Tribal members flee Tampakan mine site due to heavy military presence

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/2 February)—At least 50 individuals, mostly women and children, have fled the mines development site of foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. for fear of the growing militarization in the area, a church worker said Saturday.

Rene Pamplona, advocacy officer of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel, said the evacuees have sought refuge in a shelter owned by the diocese.

“They started going down on board motorcycles yesterday (Friday) because they are afraid of the growing presence of the military,” he said on the phone.

Pamplona said the evacuees came from Bong Mal district, a B’laan territory at the heart of the mines development site that straddles the towns of Tampakan in South Cotabato and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.

The evacuation came three days after the alleged encounter between soldiers and a tribal armed group that is opposing the mining venture of SMI.

The “firefight” in Sitio Nakultana in Bong Mal resulted to the death of Kitari Capion, younger brother of Daguel Capion who is leading the armed struggle against the mining company.

In October last year, Daguel Capion’s wife Juvy and their two young children were also killed in what the military claimed as a “legitimate operation” to arrest the former, who is wanted for murder charges.

Groups opposing the Tampakan project, however, described the trio’s death as a “massacre.”

Daguel Capion had admitted responsibility to the killing of three workers of a construction company hired by SMI for a road project in March 2011. He, however, blamed the mining firm for the incident, saying he was forced to do it because of the firm’s alleged disrespect to the rights of the tribal members.

Citing the sentiments of the evacuees, Pamplona said that they are better off in their tribal communities without the presence of the soldiers, apparently referring to the possible violations of their human rights.

In a related development, the Alyansa Tigil Mina (Alliance to Stop Mining) has urged Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Bautista to order the total pullout of military detachments in the tenement of SMI.

Jaybee Garganera, the group’s national coordinator, said the number of military detachments within the Tampakan project of SMI is “very alarming,” which in effect “threatens the security of communities in the area.”

“We believe that the reports of counterinsurgency are unjustified and their presence in the area is no more than [a] threat to the people,” his letter to Bautista dated last January 23 showed.

Noting the apparent militarization in the mines development site of SMI, Garganera cited the deployment of additional troops to the area last mid-January.

Two weeks ago, soldiers on board five military trucks were deployed at nighttime to the different parts of the mines development site of SMI.

Xstrata Copper, the world’s fourth largest copper producer, controls SMI, with Australian firm Indophil Resources NL as the junior partner. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)