Who is Eliezer “Boy” Billanes?
“It must be cleared that I am not against development, in as long as it is for just development of the people and not an aggression development that only serves the few”. This was the statement that Boy Billanes openly articulated in many fora and conferences.
Boy Billanes, 46 years old, married, with three children, was a persistent advocate of human rights, good governance, peace and environmental protection and just development. As an environmental activist, he consistently stood up against the encroachment of large-scale mining in the Philippines such as the multinational giant Xstrata-SMI and all forms of environmental destructions. He had affiliated himself in the following organizations with great responsibilities such as:
1) Chairman – SoCCSKSarGenDS- Alliance for Genuine Development,
2) Chairman – Coalition of Anti-Mining Movement (CAMM)
3) Secretary-General and spokesperson of the South Cotabato Peoples Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (SOCPAND),
4) Project Director of Samahan sa mga Magsasaka sa Timog Kutabato (SAMATIKU)
5) Board of Director – Protected Area Management Board, Civil Society Development Organization, (CSDO)
Boy offered his entire life serving the people through his active leadership and commitment in the democratic mass movement. He was a trustful leader and determined person. He had practically shared his principles and talents educating the people especially the farmers and indigenous communities on social concerns and issues that affected their lives. He was always open for media interviews and articulated the different issues affecting the poor and underprivileged. As spokesperson he voiced the sentiments and stand of his organizations on the present realities, urging government agencies for concrete resolutions of the pressing issues. As a facilitator, he encouraged discussions on advocacy strategies and alternatives to unify people in different aspects. Eventually, with his stand and principles he gained much respect and love by the masses but somehow hatred from those who have vested interests.
Who is Boy in his family?
His wife, and family described him as a “man of unity”, a responsible father and husband, a friendly brother, that no single instance had he ever encountered having enemy in the community. He facilitated dialogues whenever there were matters to be settled in the family, organization or community. In meetings, he set policies for healthy discussions, as he normally stated, “we must agree to disagree”, and relationship remains.
Why was Boy Billanes killed?
The family and friends of Boy believe that there are no other reasons for his killing aside from his firm stand and consistent advocacies on social issues and concerns.
For so many years , Boy had been vocal critic of the multinational mining company Xstrata-SMI operating in the mountains of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and North Cotabato in Mindanao, Philippines. He had courageously led the opposition against large-scale mining, exposing the environmental calamities and social evils. He exposed the deceitful policies of the government particularly the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 favoring foreign mining companies and especially of Xstrata-SMI in their efforts to gain foothold in the second richest copper-gold deposit of Asia.
Since the 1990s, when the Western Mining Corporation (WMC) was awarded a 99,400 hectares mining concession in the quadriboundary, Boy was already active in exposing the environmental hazards of such project. He was very much concerned on the effects of mining on our forests, rivers and lakes and ancestral lands, and on the people who live therein, particularly the lumads who are solely dependent on lands and natural resources for their livelihood. Despite the wealth and power of WMC then, Boy Billanes fearlessly and unstintingly stood with the people in their struggle to defend their lands and their patrimony. WMC had no other recourse but to back out and to transfer their rights to another company which continues the project with a different name.
When Xstrata-SMI came in, following a reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the Mining Act and in consonance with Arroyo’s mining policy, Boy Billanes was there to expose and oppose the schemes of the mining giant. Boy disclosed to his closest friends that in 2004, a certain Raymond Guevarra who identified himself as an agent of the National Security Council (NSC) approached Boy and tried to harass him into signing an agreement to ‘keep quiet’ with his radio broadcast and interviews, but Boy declined.
Early this year, an intelligence agent (who did not identify himself) approached him with a cash gift but Boy dismissed the guy with a resounding NO! kadugay na nakon diri, ngaa nga ibaligya man nakon ang akong kawsa?”(No! I’ve been here for so long. Why would I sell my principles?”).
In fact, Boy personally lobbied to some Local Government Units & legislators in the province of South Cotabato for the approval of the Provincial Environment Code, with a specific provision to ban large –scale “open pit” mining in South Cotabato. He shared his dismay for the delay of such approval but also hopeful that the provincial government would courageously stand and move for such legislation.
Two weeks before he was killed, he got threats and expressed his fears to close friends about the information that soldiers in their barangay who are conducting RSOT singled out his name as one among those in the “hotlists”. He wasn’t at all fazed and firmly stood his ground.
On that day before he was killed, he held a three-hour dialogue with the 27th IB who were conducting an RSOT in their barangay along with three Barangay Kagawads – in an effort to clarify his side and even befriend the government troops who were conducting a military operation in the outlying barrios of Koronadal City. His expectation was to be cleared with the military by facing them openly and legally, however in the afternoon he was killed.
“I readied my life to serve the people, although I live simply like all of you, but because of imperialist plunder, we are drawn into a cycle of death, war and chaos. Like the giant Xstrata-SMI-Indophil, which kills not only the future of our children, but even the culture of our people and the soil of our forefathers. Together with terrorism of the state, development aggression and the worsening economic crisis which affected all of us, these are the reasons why I oppose the enemies of the people..”
Was Boy Billanes killing related to the Peace and Security Program in KITACO area with the specific purpose to curtail any opposition to the mining venture?
Sometime in 2008, the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Peace and Security Program between the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and Task Force KITACO was formulated. ( KITACO stands for the local government units of Kiblawan, Tampakan, Columbio which are covered by the mining operations of the Xstrata- Sagittarius Mines Incorporated). The MOA contains the basic agreements between the Task Force KITACO as First Party and the 10th ID, Philippine Army as the second Party. The agreement was about the maintenance of security services and protection of the mining installations and properties of the mining company in KITACO area against unlawful acts of terrorists and other threat groups. Through this agreement Special Citizen Active Auxiliary (SCAA) are&
nbsp; being recruited and trained by the Army but funded by the company.
During the turnover ceremonies of Maj. Gen Pojas of the 10th ID to Maj. Reynaldo Mapago as a new Commanding Officer, it was explicitly bragged by Mapago to “finish off” the insurgency in his area of responsibility in ten months time, including the democratic mass movement.
During the March 04, 2009 dialogue in Tampakan between the military and the Church people, the affected communities raised the issues and concerns about military threats during their operations in the area, targeting the anti-mining advocates. According to the military, those who are against mining are “communists” or NPA supporters, which means anybody who are expressing their opposition to mining operations in the area are considered rebels and can be target of military suspicion and even killing. These statements are clear indications that the 10th ID follows Palparan’s strategy which marked him as “berdugo” when many activists were killed in the region where he was assigned. Reliable reports reached us that Palparan is now one of the security consultants of Xstrata-SMI.
It is believed that the killing of Boy is a chilling warning to all those who are involved in the opposition to mining. We believed that the killing is part of the extra-judicial killing promoted by high-ranking agents of the government. Their objective is to horrify the mass activists and environmentalists so as to incapacitate or silence the growing anti-mining mass movement of the people.
Why Boy Billanes so committed to denounce and oppose the large-scale mining operation of Xstrata-SMI?
Because Boy Billanes, along with many experts firmly believe that giant multinational mining company will destroy the livelihood of millions of people in about 19 municipalities of the region. He share the stand of CBCP statement of Jan. 29, 2006 signed by Archbishop Lagdameo which quotes the bible:
“Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell” (Num. 35:34) and which declares: “We believe that the Mining Act destroys life, the right to life of people is inseparable from their rights to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interest of big mining corporations to prevail over peoples’ rights to these sources amounts to violating their right to life. Furthermore, mining threatens peoples’ health and environmental safety through the wanton dumping of wastes and tailings in rivers and seas…..”
Boy believes that Xstrata-SMI will bring irreversible damage to the lumads’ ancestral lands and natural resources. It will destroy the mountains and forests which are the common sources of water, food and livelihood of the people especially the farmers in the whole region. Poisonous chemicals like mercury and cyanide will be used and will contaminate the five major river systems and tributaries in South Central Mindanao. Directly affected would be the Buluan Lake in Maguindanao, Taplan River in South Cotabato, Alip River in Sultan Kudarat, Buayan River in Sarangani and Padada River including the Davao Gulf in Davao del Sur. Thousands of hectares of rice and cornlands will also be contaminated from the chemicals coming from the mines.
As early as last year, in the areas where Xstrata-SMI conducted its mining exploration, land cracks have occurred particularly in Tukay Miasong and Kampo Kilot of Brgy. Danlag, Tampakan municipality. At the height of the rainy season last year, some 20 families of the Sitio were forced to evacuate to a safer place as precaution to a possible landslide.
And yet, Xstrata-SMI has continued to even expand its mining areas now up to Brgy Kimlawis, Davao del Sur where they are putting up a tailings dam, a mill flotation plant, powerhouses, motor pool and offices. They want to start according to their time frame as they have been delayed and obstructed by attacks from the NPA, from armed lumad residents who are against the mines and from disenchanted residents who have been promised so many economic benefits by the company but came home empty handed.
Boy Billanes exposed all these. Based on his studies on the environment plus his exposure to other areas in the Philippines which have been damaged by large-scale mining, he was absolutely convinced that Xstrata-SMI will bring not development but harm and destruction to the people. While it is true that the NPA had been using arms to oppose mining, Boy Billanes has always been advocating peaceful and legal opposition. Unfortunately, Boy was considered an enemy by the company and its protector, the AFP, while he stood as friend of the environment and the people.
Through his death, what is Boy’s message for all of us?
His death challenges us to turn grief into fervor; to put an end to the use of state repression and extra-judicial killings; and to join all those who believe in the sacredness of the environment and are ready to risk their life in protecting our common life-support systems. Boy is recognized now as an agent of life and even the perpetrators of his killing may realize that they are agents of death. These are the messages that Boy wanted to tell us.
And we salute him. He will be the rallying figure for the continually growing strength of the people’s unity and resistance against all the powers that exploit and oppress us, particularly Xstrata-SMI. In every struggle, in every mass action, every conscientizing seminar and forum, Boy Billanes will be with us. And we will not rest until justice is served and genuine peace reigns in our land. We commit to continue his advocacy for the protection and promotion of human rights, good governance, peace and respect for the sacredness of God’s creation which is the source of life for all of us.
“If many of us would rise against these evil forces, in order for us to live in a free and just society, then I risk my life.” Eleizer “Boy” Billanes
(SOCCSKSARGENDS – Alliance for Genuine Development), INC.
March 23, 2009
AGENDA Public In