Bishop backs call vs. mining in Bukidnon town

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/28 March) – Malaybalay Bishop Jose A. Cabantan has backed the calls against mining in San Fernando town in the heels of protests made by the kin and supporters of a slain barangay chairman there.

“The rivers there will be the next Iponan River in the future. It’s always colored chocolate plus the increasing siltation and landslide,” the bishop added in a text message after his meeting with Pastor Arturo Veladiez, Bukidnon conference president of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP).

Veladiez told MindaNews Monday he will meet with the bishop to seek help on their situation in San Fernando, where his church members continued to flee because of threats from Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad, leader of the New Indigenous People’s Army Reform (Nipar) and main suspect in the death of Dao barangay chair Jimmy Liguyon.

“I believe they have other means of livelihood to ensure food security in the area. Our government agencies can help them (indigenous peoples) on this matter,” he added.

Dao is reported to be home of illegal gold mining operations compared in scale to the early stage of the Diwalwal mining site in Compostela Valley province.

Cabantan quoted the UCCP pastors as saying the gold rush has disturbed the peace in the area and broken relationships.

Veladiez, however, clarified to MindaNews that the church members in the area are not totally against mining. He cited that some members wanted to make sure that only responsible mining that benefits the people will be allowed.

Cabantan said the diocese has extended support for the needs of the villagers who came to Malaybalay to join protests at the provincial capitol grounds. Protesters said they have fled to evade danger after Salusad allegedly threatened to kill them.

Leah Tumbalang, chair of the Kaugalingong Sistema Igpasasindog to Lumadnong Ogpaan (Kasilo), said that most residents in Dao are either relatives or supporters of the slain barangay chair.

Kasilo reported that additional nine families from Dao have fled, making the total number of families seeking refuge at the capitol grounds to 23. The kin and supporters continued to call for justice for the death of Liguyon.

The Liguyons fled Dao and sought refuge in makeshift tents at the capitol grounds a few days after their patriarch was killed. His son Randy, who was reported to have witnessed the crime, told the dialogue organized by Vice Gov. Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. on March 21 that the group of assailants was led by Aldy “Butsoy” Salusad, son of former rebel Benjamin Salusad.

Salusad is identified with the San Fernando Matigsalug Tribal Datus (Sanmatrida), which has pending applications for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title and mining operations in Dao.

Salusad is the son of Benjamin “Nonong” Salusad, a former New People’s Army member, who surrendered to the 8th Infantry Battalion in Maramag town on Nov. 15 last year and who is now a member of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit.

The younger Salusad is also a former NPA rebel. He surrendered in 2010 and allegedly formed the paramilitary group Nipar.

Salusad admitted having killed Liguyon in an interview on Monday over radio station DXDB.

In owning up to the killing, Nipar accused the victim of being a supporter of the NPA, that he often joined protest actions by militant groups. A Nipar statement alleged that Liguyon was a corrupt barangay official and a supporter of Alamara, an armed Lumad group.

Liguyon’s son, Randy, told the March 21 dialogue that after the shooting of his father, he heard Salusad shout that it was done because the barangay chair refused to cooperate with Sanmatrida. The slain barangay chair did not sign a form of consent for the group’s ancestral domain title application.

The dialogue ended with Zubiri reiterating a Sangguniang Panlalawigan resolution ordering the military and the police to secure and restore peace and order in the town and to arrest Liguyon’s killers.

But Datu Inbanwag Jomorito Goaynon told reporters they were dismayed because they had hoped the provincial government will act and cause the arrest of the suspect so they can return home.

Instead of returning home, more relatives are expected to arrive from Dao, Tumbalang told MindaNews last Saturday. She said about nine more families from Dao are on their way to this city because they could not sleep there anymore due to continuing threats.

A military detachment was set up in Dao in the wake of reports of continued operations of illegal gold mining. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)