SMI should stop funding gov’t forces in Tampakan mining site—Bayan Muna

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 February)— Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares urged Saturday the national government to order the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the local government units (LGU) to stop accepting money from foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) to fund the deployment of government forces in the mining tenement.

In a statement, Colmenares said that Mayor Marivic Diamante of Kiblawan in Davao del Sur and Col. Marcos Norman Flores of the 1002nd Infantry Brigade admitted in a congressional hearing early this week in Koronadal City that the company is allegedly giving between P180,000 to P850,000 a month for the deployment of soldiers and militiamen in the mines development site.

Diamante has expressed her support to the mining project of SMI.

“Now the cat is out of the bag.  This explains why the Army and its CAFGUs (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit) are so obsessed with eliminating the opposition to mining because they will lose millions if SMI-Xstrata’s operations [will] stop,” Colmenares said.

Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, owns majority of the controlling equity at SMI.

John Arnaldo, SMI external communications and media relations manager, initially admitted that SMI is helping fund the logistics of government forces in the mines development site.

“The CAFGUs are funded by the Community Peace and Security Programs (CPSP) instigated and run by the municipalities of Kiblawan (in Davao del Sur) and Tampakan (in South Cotabato),” he said in a text message.

Arnaldo said that both SMI and the LGUs contribute funds to the CPSP.

Pressed how much is the contribution of SMI, Arnaldo said “he is not aware” of the amount.

But Arnaldo clarified later that “SMI contributes fund to the LGUs as per their request and that it is the LGUs’ discretion to allocate the money.”

Colmenares said one of the issues that surfaced during the hearing was whether SMI’s funding of the Army is legal or constitutes a form of bribery on public officials.

“Congress is allocating a budget for the CAFGUs each year, so why is there a need to get funds from private companies doing business in the area?” he asked, urging the Commission on Audit to look at the matter.

“The LGUs should not receive any monetary consideration from SMI considering that they have a hand in the granting of the permit or approval of SMI’s mining operation.  This could constitute bribery and graft under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices law,” Colmenares said.

The congressional hearing was called to investigate the killings of Juvy Capion and her two young children last October in the tenement of SMI. She was the wife of Daguel Capion, leader of an armed B’laan group opposing the Tampakan mining project but whom the military branded as a “bandit.”

The military earlier claimed the victims were killed in a “legitimate military encounter.” The Commission on Human Rights had said an autopsy conducted on Juvy Capion revealed that there was no encounter.

The congressional hearing was conducted by the Committee on Cultural Communities headed by Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat based on a resolution filed by Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan.

Lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, Bayan Muna second nominee, said in an interview the “support of the military to mining companies like the SMI has long been established.”

It was done through the military’s counterinsurgency program that was later called “Oplan Bayanihan,” or its peace and development program. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro with a report from Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)