“I see violence in the future with many people bearing firearms. The training of civilians [to become members of the Civilian Volunteers’ Organization] is not a very good prospect. We are becoming violent,” Marbel of Diocese Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez said at a press conference here.
Senior Superintendent Robert R. Kiunisala, South Cotabato police director, confirmed that they are training people to become CVO members in at least three villages of Tampakan namely Tablu, Danlag and Pulabato. These villages are within the mines development site.
“But these civilian volunteers organization is under the supervision of the DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] and the barangay government. What the police are doing is lecturing them on law enforcement subjects, simple community defense, peace and order and basic [provisions of the] law,” he said at the same press conference.
CVOs are supposedly the unarmed version of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit (Cafgus) but in many areas, they are also armed.
Felix Espanola, an anti-mining advocate, said 60 civilians are being trained in each of the identified villages in Tampakan town and another 60 in Barangay Bong Mal in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur, or a total of 240 barangay tanods as CVO members are more known.
“We are afraid that these CVOs will be used to harass or silence mining critics in the communities,” said Espanola, a former community organizer when the venture was still managed by Australian firm Western Mining Corp.
Sagittarius had acquired the mining rights from the Australian firm. In March last year, global mining player Xstrata Copper took over management control of Sagittarius whose minesite straddles the boundaries of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur provinces.
The New People’s Army is known to move around the firm’s mines development site and in fact attacked the base camp on New Year’s dawn, burning of buildings worth at least P12 million.
Bishop Gutierrez said that since CVOs are usually armed, even as they are not supposed to be armed, violence is not far-fetched.
“Agaw-armas [gun snatching] may become prevalent in the area. Knowing the NPA, they also want as many firearms as possible. Armed clashes cannot be avoided,” the bishop said.
The training of civilian volunteer watchmen was on top of the new security arrangement put in place by Sagittarius last month, when it hired the services of Catena Security, Inc., an affiliate of England-based Group 4 Securicor, one of the world’s leading security firms.
An earlier Sagittarius announcement said that more than 100 security guards will be employed to secure the personnel and facilities of the firm.
Last weekend, communist rebels warned anew of punitive attacks against Sagittarius, which is still in the exploration stage for copper and gold deposits.
Kiunisala said they expect the barangay tanods to become instrumental in neutralizing the presence of lawless armed groups operating in the area, referring to the NPA.
But also on top of Sagittarius’s private security and the CVO members, Kiunisala assured the company of full state protection.
“Authorities are bound to protect legitimate investors from threats. The police and the military are providing area security to the company,” he said.
Acting Tampakan Vice Mayor Relly A. Leysa has questioned the number of CVOs, saying that each village is entitled to only 20 personnel, being a manageable number.
A Sagittarius official told reporters Tuesday afternoon that compensation of the CVOs will be taken from the financial assistance given by the firm.
It is public knowledge that Sagittarius has been extending one million pesos each to barangays straddled by the project site.
But the Sagittarius officials denied “the company was behind the moves to train the civilians,” saying that “village officials have the freedom to allocate the company’s financial assistance to whatever development initiatives they like.” (MindaNews)