Slain anti-mining activist given hero's burial

Bishop Gutierrez, who concelebrated the funeral mass with six other priests, described the activist as a “prophet, a voice of God.”

Some 3,000 people marched along as Billanes’ body, which was placed inside a white coffin and carried aboard a yellow dump truck, was paraded around the city.

The hearse caused traffic along the public market, the same place where Billanes was shot dead in broad daylight last March 9. He was 46.  He left behind three children, the youngest of whom is four years old.

“No to Open Pit Mining” and “Justice for Boy Billanes” were among the messages written in red on placards that expressed opposition to the operations of mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc., which is controlled by Xstrata Copper.

Soccsksargends Agenda, which stands for South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City, Davao del Sur — Alliance for Genuine Development, has been strongly opposing the presence of the mining firm in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Bishop Gutierrez, himself a local leading figure against SMI’s operations, lashed at the local military for claiming that anti-mining advocates are members or supporters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Lt. Col. Joshua Santiago, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion, denied accusations by some local militants that they were behind the slaying of Mr. Billanes.

The official said the local military leadership “does not consider anti-mining advocates as supporters of the communist movement.”

He said the military was misunderstood when a junior officer, whom he did not name, was quoted as saying in a dialogue that anti-mining advocates are communist members or supporters.

“We feel bad that we are considered to be behind the death of Billanes. We have no reason to harm him,” he said.

Investigations conducted by the police are ongoing,  but Billanes’ wife noted there have been no updates on the case.

The National Bureau of Investigation has also conducted a parallel investigation, it was learned.

Meanwhile, Mark Williams, Sagittarius general manager, has issued a statement denying the company’s supposed role in the killing of  Billanes.

“SMI wishes to confirm that the company has no connection to the death of Mr. Billanes. Any allegations linking SMI to this incident are totally untrue and without any basis,”Williams said.

He said Xstrata Plc, the parent of Xstrata Copper, is committed to the highest levels of ethical performance at every managed operation “and is committed to uphold human rights, support free enterprise and operates with maximum transparency commercially possible, prohibiting
any form of political donation, with a zero tolerance policy of fraud, bribery or corruption.” (MindaNews)