Surigao Sur environmental activist in hiding amid threats

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 May) – An environment activist in Surigao del Sur is now on the run, seeking sanctuary in an unknown but safe places after unidentified men attempted to enter his home early morning Friday last week in what he believes is a move to “silence” him.

Chito Trillanes, spokesperson of the Social Action Center (SAC) Vicareate for the Carrascal-Cantilan-Madrid-Carmen-Lanuza and Parang (CarCanMadCarLan-Par) Zone in Surigao del Sur, is one of the active leaders in the fight against illegal logging and mining activities in the province.

Trillanes is one of the active leaders of the anti-mining struggle in the five towns of Surigao del Sur, including the month-long barricade held last March until April at the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) regional office here.

In a mobile phone interview, the outspoken laity worker said he believes the motive behind the “open threat to his life” has to do with his advocacy in the recently concluded political exercise.

“I would like to believe that because of my participation to help green candidates who we consider as environmental champions is one of the principal motives in this obvious attempt to liquidate me,” Trillanes said. But he is not discounting the possibility that people involved in illegal logging could also be the one after him.

It was learned that even before the May 13 elections, he had been receiving reports that some armed men, with financial backing from politicians “who support mining,” are out to silence him.

Trillanes supported the successful campaign of reelectionist Cantilan Mayor Genito Guardo, who is known as the only anti-mining advocate among mayors in the five towns in Surigao del Sur affected by mining – Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid, Carmen and Lanuza.

According to Trillanes, since the end of the elections in the past two weeks, men on board a black Kawasaki Rouser 135 motorcycle have been tailing him.

The night before the alleged attempt to break into his house in Cantilan, the same black motorbike was seen 20 meters from where he was staying in Lanuza. During this time, he was already moving from one place to another for his safety.

And while he was on his way home to Cantilan late that night, he believed the same motorbike trailed him, too. Arriving at his home about 11 p.m., Trillanes said he managed to sleep past midnight, only to be awakened by his mother less than an hour later.

He said his mother heard a noise near the window of the front porch at 1:15 a.m. and decided to check. When she opened the porch light, she saw two men carrying a bag who were hurriedly going towards a motorcycle, which he believes could be the same Rouser 125.

Trillanes said he already brought the matter to the local police “for them to intensify their intel(ligence) monitoring activities.” But he lamented that “they have not done anything.”

But Chief Insp. Jesus Aranco, chief of Cantilan police, said in a text message Thursday morning that that he already instructed his deputy “to conduct roving patrol to preempt any unusual eventualities.” This, he said, includes patrolling Trillanes’s residence and the rest of the town.

Insp. Randy M. Azote, Aranco’s deputy, said they were only made aware of Trillanes’s situation after receiving a text message from the PNP regional command based in Butuan City.

He said Trillanes has not officially filed a report or blotter to the station.

Meanwhile, the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), a nationwide alliance of non-government organizations, peoples organizations and communities in the forefront against large-scale mining activities in the country, will raise Trillanes’s case to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) as soon as possible.

Jaybee Garganera, ATM national coordinator, said they will immediately raise the issue to CHR chair Etta Rosales.

ATM has been in partnership with SAC and environment and civil society groups in the CarCanMadCarLan area in Surigao del Sur for years and Garganera said his group will not back down in its support for the struggles of anti-mining groups in the area as reports of harassments and killings have reached them.

Early this year, tribal Manobo leader Manuel “Datu Kajugjog” Gardigo was shot and killed by three unidentified gunmen while on his way home after attending a neighbor’s wake. Kajugjog was the president of the Kalasag organization in Lanuza. He led the anti-illegal logging campaign in the area for the last several years.

Garganera said ATM is gathering more cases of human rights violations in the area and urged local human rights groups and peoples organizations to document, collate and complete mining related incidents of harassments and threats.

“We are also verifying reports of human rights violations against IPs (indigenous peoples) who have barricaded a mining company in Cantilan,” Garganera said.

Meanwhile, another environmental group, Green Mindanao, Inc., said in a text message that another shooting incident occurred at 9:35 p.m. last Tuesday along the national highway of Brgy. Bocawe, also in Lanuza.

According to Green Mindanao spokesperson Nokie Calunsag, the victim was identified as Vicente Orillaneda, supporter of a losing mayoral candidate. Initial reports said the victim was shot using a caliber .45 handgun.