By ABBY BILAN
NAGA CITY – Various groups were alarmed over the two-day bombing exercises of the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in the province of Masbate.
On Sept. 23 and 24, the Philippine Army led the 105MM Howitzers Canon Live Firing Exercise in its headquarters in Purok 5, Brgy Panicijan, Uson, Masbate and identified Purok 7 of Brgy. Bonifacio as their impact area.
Lt. Col. Orlando C. Ramos Jr., 2nd IB battalion commander, said residents have been informed that an area of the village has been identified as impact area to measure the strength and accuracy of the said artillery weapon.
In a phone interview, Madao village chief Raul Dapedran said residents were informed regarding the planned live firing exercises. He said that the same was also done with two other villages Bonifacio, and Simawa.
All three villages, said Dapedran, passed a resolution allowing the exercises.
“The bombs did not reach our community. Prior to this, residents were apprehensive because it might reach our mountains. I do not know why but somehow it did not reach us. Maybe we are too far from where they were holding the exercises,” the village chief said.
Still, Dapedran said the explosions from the nearby village can be heard from their homes. “Yes (it was) strong. Really strong like a bomb. A lot (of it),” he said.
Defend Bicol Stop the Attacks Network (Defend Bicol) reported a total of 31 explosions in Mt. Bagulayag.
More ‘Terror’ against communities
Human rights group Karapatan-Bicol pressed their concern that, since the new artillery equipment will clearly be used for their anti-insurgency operations in Masbate, the warfare reinforcement will also heighten the human rights violations in the region.
“That is, they are raising the level of war in Masbate because they are using more powerful weapons. It means that it will bring more serious violations to Masbateños,” Nida Barcenas of Karapatan-Bicol said.
“That’s just an exercise and yet there’s definitely damage to the environment and there’s damage to the people affected. It is necessary for us to expose what is happening in the places where there are violations and reach more people to deal with these situations, especially in Masbate,” Barcenas added.
Bombings of communities, according to the Environmental Defenders Congress (EDC), is being used as part of the government’s counterinsurgency program and has affected fragile key biodiversity areas in the 10 reported cases under the current administration.
“Bombings are just the first part, then troops encamp in these communities to try to silence resistance. It is in this context that many cases of rights abuses against organizers in the communities occur,” Dani Molintas, secretariat member of EDC, said.
Pretext to wider mining operations
According to Dapedran, the 2nd IB Battalion Commander Ramon Jr. did not disclose to them if the said exercise was related to mining operations except to test the new acquired artillery weapon. However, the affected area in Brgy. Bonifacio is rich in gold and has a number of gold mines.
After the explosion, Dapedran said “there were coconut trees that were affected, but most of the affected are the mining areas. The one they blew up was a source of gold.”
“The owner of the land is the captain of Brgy. Bonifacio. He has a little gold mining (small-scale) operation,” he added.
Dapedran expressed that there are deep holes of gold mines in the area however small-scale mining was stopped after deaths were recorded.
According to Defend Bicol, the incident may be related to the mining project of Filminera Resources Corporation (FRC) which also operates the open-pit Masbate Gold Mine in Aroroy, Masbate.
“The AFP even more reveals that they serve the interests of big companies and are willing to put the lives of the people at risk and do it blatantly just for the greedy profits of big businessmen,” youth group Anakbayan said in its statement.
“Cases of forced bombing and suppression of environmental rights defenders by big businessmen in the name of their own interests are not limited to a few regions in the country,” Anakbayan stated.
“Throughout the country, such cases of development aggression like the open mining carried out by the FRC in the countryside of Masbate and other companies that want to put themselves first must be held accountable for their abuse of nature and the violation of human rights,” Anakbayan added.
Karapatan Bicol calls out the LGU to serve its constituents against human rights violations. Barcenas admits that the LGU are also victims of military harassment however “the local officials should learn to stand for the people,” she said. (JJE, RTS)