Surigao environmentalists vow to continue crusade despite shooting incident

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 31 Oct) – Supporters of environmental activist Dr. Isidro Olan, who survived an ambush in Carmen, Surigao del Sur last Monday, vowed to continue their fight against illegal logging and mining in the province despite the “chilling” incident.

Tinty Irriberi, a fellow vocal environmentalist in neighboring Cantilan town, said the incident will not deter them from pursuing their fight against the wanton destruction of the province’s natural wealth.

Olan was with his wife when ambushed by still unidentified men about 3:30 p.m. Monday while on their way home, police said. He was shot along the “scaling road” 75 meters away from his house in Barangay Puyat in Carmen. The scaling road is an abandoned scaling area for lumber produced by the Puyat-owned Surigao Development Corporation, a logging company based in the said town.

Olan is the founder and executive director of the Lovers of Nature Foundation based in his hometown and is an active member of the Roman Catholic led Social Action Center within the Carrascal-Cantilan-Madrid-Carmen-Lanuza-Parang (CarCanMadCarLanPar) Zone in the province.

The shooting incident, Irriberi said, might have some “chilling effect on their crusade to defend Mother Earth” but vowed to continue with their fight because their cause is for “our children and the next generations.”

Threats to one’s life, he added, are part of the “hazards in standing up for what is right.” But Irriberi stressed this will not stop them because “we believe that this is the right thing to do for God, country and humanity.”

Irriberi is the director for Mindanao of the Manila-based environmental group Foundation for the Philippine Environment. He is also a member of the Baywatch Foundation in Surigao del Sur, which is one of the lead organizations in the filing of the Writ of Kalikasan against several mining companies operating in the two Surigao provinces, including MarcVentures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC), Taganito Mining Corporation, Platinum Group Metals Corporation, Oriental Synergy Mining Corporation and ShenZhou Mining Group Corporation.

Attempts to silence

Fr. Raymond M. Ambray, spokesperson of the environment watchdog Caraga Watch, said in a written statement that the pro-environment activist’s shooting “is but one of the countless attempts to silence the growing clamor of the people of Caraga to put a stop to the increasing number of destructive large-scale operations of mining, logging and plantations in the region.”

He said Dr. Olan’s shooting “is no different” from the killing of other anti-mining activists like Dr. Gerry Ortega of Palawan, Italian priest Fr. Pops Tentorio of Cotabato who fought against mining operations, and several other killings all over Mindanao.

The priest, who is based in Cantilan town, said harassments against anti-mining activists include the killing of the wife and two sons of B’laan leader Daguel Capion, who declared war against Sagittarius Mines in Tampakan.

The group criticized the Aquino administration for denying human rights violations and for calling the advocacy “as mere propaganda of the left.” According to the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, there have been 25 killings since Aquino’s rule

There have been 25 killings since the start of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s term and until now he “has not been taking significant steps to stop the atrocities.”

Caraga Watch said Aquino’s “Daang Matuwid” has not changed the real policy of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the “continued plunder of the country’s natural resources,” citing Ms Arroyo’s Investment Defense Forces (IDF) changing into a new name as “Investment Security Forces (ISF).

These so-called “defense forces” gave justification to the increased military presence in areas where mining companies operate to give “plunderers of the land the license to use violence against the people and communities that oppose the destruction of the environment,” Ambray said.

“We strongly condemn the shooting of Dr. Isidro Olan as we condemn all violent attempts to silence the resistance of the people in Caraga and the country against the plunder of our natural resources and our natural patrimony,” the statement said.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International, too, condemned the shooting. Dr. Aurora Corazon Parong, section director of AI-Philippines, called on the Philippine National Police and the Commission on Human Rights “to conduct an immediate impartial investigation in order to bring the perpetuators to justice.”

Nokie Calunsag, campaign officer for Green Mindanao, said in a phone interview that while they condemned the attack, their group also pointed out the importance of vigilance against the emerging threat in Caraga.

“As communities and organizations become bolder in discussing and taking action against these illegal logging and the emerging large scale mining projects in the area, rest assured these vicious plot against the lives of those who shout out will continue,” said Calunsag.

Calunsag stressed that unless justice will be served, these criminals will continue to think that they can get away with whatever they do and pursue more daring acts of violence in the future.

“Surely the intelligence network of the police and the military in the area knows a lot about the situation behind the unsuccessful attempt on the life of Dr. Olan. All efforts should be extended in the investigation and apprehension of the perpetuators,” he said.

Carl Cesar C. Rebuta, associate executive director of Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center – Kasama sa Kalikasan (LRC-KsK), likewise condemned the attack, noting that Olan’s “has contributed a lot as one of the leading environmental organizations in Surigao del Sur and the entire Caraga region.”

Police authorities in Surigao del Sur, meanwhile, will be asking for the medical report, as well as ask for the “slug” that was taken from Olan’s body.

Investigation task group

Senior Insp. Dominador Plaza, Carmen police chief, said that the Provincial Police Office has created the Special Investigation Task Group to be led by Senior Supt. Arthur M. Sanchez to investigate the ambush incident.

“We will be requesting for the doctor who operated  on Dr. Olan to give this to us which we will submit to the crime laboratory for ballistic examination,” Plaza said.

MindaNews is withholding the identity of the physician who operated on Olan as sources privy to the condition of the pro-environment activist doctor requested for the non-disclosure of his whereabouts for safety reasons.

Plaza said that investigation will continue on the real motive of the shooting while not discounting that Olan’s strong anti-mining and anti-illegal logging sentiments may be the motive behind the ambush.

As of press time, Plaza said they are still facing a blank wall.

Meanwhile, Rowil Aguillon, Surigao Development Corporation (Sudecor) woods division manager, said in a telephone interview that Olan, who was carrying a handgun, was still able to fire back against his assailants.

Aguillon and some of the security personnel of Sudecor were the first to reach the ambush site after Olan’s wife Olive called for help. Olan’s house is located within the Sudecor compound in Brgy. Puyat.

Olan was reportedly carrying a caliber .45 handgun since he started receiving death threats due to his involvement in the anti-illegal logging campaign in the province.

The suspects, Aguillon said, could not be ascertained by Olan, who was already on the ground and was having difficulty firing back because of the injury.

But Plaza said they have yet to get the affidavit of Dr. Olan and other witnesses. “We are still waiting for Dr. Olan’s statement and we are still digging up on the motive of the shooting,” he said. (Vanessa L. Almeda with reports from Erwin Mascariñas / MindaNews)