Aquino’s legacy | Indigenous peoples mark loss of land, homes, lives

Farmers and indigenous peoples stage a protest Nov. 4 in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) against government's plan to expand oil palm plantations in the country. (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat)
BULATLAT FILE PHOTO: Lumad and peasant protest against agribusiness plantations (Photo by Ronalyn V. Olea / Bulatlat)

“Aquino opened almost 730,000 hectares of ancestral land for mining, monocrop plantations, economic zones, military camps and US bases.”


MANILA – In the last days of the Aquino administration in June, 230 Higaonons were forced to leave their communities in Langolong, Misamis Oriental province, from June 5 to 24. They trekked four kilometers from their ancestral homes to the Langolong municipal gym, to escape soldiers of the Phil. Army’s 58th infantry battalion that had encamped in their area “for peace and development.”

The Lumád “bakwets” (evacuees) proceeded to bring their issue to the provincial capitol in
Cagayan de Oro City, where government and military officials finally sat with them in a dialogue, to ensure their security in their communities and facilitate their return home, which pushed through June 24.

The Higaonons’ journey speaks much about how indigenous peoples fared in the past six years under President Aquino. The Lumád of Mindanao particularly suffered massive, repeated and prolonged evacuations as the Aquino administration pushed the entry of extractive projects in their communities, accompanied by militarization and armed attacks by paramilitary groups.

The so-called ‘development’ projects of the Aquino administration had grave implications not only on the way of life of the Lumad but on the country’s environment and the lives of future generations of Filipinos.

“Aquino opened almost 730,000 hectares of ancestral land for mining, monocrop plantations, economic zones, military camps and US bases,” said Piya Macliing Malayao, secretary general of the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) in a statement.

“Foreign mining corporations, aided by the government through the military, launched a campaign of deception and intimidation to force the indigenous peoples into leaving their land,” she added, as her group appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to take a different path.

From 2010 to 2016, the indigenous peoples were subjected to various violations of their collective and individual rights, with the implementation of Aquino’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan. The oplan proved to be deadly for indigenous peoples, with at least 90 victims killed in the past six years, almost as high as the 151 victims under Arroyo’s nine years.

Indigenous women at the protest on the 20th year of the Mining Act (Photo by D. Ayroso)
Indigenous women at the protest on the 20th year of the Mining Act (Photo by D. Ayroso)

Scourge of the environment, IPs

At the onset of Aquino’s term, Katribu was among various indigenous peoples (IP) groups that sent their proposed agenda to Malacañang, mainly calling for a stop to the plunder and destruction of the environment, and a halt to mining liberalization through the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995.

But their agenda fell on deaf ears, as Aquino supported the commodification of the country’s resources – lands, forests, minerals, and water – which are most abundant in indigenous peoples’ lands, now being transferred to private monopolies.

“There are now at least 410 hydropower dams, 27 geothermal and 33 coal power projects that strengthen the monopoly of the Aboitiz, Lopez, Ayala and Cojuangco families and their foreign business partners in the power industry. In return, these projects will adversely affect thousands of indigenous communities,” Katribu said.

Aquino also pushed for dam projects in the rivers of Jalaur in Iloilo, Balog-Balog in Tarlac, and Laiban in Southern Luzon, which will affect some 50,000 indigenous peoples and peasants.

Katribu said Aquino’s Philippine Development Plan opened up 125 agro-industrial projects within ancestral territories. The PDP targeted 1.5 million hectares of mostly agricultural land, to be opened up for agro-industries and plantations of banana, pineapple, oil palm, rubber, and other export crops.

Even as Aquino claimed to be the opposite of his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, he continued to implement Arroyo’s National Minerals Policy and priority mining projects.
mining act
Although he cancelled some 600 mining applications, the operations of big mining companies, some of whom were his campaign backers, remain unimpeded.

“As of August 2013, Aquino himself approved or renewed a total of 218 large-scale mining applications that cover more than 238,000 hectares of land,” Katribu said.

Amid increasing public concern about the irreversible environmental destruction caused by mining, in 2012, Aquino signed Executive Order 79, supposedly to balance environmental protection with the interest of mining companies. But EO 79 only meant to increase government revenues from mining. Aside from the measly two percent excise tax, the EO imposes collection of five percent additional royalties or more.

By 2015, some 619,000 hectares of indigenous peoples’ territories have been covered by mining permits. These include 100,000 has. under Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) with OceanaGold in Nueva Vizcaya, Agusan Petroleum in Compostela Valley, and FCF in Mindoro.

Read: Indigenous peoples raise alarm against aggressive mining policy of Aquino govt

Shortly after Aquino issued EO 79, one of the worst mining disasters occured: the Philex Mining Corporation’s Padcal mine spill. Philex was fined P1 billion ($24 million) for violating the Mining Act, as its collapsed tailing pond spilled 20 million tons of mine waste into Agno river and Balog creek in Cordillera region.

The mining company paid an additional P188.6 ($4 million) million fine in 2014 for violation of the Clean Water Act. But the indigenous groups said affected communities are yet to be rehabilitated.

Philex downstream houses
Philex downstream houses

Aquino’s climate change posturings

In 2011, Aquino signed EO 26, ordering the implementation of the National Greening Program (NGP), aimed for reforestation and food security. The program aimed to plant 1.5 billion seedlings in 1.5 million hectares from 2011 to 2016.

But Katribu said the NGP opened 105 sites covering some 370,000 has. of ancestral lands, where in many cases, IPs have been barred from entry in favor of foreign and local businessmen.

“These projects are projected as the government’s response to climate change. And yet it pursues liberalized extractive industries, gives way to private corporations for plantations of coffee, cacao and other commercial trees, and continues the large-scale commercial logging operations in ancestral territories,” Katribu said.

The NGP also engendered corruption in the issuance of permits, say critics. In its 2013 audit of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Commission on Audit reported that the P7 billion ($148 million) NGP fund was misused.

The push for coal

EO 79 did little to help the environment, as the Mines and Geosciences Bureau recently reported that half of the 44 operating metallic mines in the country have been repeatedly warned for mining violations.

In Surigao del Sur province, the Manobo group Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Persevering Struggle for the Next Generation, or Mapasu) attributed the brutal armed attacks on the Lumád to government’s efforts to protect coal mining in the Andap Valley Complex in Caraga region.

Four companies hold coal operating contracts (COC) for development and production, namely, the Great Wall Mining and Power Corp., Benguet Corp., Abacus Coal Exploration and Development Corp. and the Smart Mining and Resources Corp.

Five others hold COCs for exploration, including PNOC-Exploration Corp.

“Surigao del Sur has been militarized to guarantee the entry of these mining operations within our ancestral lands. Our leaders have been killed, our schools and cooperatives are being burned down, our teachers and organizations are being vilified and our Lumad communities are being attacked because we remain steadfast in defending our ancestral lands from destructive mining operations and protecting it for our next generation,” said a Mapasu statement.

Igorots from Nueva Vizcaya and Lumads from Mindanao joined green groups to condemn the impunity of mining companies implicated in plunder, pollution and militarization (Photo by Kalikasan PNE/Bulatlat)
Igorots from Nueva Vizcaya and Lumads from Mindanao joined green groups to condemn the impunity of mining companies implicated in plunder, pollution and militarization (Photo by Kalikasan PNE/Bulatlat)

Aquino’s straight path stained with indigenous peoples’ blood

The Lumád of Mindanao was hardest hit in Aquino’s six years. Of the 90 indigenous peoples killed, 75 were Lumád, including women and children. There were also two IP victims disappeared. Most victims were leaders or community members who resist mining, agribusiness plantations and development aggression projects.

Supporters of indigenous peoples and anti-mining campaigns were among those killed, such as Italian missionary priest Fausto “Pops” Tentorio and Dutch environmentalist Willem Geertman.
The group Karapatan documented 318 victims of extrajudicial killings from July 2010 to March 2016.

The most shocking case was the Sept. 1, 2015 massacre in Han-ayan community, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, where the paramilitary Magahat-Bagani group killed Manobo leaders Dionel Campos and Juvello Sinzo, and Emerito Samarca, executive director of the Alternative Center for Agricultural Livelihood and Development (Alcadev).

“The BS Aquino regime devastated our livelihood and attacked our schools thru its counter-insurgency program ‘Oplan Bayanihan’, that targeted not only the armed revolutionary movement, but our legitimate organizations and resistance against the plunder of our lands by big mining and other business interests,” said Kakay Tolentino of Katribu.

FILE PHOTO: Lumad children evacuees on the grandstand of the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City  in September 2015 (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)
FILE PHOTO: Lumad children evacuees on the grandstand of the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City in September 2015 (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

The killings have triggered evacuations of thousands of IP communities. From July 2010 to May 2016, there were at least 54 cases of forced evacuation of Lumád communities, Tolentino said. to date, there are 4,000 Lumád still in two evacuation centers, at the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City, Surigao del Sur, and at the Haran Center in Davao City.

Alternative schools built by Lumád groups were not spared, as soldiers and paramilitary men continuously threatened teachers and students, and branded these as “NPA schools.”

Renato Reyes Jr., Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general, said that the Aquino government specifically targeted the Lumád, as military officials claim 74 percent of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Eastern Mindanao are Lumád, and 90 percent of rebel bases are in ancestral lands.

Reyes also cited a Powerpoint presentation believed to be from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp), about the “Whole-of-Nation initiative” under Oplan Bayanihan. The presentation shows how government agencies and the private sector are mobilized in “peace caravans” and high-profile, dole- out sevices and civic programs in key Lumád areas.

Reyes said that these were meant to downplay the incidents of mass evacuation, as well as to pinpoint those who refused to participate as “enemies of peace” and of the state, thus, targets of focused military operations.

Pitting Lumád against Lumád

In 2011, Aquino approved a military proposal to allow the deployment of Special Civilian Armed Auxilliary (SCAA) units to mining areas. This was in response to an NPA attack on three mining companies in Caraga region whose operation had caused irreversible damages on the surrounding communities.

The SCAA revival reinforces Arroyo’s policy on Investment Defense Forces (IDF), which mandates paramilitary groups and private armies to act as multipliers for state forces in securing “development” projects, such as mining areas.

Under Aquino, Mindanao saw the proliferation of paramilitary groups which were formed by the military under Arroyo’s term, such as the Magahat-Bagani, Alamara, Salakawan, Dela Mance. These groups were identified as perpetrators of Lumád killings and harassment on schools and communities, and charged with criminal cases, yet not have been arrested. Although the military denies any link with such groups, paramilitary men are seen alongside government troops during operations.

Indigenous peoples’ groups brought these urgent concerns to Manila, in three “Manilakbayan ng Mindanao” campaigns in 2012, 2014 and 2015. But aside from targetting them under Oplan Bayanihan, the Aquino administration paid no heed to the indigenous peoples’ cries. Under the Duterte administration, indigenous groups hope that the plunder, destruction and deaths will stop, and that Aquino will be made accountable. (

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