'Stopping Tampakan mine project is justice for my husband'

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/06 December) –The widow of a slain anti-mining activist said that if the government could not go after her husband’s killers, she would consider stopping the Tampakan gold-copper mining project enough justice for her husband.

”If the mining operation of Xstrata be stopped, I would consider that the first step in the quest for justice for my husband,” Emily Billanez, widow of anti-mining activist Eleazar Billanez, told reporters during the Mindanao human rights summit at the Green Heights Convention Center in Buhangin here.

She said that over a year after the killing of her husband, no investigation has been conducted and no case has been filed in court because there were no witnesses willing enough to identify the perpetrators.

Billanes, who was killed on March 9 last year, entered the long list of political activists who became victims of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo administration.

Emily said she no longer expects justice because her husband’s ”enemies” can afford to hire killers.

”Budlay na matagaan og hustisya kay ang kanila kalaban makwarta, kag makasugo kung kinsa pamatyon, kami, walay kwarta (It’s quite unlikely that he’ll be given justice because his enemies are rich, they can ask somebody to kill a person, while we don’t have money),” Emily said.

”No witness who could point to the suspect was willing to come out so that no investigation ever took place,” she added.

That’s why, she said, she will consider it enough justice for her husband’s death if the operation of the mining company her husband had had fought against would be stopped even if the killers are not caught.

Billanes was killed in front of a magazine stand at the public market in Koronadal City where he was buying a newspaper.

Shortly before his death, Billanes had been attending dialogs with soldiers, who were trying to organize Task Force Kitaco (Kiblawan, Tampakan and Columbio) to protect mining interests in the area.

The Tampakan mining project, which is controlled by Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, is touted as the largest undeveloped copper-gold project in Southeast Asia. It straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato, Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

Emily Billanes was one of over 300 participants to the human rights summit, which called on the Aquino government to make the previous administration accountable for over 1,000 extrajudicial killings and 200 cases of enforced disappearances.

Bishop Felixbero Calang, convenor of Barug Katungod Mindanao, however, said that in the first six months of the Aquino administration, the human rights group Karapatan has already monitored 20 cases of extrajudicial killings, surpassing the 14 cases registered in the first six months of the Arroyo administration

”The situation now is much scarier. The culture of impunity continues because stopping it is not in the agenda of the present administration. The new administration merely extended the life of the previous administration’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya blamed for the extrajudicial killing of activists,” Calang said. (Germelina Lacorte/Mindanews)