Under cover of darkness, soldiers deployed to Tampakan mines site

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/16 January) – A large number of soldiers were deployed Tuesday under cover of darkness in the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc., which a wanted tribal leader described as a “deployment overkill.”

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Daguel Capion said on the phone Wednesday that they saw five military trucks coming from the direction of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur arriving in the mines development site and dispersed in different locations.

“Why are they conducting a full military operation here? The deployment of many soldiers is causing fears among tribal members,” he said in Visayan.

He wondered if the military deployment would be a prelude to the resumption of company activities in the mountains.

Capion said the government troops have broken into smaller teams and have allegedly already gone deeper to the forests to conduct security patrols.

He said the government troops disembarked in Sitio Lafla, in Datal Alyong and in Datal Biao, tribal communities straddled by Bong Mal district, which is at the heart of the mines development site.

Capion is himself wanted by the law for the murder of three workers of a construction company hired by Sagittarius Mines for a road project in March 2011.

He admitted responsibility for the killing, saying he and his group did it in disgust to the mining company for its alleged disregard to the rights of the tribal members.

Capion said the massive troops deployment was the first since October last year, after his wife and their two children were killed in a military operation.

The military claimed the victims were caught in the crossfire as they pursued Capion, contrary to the claims of environmental groups that they were massacred.

Their death drew widespread condemnation from indigenous peoples, environment and human rights groups in Mindanao.

Corporal Andy Santiago, a member of the Task Force KITACO, said he was at the pioneering camp of SMI when the military trucks passed by.

The task force was formed to provide security in the mountains of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur, Tampakan in South Cotabato and Columbio in Sultan Kudarat.

The three municipalities straddle the mining project of Sagittarius Mines, whose application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) has been rejected by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It denied the ECC due to the open-pit ban imposed by South Cotabato.

“The convoy did not stop. I was told by company security guards that six-by-six trucks passed by last night,” Santiago said in another phone interview.

Santiago could not provide more details and did not respond to a request that he send the contact details of Capt. Joel Wayagwag, the Task Force KITACO commander, as of 2:42 p.m. Wednesday.

Capt. William Rodriguez, civil military officer of the 1002nd Brigade, confirmed the troops’ movement, saying in a text message that they passed by the mines development site “towards their detachments in Tampakan town.”

John Arnaldo, Sagittarius Mines spokesperson, said that the company “is not aware” of the movement of government troops within the company’s mines development site.

Manolo Labor, Arnaldo’s subordinate, said earlier on the phone that in any troop movement in the mines development site, the “in-charge is Task Force KITACO in coordination with its civilian unit composed of the mayors.”

On New Year’s Day 2008, the base camp of Sagittarius Mines in Barangay Tablu in Tampakan town, which is near a military detachment, was attacked and burned down by the New People’s Army rebels. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)