SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Taking the bait?

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/15 October) – Reports said that Taganito Mining Corp. has requested government to deploy a paramilitary unit to boost its security following an attack last week by the New People’s Army against the company and two sister mining firms, in Claver, Surigao del Norte. Given the scope of these companies’ operations, they would need a sizeable number of militiamen as guards, not to mention the regular troops that will be assigned to lead them. With government’s unabashed pro-mining stance, the request will likely be granted.

This arrangement however may raise some questions. Government will have to explain why the mining firms have to be secured with taxpayers’ money. Nobody would question if soldiers or paramilitary units are sent to guard public facilities or government-owned corporations. But making them guard a private firm – and in huge numbers at that – is something else. It makes them no different from a private armed group except that the companies need not worry about their wages and other expenses.

Maybe government can justify this setup by showing that the economic benefits of maintaining a paramilitary unit that will guard these companies far outweigh the cost. The problem is there’s possibly no way of divorcing the economics of mining from environment and social issues. In fact, the presence of state security forces [in these mining companies] may only cause more human rights abuses against the host communities. It’s not farfetched that the companies will use them to break the will of groups that may try to stand in the way through peaceful means. It will be another case of militarization in the service of corporate interests.

Even before the military proposed the deployment of paramilitary units in mining companies, a move supported by President Aquino, a number of anti-mining advocates had fallen victims to violence. What assurance is there that similar incidents can be prevented in the event that paramilitaries become embedded in mining firms? What will prevent the companies from using them to get what they want?

According to Panalipdan Mindanao, the country is sacrificing the human rights of its people and its natural wealth in exchange for a measly $17 billion in investment in the mining industry by 2016. But, it added, “The mineral wealth that could be hauled away through this investment is $840 billion.” Citing government statistics, the group said the mining industry only contributes 1.1% to total taxes collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Aside from its social costs, the idea of assigning large numbers of militiamen to mining companies can create a backlash in military terms. One, they are no match to the experienced and well-motivated New People’s Army guerrillas. If the rebels can manage to outwit the well-trained, disciplined regular troops, they will find it easier to deal with the militias.

Two, since the military officials themselves know that the militias are a magnet for NPA attacks they will seek to preempt or effectively respond to such attacks by stationing regular troops near the areas where the paramilitary units are deployed. This makes the regular military the outer layer of the companies’ security system. Yet while such move may discourage the rebels from launching attacks on mining firms, it draws troops away from the field.

From time to time, granting they read history, the rebels may engage the militias in skirmishes to compel the military into committing more regulars to the firms’ security ring to lessen the pressure in the guerrilla front. As Gabriel Kolko notes in “Anatomy of a War,” an incisive book on the Vietnam War, the National Liberation Front deliberately attacked major American camps to pressure the enemy into committing more and more troops to base defense. Military strategists know what happens when more troops are stuck to static defense instead of actually going after the enemy.

The Vietnamese guerrillas staged the base attacks as bait, and the Americans took it. Is the Philippine military going to commit the same mistake? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])