JOHN RIZLE L. SALIGUMBA
DAVAO CITY – A local farmer’s organization claimed that a mining company in Compostela town in Compostela Valley province colluded with the Army to harass and threaten them into accepting its operation in their area.
Jimmy Saypan, secretary-general of the Compostela Farmer’s Association (CFA), said that some men from the Army’s 66th Infantry Battalion “first asked about what our needs are in a census.”
“After they asked us about our needs, they eventually told us to let the mining company in as it would bring us jobs to help solve our problems,” he said.
“But we already have jobs, we are farmers and some of us are also small-scale miners at the same time. The mining company would instead displace us,” he said.
Saypan said that they learned from other farmers in other mining areas that jobs offered by mining companies “are just short term.”
He blamed the Army for “acting as the protector and partner of this mining company.”
“Agpet is enticing us with so-called community development projects and they even let the Army implement it, like the clinic they are now constructing in our area,” he said. Saypan refers Agpet to the Agusan Petroleum and Mineral Corp.
But Saypan said they “would never give up our farmlands which we rebuild after Typhoon Pablo (Bopha) hit us without the help of the government.”
“We know the government would surely force us to accept the company by using force, but we will never give up our right to these resources,” he said.
Saypan said a recent fact-finding mission with their group and Exodus for Justice and Peace (Ejp), a religious and peace group, recorded a total 36 cases of alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Ngan village and nearby Panansalan village.
“They said Agpet is still in the exploration stage but their acts clearly indicate they will stay and push for the mining,” said Saypan.
A fact-sheet from Ejp said that they have sworn affidavits, photographs and video footage from affected communities of violations said to be perpetrated by the 66th and 67th Infantry Battalions of the Army.
“There are encampments of public structures and building near communities, threats, harrassments, vilification, Red tagging and even physical assault, torture, and indiscriminate firing,” said Rius Valle, one of Ejp’s spokespersons.
Valle said “the violations generally point to the targeting of civilians in the Army’s supposed operations against New People’s Army rebels.”
“Residents whom we interviewed said the Army operations are clearing operations not just to drive out NPAs, but to force residents to accept the mining company,” he said.
In a dialogue early March between Army officials, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and indigenous peoples’ organizations, the Army denied having acted as “company guards” of mining companies and of encampment of public structures.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau record shows that the Agusan Petroleum and Mineral Corp. was granted two exploration permits in Compostela town, to cover the villages of Nursery, Bango, Pulang Lupa, Mambusao and Kantigbaw, all located in Saypan’s home in Ngan village.
The company’s permits cover one area in Compostela spanning 9,999.53 hectares, while the other area spans the boundary of Compostela and New Bataan towns with a total of 2,416.91 hectares.
Both were approved on April 18, 2012 and supposedly have expired last April 18, 2013 but were extended to July 2016.