“The barricade will continue and even wider. Because we continue to oppose mining in Sta. Cruz, Zambales.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Residents of a small village in Zambales province have vowed to continue their fight against mining, as they decried a “virtual martial law” that forced them to lift their barricade and allow mining trucks to pass since March 10.
“We, the residents of Bayto village did not face the trucks of nickel today, but it does not mean that we have given up,” said the villagers in a statement emailed to Bulatlat. “The truth is, the barricade will continue,” they said.
Since Jan., 19, Bayto village in the mining town of Sta. Cruz had barred trucks hauling nickel ore from passing through their community, forcing the trucking service groups to take the longer route to the port. A growing resistance against mining is building up among Sta. Cruz residents, following the devastating flood in October 2015, which many blame on the decade-long open-pit mining in the town.
At dawn of March 10, Bayto residents were overwhelmed by the arrival of the mining trucks, accompanied by some 500 armed police men from all over Zambales province, armed private security guards of mining companies, and their employees.
In an account by the environmentalist group Move Now! Zambales, there were 13 police mobiles, two Phil. Army trucks “carrying almost all of the forces from other precincts.” Outnumbered by the armed men, the Bayto residents dismantled their tent and packed up their belongings for fear that these will be confiscated by the police.
“At past 6 a.m., empty mining trucks were allowed to pass to see if anyone would dare to block the trucks and be arrested, but the community did not move and did not give in to the taunting of the police and mining companies,” said Move Now! Zambales.
After the empty trucks had passed, trucks loaded with ores and escorted by armed and uniformed personnel passed through, as residents passively looked on.
“The people could not do anything. It seemed like martial law according to the residents. Guards would ask them where they are going and would reprimand them if they are caught talking in groups. There was also incessant picture taking by the police, they would even brazenly go up to residents for a close up. Children did not go to school during that day because they would be accosted by the police. During the night, the police remained and even put up a bright spotlight used by mining corporations during their operations,” said Move Now! Zambales.
The next day, on March 11, some 30 armed police men remained in the area, to ensure the flow of traffic of mining trucks, which were escorted “by uniformed military men with long firearms.”
“When the police were asked what they are doing in the area, they said they are maintaining a Comelec (Commission on Elections) checkpoint. Deputy Chief Inspector Ferrer said that they are keeping the peace and order and the picture-taking is just for community relations,” said the account by Move Now! Zambales.
The group noted that the policemen could not produce a mission order, and most had removed their nameplates.
“The residents challenged that, if it was a simple Comelec checkpoint, then why are the mining companies lending their spotlights, generators and even sending their employees to guard with the police,” said the group.
The Bayto villagers lamented that instead of protecting the people, the police “sided with those in power who have a big interest to continue the mining in Sta. Cruz.”
“The police admit that they are just following orders, so we know that we cannot expect them to protect the rights of the people, because they will just follow whatever order, even if it is against the genuine residents of Bayto,” the residents said.
In Candelaria town, also in Zambales, police dispersed a similar barricade in Uacon village, on Feb. 29, two days after it was put up by residents who tried to follow Bayto’s example. Six residents were arrested, and police confiscated the residents’ banners, tools and other belongings.
The people’s resistance against mining was supported by the Sta. Cruz parish church and the Diocese of Iba, which had taken a strong stand for the environment, following Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si.
“The barricade was put up to break the deafening silence of local and national governments,and build greater awareness of people’s demand for justice over the worsening impacts of the mining operations in their town,” especially when Typhoon Lando hit the town in October 2015,” said Move Now! Zambales.
As the mining trucks continue to pass through courtesy of the presence of state forces and private armed guards, the people continue to seethe with rage.
“The barricade will continue and even wider. Because we continue to oppose mining in Sta. Cruz, Zambales,” said the statement by Bayto residents. “We will succeed at the right time, because we know we are on the side of justice, thus, on the side of God.”