Group says mining interests behind military presence in Lumad lands

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DIATAGON, Lianga, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/24 July) – Military presence in Lumad or indigenous communities in Surigao del Sur is meant to stifle local opposition to the entry of mining firms, leaders of a Lumad organization said.

Sherwin Tejero, of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang Sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) or Sustained Struggle for the Next Generation, in an interview on Friday at the barangay gym where some 1,600 Lumads from upland areas of Diatagon and San Agustin town evacuated last week, said five coal mining companies are set to operate in the province.

Mary Ann Campos, also of Mapasu, refuted claims by the military and local officials that the military is in their communities to provide security for government projects.

The 75th Infantry Battalion last month built a patrol base in Km 9, where around 30 soldiers were stationed at the start, Campos said. “They kept adding and adding more men.”

“There are no projects for now but that’s what they said, they’re there because they will implement electrification and a road project. But the reason why they’re there is mining,” Campos said.

Tejero said the mining ventures cover the Andap Valley Complex, an area that straddles the towns of San Miguel, San Agustin, Marihatag, Cagwait, Tago and Lianga.

Since the martial law years, the area has been the site of several clashes between government forces and the New People’s Army that have caused evacuations and human rights abuses blamed on security forces.

In a statement on July 21, the anti-mining group Caraga Watch identified the five companies as Benguet Corp. of the Romualdez family, Abacus Coal Exploration and Development Corp., Chinese-owned Great Wall Mining and Power Corp., ASK Mining and Exploration Corp. and CoalBlack Mining Corp.

“These mining companies have been raring to operate since 2015 but were constantly prevented because of the refusal of the Lumad communities to sign the Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) agreement,” the statement said.

“The purpose of the militarization of Andap Valley Complex is clear: to remove any opposition against the entry of coal mining companies into the ancestral lands of the Lumad,” it added.

According to the Department of Energy website, the operating permits granted to these mining firms cover areas within Andap Valley Complex, the towns of Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza and Tandag City, as well as Sibagat, Bunawan and Trento towns in neighboring Agusan del Sur.

The DOE launched on July 27, 2015 the 5th Philippine Energy Contracting Round for the exploration of potential coal and petroleum areas in the country, which includes Surigao del Sur.

On Sept. 1 of the same year, members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani allegedly killed three Lumad leaders in Sitio Han-ayan, Diatagon: Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of Mapasu; and Mapasu member Datu Juvello Sinzo.

‘Abuses’

“We don’t want a repeat of the massacre in 2015 that’s why we evacuated,” Tejero said, citing the presence of the Army outpost and the alleged abuses by the soldiers in their communities as the reason why they fled their homes.

Children comprise the majority of evacuees from the upland areas of Barangay Diatagon in Lianga, Surigao del Sur. July 20, 2018. MindaNews photo by GG BUENO

“They said it cannot be considered a manmade calamity because there’s no encounter there. Will they call it a calamity only when we bring dead people?” he said, referring to the decision of the local government to withhold assistance to the evacuees.

“We’re using our own money for food. Others here no longer have money. We’re unable to bring foodstuff when we evacuated, only our animals,” Campos said.

Aside from Sitio Han-ayan where Campos and Tejero lived, the displaced families came from Sitios Semuwaw, Merarol, Manluy-a, Km 14, Km 16, Decoy, Mike and Panukmuan of Diatagon, and Sitios Magkahunao, Old Kabuluhan, New Kabuluhan and Yadawan of San Agustin town.

“The 75th IB has been there for over a month. The soldiers stayed in the people’s houses at daytime. They followed children who went out to harvest vegetables. During classes they surrounded the school (Alcadev). That’s our biggest problem,” Campos said.

“If they want to build a detachment, it should be located far from our homes. They are free to operate but they should not stay in our place,” she said.

“They built the detachment without getting the consent of our datus (tribal chieftains) and elders. They are disrespectful,” she said.

“We only knew of the barangay resolution in favor of the detachment after it was approved on Feb. 5 this year,” she added.

In a statement on Sunday, the Eastern Mindanao Command said the detachment in Km 9 was requested by the community through a resolution by the Municipal and Barangay Peace and Order Council of Lianga and Diatagon, respectively.

Tejero said the military had imposed a food blockade at the checkpoint in Sitio Neptune since 2017.

“They suspected that the rice and canned goods we bought were intended for the NPA. They would not seize the goods but we had to undergo many processes. We had to go to the local government unit, barangay. They would ask for our ID, (driver’s) license,” he said.

Over 1,200 evacuees from upland communities of Diatagon, Lianga in Surigao del Sur and neighboring villages have sought shelter at the barangay gym. They fled their homes on July 16, 2018 citing the presence of an Army detachment in their area which they fear would invite attacks by the New People’s Army. MindaNews photo taken on July 20, 2018 by GG BUENO

He further alleged that their women were being subjected to sexual harassment.

“They would tell the women ‘you got a nice body, it would be nice to have sex with you’,” he said.

In a phone interview on Sunday, Capt. Rodolfo Cordero, civil military operations officer of the 401st Infantry Brigade dismissed these allegations as recycled issues.

“They keep on repeating these allegations because Mapasu is an anti-government organization. Its leader, (Imelda) Melandres is a sister of NPA commander Pablito Campos who was arrested in Sibagat, Agusan del Sur months ago,” he said.

Cordero further said the military won’t leave the area to force the NPA to abandon it, and to secure government projects like roads and electrification. “These projects are already in the pipeline.”

“This is the area where they always held their anniversaries,” he said.

‘I will choose your investors’

During the Indigenous Peoples Leaders’ Summit in Davao City on Feb. 1 this year, President Rodrigo Duterte declared he will choose the investors in Andap Valley Complex.

Caraga Watch noted that on the same occasion, Duterte told the Lumad to prepare for relocation, “insinuating the dislocation of the Lumad from their ancestral homes amidst combat operations of the AFP to ease the entry of plantations and mining projects.”

In June 2017, the President issued Executive Order No. 30 establishing the Energy Investment Coordinating Council to facilitate the processing of energy projects and investments “with national significance.” (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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