KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/17 February)—The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will file a case against the soldiers involved in the operations that resulted to the death of three civilians last October in the tenement of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI).
CHR chair Loreta Ann “Etta” Rosales announced the move Saturday during a dialogue with the Diocese of Marbel headed by Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez and several B’laan tribal members opposed to the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines, Inc.
Rosales said the autopsy the agency conducted on Juvy Capion, who was killed last October 18 along with her two children, would dispute the claims of the military that there was an encounter.
The autopsy, she said, “determined that one bullet was fired at close range. Definitely there was a violation (of the rules of engagement),” she told MindaNews after the dialogue.
Details of the autopsy report were not divulged during the dialogue which was also attended by regional officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).
Juvy was the wife of Daguel Capion, the leader of the B’laan armed men opposing the mining project of Sagittarius Mines, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer.
Before the death of Juvy and her two young sons, Rosales said that through an intermediary, she was able to talk to Capion, whom she described as “a man fighting for a cause and did not sound like an NPA (New People’s Army) member.”
Rosales said Capion, who claimed responsibility for the ambush-slay of three workers of a construction company hired by Sagittarius Mines for a road project in March 2011, had indicated he wanted to surrender and face the charges against him.
The death of Capion’s wife and the two young children, which gained widespread condemnation locally and internationally in anti-mining circles, led to the suspension of a junior military officer and 12 other soldiers. They were recommended to undergo a military court martial trial. Also as a result, Lt. Col. Alexis Bravo, the commander of the soldiers, resigned as battalion commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion.
Lawyer Christina Hawtay-Jovero, CHR Region 12 director, said they have not filed a complaint at the prosecutor’s office due to insufficient testimonies.
The Social Action Center agreed to help provide the CHR with the signed affidavits of witnesses next week.
Rosales said the CHR is concerned over the worsening violence within the Tampakan project area and that steps would be undertaken by the agency to help defuse the situation.
Last week, two militiamen were killed allegedly by the armed B’laan members opposing the mining project, apparently in retaliation for the killing late January of Kitari Capion, who was also opposing the mining venture.
Last Saturday, a habal-habal driver was injured when unidentified gunmen fired at them while traveling within the mines development site.
The CHR will also conduct a national inquiry where tribal members, the military, police and other concerned government agencies, and likely including the mining company, would be called for their take on the Tampakan project issue, which Rosales described as “obviously a very complex problem.”
Dia Capion, matriarch of the Capion clan opposing the Tampakan project, blamed the heavy presence of soldiers in the area to the violence marring their community.
“We are afraid to (return) to our community because of the presence of the soldiers there,” said Dia, who fled their community in Bong Mal and is now under the care of the diocese.
Military officials have repeatedly said that the deployment of soldiers, which intensified in the last two years, was to protect the “people and the area from communist insurgents.”
In a February 3 dialogue in Tampakan town with local Catholic leaders, military officials headed by Maj. Gen. Ariel Bernardo, 10th Infantry Division chief, vowed to reposition the soldiers “not near but also not far from Bong Mal.”
As of Saturday, February 16, however, several residents attending the dialogue alleged that they saw soldiers still scouring the community.
Passionist Fr. Rey Ondap criticized the heavy deployment of soldiers in the Tampakan project area.
“We have not heard of reports of encounters between the military and communist rebels there since the heavy deployment of soldiers in the last few years,” he said, adding that encounters lately have been between the soldiers and the armed tribal members opposing the mining project.
Call for truce
For his part, Bishop Gutierrez called on the military and the armed tribal group to observe a ceasefire.
“To prevent the escalation of hostilities, the military should reposition outside Bong Mal and the armed tribesmen should also stay put. SMI will not enter the area either,” he proposed.
Gutierrez said the dialogue with the CHR was called purposely to stop the escalation of killings in Bong Mal, a crucial artery for moving within the mines development site.
Rosales said the CHR will conduct continuing consultations with the tribal community members and government forces to put an end to the hostilities in the mines development site. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)