Bishop condemns violent dispersal of anti-mining rally

Butuan Auxiliary Bishop Zacharias Jimenez denounced what he called an “inhuman act of policemen” who used water cannons to disperse around 60 protesters belonging to the Katawhan sa Tubay Batok sa Minahan (KTBM), an anti-mining group in Tubay town.

“They are the officers of the law and yet they initiated a violent act,” Jimenez said in a press conference here over the weekend.

But police said they were left with no choice because the protesters did not listen to the law enforcers' plea to stop blocking the road.

At least six protesters, including a priest and an old woman, were hurt when the police, led by Agusan del Norte police director Sr. Supt. Jerome Pagaragan, dispersed the rallyists using water cannons around 9 a.m. of Aug. 6 in Barangay La Fraternidad in Tubay town.

Hurt were Fr. Jennor Luis, parish priest of St. Anne Parish of Tubay; 61-year-old Nelia Orjel; Tubay Councilor Aliore Page; lawyer Orlando Carlota and his wife Alice and their son Jeremiah. Orjel is still confined at the Butuan Doctor’s Hospital due to bruises and wounds.

“This is not the end. Instead, this is just the beginning of the continuing struggle for the protection of the environment in Tubay,” said Fr. Luis, who is also one of the key leaders of the KTBM.

Carlota, KTBM legal counsel, blamed “bigwigs” — referring to political leaders in Agusan del Sur — for backing the “large scale mining” activities in barangays La Fraternidad and Binuagan in Tubay.

Records at the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (PMRB) of Agusan del Sur show that the Galeo Equipment Corp., SR Metals, Inc. and San R Construction Corp. were simultaneously granted permits to operate small scale mining activities in La Fraternidad and other nearby barangays.

The three mining firms, represented by Jimwell Orpilla, started their operations after their permits to mine nickel and cobalt were almost simultaneously approved last March 2, 3 and 4 by the PMRB. The three firms have a total of mining area of 60 hectares and still negotiating for another 591 hectares on the same mining site.

Page said the people of Tubay were deceived by officials of the three companies when they claimed they are going into small scale mining. Page said they were surprised upon seeing heavy equipments being unloaded from the barge.

Members of the anti-mining group started their protest-rally on Aug. 5 at the entrance gate of SR Metals to dramatize their demand to stop the ongoing mining operations. On the next day, the protesters set up barricades using big rocks and bamboo poles along the road leading to the mining site.

Alice Guday, La Fraternidad barangay chair, said the rallyists had no permit from her office. She noted, too, that they were blocking a public barangay road. Carlota, however, said there was no need to seek for a permit since the rally was held inside a private land owned by Page. Apparently, there is still a raging debate as to who owns that piece of land where the rallyists staged their protest.

Insp. Benny Esparagoza, Tubay police chief, said they tried talking to the protesters to dismantle their barricades since they are blocking the road but their plea was ignored. He added that he immediately asked for a fire truck from the neighboring town of Cabadbaran.

Pagaragan told reporters that the police was left with no option but to use water cannons to disperse the protesters.

Reacting to Pagaragan’s statement, Carlota said: “We were just conducting a peaceful picket-rally and the use of water cannons against us was a violation of our rights to free expression.”

Carlota said they are now gathering more evidences to file charges against the policemen in the court. (Alden C. Pantaleon Jr. / MindaNews)