KMP urges gov’t to stand for Montevista protesters

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 Jan) – Filing charges against eight leaders of a barricade that demanded an end to foreign and large-scale mining and commercial logging in ComVal and Davao Oriental, which protesters claimed aggravated the devastation caused by Typhoon Pablo, showed that the government would not stand for the poor.

This was what Pedro Arnado, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) Southern Mindanao, said in an interview Wednesday.

Some 5,000 protesters, reportedly from ComVal and Davao Oriental, put up a human barricade at Montevista highway in Compostela Valley last January 15 that tied the traffic for at least nine hours.

Eight of them – namely, Barug Katawhan (People Rise Up) members Carlos Trangia, Grace Curso, Bello Timdasan and Leni Camino, Prof. Mae Templa of BALSA Mindanao, Tony Salubre of KMP, Bayan Southern Mindanao secretary general Sheena Duazo and Juland Suazo of Panalipdan Southern Mindanao – are facing charges of “public disorder”.

The Montevista municipal police reportedly filed Thursday cases of “tumultuous and public disturbance, unlawful utterances and/or alarm and scandal” against the protesters.

“The people’s complaints must be given more importance instead of suing them,” Arnado said.

He pointed out that the government has rather “shown its bias to the large-scale mining and logging companies.”

The barricaders called to cancel foreign and large-scale mining and commercial logging in ComVal and Davao Oriental.

They wanted to scrap 16 commercial logging permits through the Integrated Forest Management Agreement in Baganga, Cateel, Caraga and Boston in Davao Oriental.

In addition, the protesters also demanded the government to ensure that relief assistance can reach far-flung areas hit by Pablo.

“Help the helpless, don’t victimize the victim,” Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of the youth group Anakbayan, said in a press statement, reacting to the filing of charges against the protesters.

“Mr. Aquino is merely protecting the mining and logging companies in Mindanao, by shifting the wrongdoing to the people. The disaster would have been prevented had these irresponsible companies not been permitted to operate,” Crisostomo said.

“These companies and the local government should be the ones charged, not the residents who hunger for relief,” he added.

“It was not easy for the farmers to leave their farm and walk for hours to join the barricade to express their demands,” Arnado said.

Asked for a comment, lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, second nominee of Bayan Muna partylist, said the typhoon victims’ protest was a valid expression of disgust against the government.

Filing of charges against some leaders and victims of Pablo is an affront to the typhoon victims, especially those who have lost their loved ones to the calamity, he said.

“I can’t understand what kind of government that filed charges against the poor people who are fighting to get what are due to them,” he said, likening the act as “rubbing salt to the wounds” that Pablo caused the victims.

But the people, including the members of Barug Katawhan, must not be cowed, and should be allowed to continue their fight as they have legitimate demands, Zarate said.

“I dare the police to file charges against illegal loggers and politicians who make use of the distribution of relief goods for their political interest,” he said.

“The problem with this government is that the police can easily sue the poor but not those in power who remain untouchable. Time will come that the people will show their true power much greater than the state’s,” he stressed. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro / MindaNews)