CABANGAHAN, Cantilan, Surigao del Sur (MindaNews/15 April) – A group of Manobo tribesmen has blocked a road in this barangay for over a week now to demand payment for the alleged desecration of their sacred sites by Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC), paralyzing the nickel mining firm’s soil extraction operations.
Datu Jimmy “Dagsaan” Bat-ao said the Bat-ao and Hunahunan clans want MMDC out of their ancestral lands and to pay them damages amounting to P150 million for the desecration of their burial grounds and other sacred places and the destruction of their main water source.
MMDC vice president for operations Jegie T. Pereda said the company was “considering filing cases against those responsible for the barricade.”
In a statement emailed on Sunday night, Pereda said “MMDC has no existing violation, the barricade is illegal and goes against RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act”.
He said the barricade violated Section 107 of the law, which states, “Any person who, without justifiable cause, prevents or obstructs the holder of any permit, agreement or lease from undertaking his mining operation shall be punished…”
On Monday last week, MMDC management issued a memorandum temporarily suspending mining operations as the tribal members set up a tent in the middle of the road. By Tuesday, MMDC lawyer Noel Libres came together with security guards, police and military personnel to stop the barricade.
But Bat-ao questioned the presence of the military and police since “he (Libres) could have just talked to us and not order somebody to call me that they are coming. He could have just called me and talked to me directly me so we can talk.”
Three barangay officials stopped Libres and the policemen and soldiers from breaking up the barricade as some women and children were seen sitting on the road, barangay officer-in-charge Gilbert Duero said.
“I had to tell them that they cannot forcibly evict the protesters because there are women and children who are taking part in the barricade,” Duero said.
But Pereda said the presence of the soldiers and policemen was justified “because the barricade is illegal.”
Reason for barricade
Bat-ao said they were forced to barricade the road because MMDC has refused to heed their demand for the past three years asserting that his clan is the rightful claimant to the land.
“This area where they are now extracting earth is ours since the time of our forefathers. Why will they dictate us on what we should do when we are only doing what is right. This is our constitutional right,” Bat-ao, who is also an evangelical pastor, told MindaNews in an interview at his house Friday.
Pereda said the company had talked with the Bat-ao clan last March 18. But he said that since the issue is on the sharing of the royalty paid by MMDC to the tribe, the company asked the Lumads to “to resolve this matter first among themselves with the assistance of the NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples).”
“The company is willing to assist in the resolution of the issue,” the official added.
The tribal chieftain denied MMDC had talked to them, although he admitted that they were demanding royalty.
Clan and tribal conflict
Duero said the barricade stemmed from a misunderstanding among tribal chieftains and ‘hawudons’ or elders of the clans over the memorandum of agreement signed between tribal leaders and MMDC which excluded Datu Dagsaan Bat-ao.
Dagsaan’s brother Teodoro, a signatory to the agreement, is said to have the support of MMDC and receives the royalty allegedly without giving his other siblings their share of the 1% fee, Duero said.
Dagsaan has reportedly demanded a 10% royalty for the alleged damage to the burial sites as well as to Pangiyawan Creek, the community’s water source.
Duero urged local government officials to not side with any group, and management to see the real situation of the people in Cabangahan.
“It’s good this will be put in the news so they’ll know what is happening here,” the official said.
“For the first year, the promise was fulfilled but later on they have not been doing anything,” he said.
Duero said the company has stopped giving monthly allowances to tribal elders as well as the scholarship grants for honor and deserving students.
Instead of the previous arrangement where tribesmen would be hired as regulars, they have been dismissed from their jobs, and the water system project was left unfinished, he added.
Pereda denied Duero’s statements.
Meanwhile, MMDC still has to compute the revenue losses caused by the ongoing barricade and their decision to put on hold mining activities.
“There is no opportunity loss computation yet but it must be substantial,” Pereda said.
Cabangahan sits within the tenement of MMDC which is also the subject of a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) issued by Regional Trial Court Branch 41.
The Social Action Center of the Diocese of Tandag, local residents and environmentalists are also protesting the mining operations in the area as it is part of a declared forest reserve.
On April 6, some 50 supporters of Bat-ao set up a human barricade and tent along the mining road leading to the extraction area, a thickly forested mountain which is the headwater of Carac-an River, the main source of water that irrigates the towns of Cantilan, Madrid and Carmen.
The Pangiyawan and Cabangahan creeks, which originate in the same area, are now heavily silted, according to the Social Action Center and other anti-mining groups.
“We were able to acquire a TEPO but did they honor it?” Bat-ao said.
“So our strategy now is to undertake this barricade because this is our constitutional right,” he added. (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)