to pursue natural resource extraction as one of its primary economic policies to enhance foreign investments and ‘economic development.’ He said this policy is evident in the much-criticized Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the outmoded Forestry Code. “Both laws see natural resources such as timber and minerals as export products to serve only as dollar earners.”
Environmental groups have called attention to the tragedy that much of the deforestation that happened in the Philippines are being caused by commercial logging that the Philippine government allowed. “Meanwhile, on-going large-scale mining operations both by foreign and private corporations are wreaking havoc on our mountains, rivers, and seas,” Bautista said.
The environmentalists pointed to the experience of Talaingod Manobos as sources of inspiration in the defense of the environment.
“The defence of ancestral land and the resource management being implemented by the Talaingod Manobos have proven itself effective in protecting our remaining forest ecosystems,” Bautista wrote in his report. His group would rather side with the environment defense forces of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao and fight what he calls as “irrational, destructive, resource-extractive and export-oriented policy of the current Aquino administration in ‘managing’ our natural resources.”
Kalikasan PNE praised the unity of the indigenous people or upland communities. They consider it as key to mobilizing the people in protecting their land, rights, and resources. Other progressive organizations, including human rights and workers’ groups, expressed positive response to “all forms of struggle, even pangayaw, against corporations or institutions seeking or forcing to plunder Philippine land and forests.
The participants of the fact-finding mission in Mindanao are urging peace-loving groups, human rights advocates, lawyers, church and religious workers, student organizations, media associations and progressive people’s groups across the Philippines and abroad to take up the cause of the people of Mindanao. They appealed to the public to actively look into the situation in Mindanao and help expose the abuses and brutalities being committed by the AFP in the course of its war against the people. They stressed the call “to actively look into Mindanao situation,” bearing in mind the spin doctors of the US-supported Aquino government who, they said, have been misrepresenting and vilifying the peoples’ struggle to justify their war.
“The Talaingod Manobos who are now just returning to their lands are still in need of food, medicines, blankets and other materials in order to rebuild their lives. They need our support in filing complaints and lobbying against the military before the Commission on Human Rights, Philippine Congress, Philippine courts, and up to the level of the United Nations,” said Bautista.
The human rights group Karapatan and the indigenous people’s federation KAMP are also urging peace-loving citizens to support the calls of Salugpungan and other advocacy groups in Mindanao. They are inviting more peoples’ participation in pressing for the pullout of all military troops in communities in Pantaron range.
As schools are set to open soon, they are also urging support to calls to save the Lumad schools, and stop the attacks on it as well as on the school children and their teachers.
They urge the public too to help or support efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of rights abuses against indigenous communities. “They must be investigated, prosecuted and held accountable,” the statement of Karapatan and KAMP said. They also call for just reparations for the damaged home, source and means of livelihood of the people. Finally, they asked the public to help in calling for a stop to the repressive Oplan Bayanihan being implemented by the Aquino government.