Koronadal Bishop wants probe on killing of anti-mining leader

Billanes was on his way to buy a newspaper when shot in the head  at close range near the public market in Barangay Mabini late Monday afternoon.

Karapatan’s documentation report , however, shows that Billanes was gunned at the public market of Koronadal City fronting the fire station on Osmena Street, at about 4 p.m. Monday,  by two unidentified men wearing helmets, riding on an XLR-type motorcycle bearing plate number MJ5432.

“He was about to board on his motorcycle after buying a newspaper as his usual routine when he was shot hitting his right cheek that caused his death,” Karapatan’s documentation showed.

Soccsksargends –Agenda  (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City, Davao del Sur — Alliance for Genuine Development) is an anti-mining group vehemently opposing the Tampakan copper and gold project pursued by Sagittarius Mines, Inc., a foreign-backed firm.

Billanes was “well known for his stand against any form of development aggression especially the presence of the large-scale mining company in Tampakan.”

“He had long been a formidable partner of the social action center in its advocacies for environment, human rights, justice and peace,” Bishop Gutierrez and Sister Pat Babiera, Justice and Peace desk coordinator, said in a statement.

Billanes also served as executive director of the Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Timug Kutabato, a member of the board of trustees of the Coalition of Social Development Organization of South Cotabato, an active member of the local government development committees of Koronadal and the province of South Cotabato and an active member of various progressive organizations.

Bishop Gutierrez and Sister Babiera said the military has been conducting pulong-pulong in the barangays of Tampakan recently,  tagging anti-mining advocates, including the church, as supporters or members of the New People’s Army (NPA).  

“Boy Billanes was one of the many personalities tagged as such and had received numerous threats before his assassination,” they added.

The Diocese of Marbel said it does not tolerate any form of repression especially through extrajudicial killings, that the right to life is a gift for everybody and no one has the right to take it away. The wheel of justice is the proper venue for resolution of any case, the statement added.

Fr. Romeo Catedral, social action center director, said Billanes’ killing had a “chilling effect.”

“My staff feels terrified,” he said.

Fr. Catedral’s office is at the frontline of the local Catholic church’ sopposition to mining ventures in the area

Catedral, who is presently in Cebu City for the national assembly of the Philippine Misereor Partnership, and Billanes have been persistently calling on Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) to abandon its mining project in Tampakan town citing environmental and human concerns.  

SMI is managed by Swiss miner Xstrata Copper, owning 62.5% of the project. The other foreign partner in the mining venture is Australian firm Indophil Resources NL. The Tampakan project is touted as the largest undeveloped copper deposit in Southeast Asia.

In a statement, John B. Arnaldo,  SMI corporate communications manager, said they are  “saddened by the news of the death of Mr. Boy Billanes” and “would like to express and relay its condolences and sympathies to his family and loved ones.”

Arnaldo also said the company is “saddened by the allegations linking SMI to this incident which is totally untrue and baseless. As many from our communities will attest, SMI has always respected human rights, and conducted its business through genuine partnerships by working ethically, responsibly, openly and with others.”

Peter Arvin Jabido of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, blames the military for the victim’s death.  

But Lieutenant Eduardo Florentino, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion’s Charlie Company, denied the military had anything to do with the killing.

“I was shocked and  I feel sad by (what happened),” he said,  adding he had a meeting with Billanes several hours before he was killed.

Florentino said the military has leads but declined to divulge them so as not to jeopardize ongoing operations.

Karapatan’s documentation report noted that two weeks before Billanes was gunned down, “the victim was under surveillance and (had) received several threats coming from the militaries because of his vocal criticisms on mining issues besetting Tampakan, South Cotabato.  He even called  a dialogue with the Armed Forces of the Philippines to clarify things about his safety and security after knowing that the militaries  were already  visible in their barangay doing census. It was first scheduled last March 08, 2009 but was canceled  by a certain Lt. Florentino of the 27th Infantry Battalion presently assigned in the area of Koronadal City  particularly in Barangay Mabini. The dialogue was pursued on March 09, 2009 at 9:00 am up to 12:00 o’clock noon. It was a closed-in dialogue attended by three barangay officials and a certain Lt. Florentino at Barangay Hall of Mabini, Koronadal City”.

“Knowing Eleizer “Boy” Billanes’ advocacies and (vigilant) criticism in the anti-mining campaign in South Cotabato and in defending the rights of the marginalized sectors…. there (are) no other reasons and suspected perpetrators of his death except the government state agents,” Karapatan’s documentation report said. (MindaNews)