Probe ordered on ‘MILF takeover’ of chromite minesite in Banaybanay

Peace Process Undersecretary Ramon Santos, chair of the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and Von Al Haq, chair of the MILF’s CCCH, told MindaNews by telephone shortly before their departure for Kuala Lumpur Monday that they would have the matter investigated.

Alexander Benedicto, chair of the Heritage Resources and Development Corporation (HRDC), the firm operating the chromite mines, told MindaNews he has also reported the matter to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte,  head of the Regional Peace and Order Council,  and that Duterte has vowed to look into the situation.

The HRDC also asked Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes to “intervene and to order all agencies to investigate”  the alleged takeover.

Benedicto told MindaNews the MILF members were reportedly hired by a councilor and construction firm owner from Pangasinan.

In his letter to Davao Oriental Governor Ma. Elena Palma Gil on July 25, HRDC lawyer Napoleon Sango did not mention “MILF” but “armed band.” However, Sango wrote that Sonny “Dabao” Sasan, Basir Takasan and a certain alias Nel Halil and alias Padil, “drove away HRDC licensed security guards and personnel (and) forcefully entered and occupied the HRDC building located at Sitio Mahayahay, Barangay Maputi, Banay-banay.”

Dabao and Takasan are known to be MILF commanders in the area, Benedicto said.

Eid Kabalu, MILF spokesperson, told MindaNews Dabao is the commander of the 111th Base Command of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces. Kabalu said what he knows is that the MILF  “intervened” because the firm operating in the area had reportedly abandoned the area and left behind P10 million obligations.

Dabao could not be reached for comment. But Takasan told MindaNews in a telephone interview, “there was no takeover.” He admitted having gone to the area escorted by around ten MILF members but claimed he went there to pacify restive 21 MILF members who worked as laborers of HRDC and whose wages had not been paid the last three months. He said he was with Sammy Dabao, a commander in the area, not Sonny Dabao, the base commander.

Takasan said as a member of the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG), he went to the area to make sure the restive MILF members do not resort to violence. He said the three security guards of HRDC “voluntarily” left the area.

Sango’s letter quoted his clients as saying “Ronaldo Matias A. Mangusong II who introduced himself as a municipal councilor/President of the Liga ng mga Barangay of the municipality of Asingan, Pangasinan and as equipment dealer under the style RAM Aggregates and Construction was the one who spearheaded and financed the heavily armed group” under Dabao and company.

In his letter to the MILF’s Al Haq, Redentor Benedicto, HRDC’s chief operating officer,  said “Mangusong in conspiracy with some local Davao Oriental officials, convinced ‘Sonny Davao’ Sasan to send MILF forces and secure the HRDC roads, camps and minesites at Sitios Mahayahay and Mangoway.”

“Money certainly changed hands. The large-scale mobilization of armed elements, led by MILF troops entailed a lot of financial and logistical support. And talks are rife that the MILF elements received from Mr. Mangusong sizable cash amounts as cash advances for their services in this illegal act,”  Benedicto said.

Mangusong denied the allegations. He told MindaNews, “hindi ko kailangan ng (I don’t need a) private army. I am only a businessman. Why would I hire?”

“Nakakahiya sa MILF. Hindi naman siguro yan sila mababaw na gawin silang private army. I respect the peace process.  I think that’s unfair,”  said Mangusong, who said he got to Banaybanay because HRDC engaged their services. Mangusong claims it was only later when he found out that HRDC was operating without a permit.

Sango’s letter to the governor said HRDC has a mineral operating contract to develop, extract and operate the chromite mining area with small-scale mining permitee Paulino Cabunag in Sitio Mangoway, Barangay Maputi.

HRDC's Alex Benedicto said they started operating the 80-hectare site in January. He said the firm hired 300 workers and contributed much to the local economy — with at least P300,000 weekly payroll, and at one point during the loading of the ore to the ship, 38 trucks were hired.

To bring the chromite out of the area, the firm, he said, spent some P15 million to construct an 18-km circumferential road leading to the minesite from the poblacion of Barangay Maputi. He said they were ready to ship 3,000 metric tons to China in April but the boat sailed immediately  when the New People’s Army (NPA) “raided and burned our generator, compressor, jackhammer, etc.” on April 25.

Benedicto said about half of raw ore or 1,600 tons, had been loaded and they needed three more days to complete the loading but the ship owner opted to leave immediately after the NPA raid.

He said the boat left with no proper documentation and payment.

Chromite, he says, fetches from 50 to 100 US dollars, depending on the market. The estimated chromite yield in the area, Benedicto said, is 100,000 metric tons.

Benedicto admitted they were having financial problems because of the raid and the non-payment of the chromite shipment and that they have obligations of about P9 million. (Carolyn O. Arguillas with a report from Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)

 

 

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