MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/13 November) — The creation of paramilitary groups accused in the killing of Lumad leaders and ongoing military operations in Surigao del Sur are linked to the entry of mining interests in the province, a report released by an international fact-finding mission said.
On Sept. 1, in Sitio Han-ayan, Brgy. Diatagon in Lianga town, members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani allegedly killed Emerito Samarca, executive director of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev); Dionel Campos, chair of Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu); and Kiwagan Datu and Mapasu member Datu Juvello Sinzo.
Witnesses identified Bobby Tejero, his older brother Loloy alias Abab, Gareto Layno as the perpetrators.
The massacre forced close to 3,000 Lumad residents of Han-ayan and villages in neighboring towns to flee to Tandag City, the provincial capital.
A month after, around 1,000 Lumads from Brgy. Mahaba in Marihatag town also evacuated due to a military operation that reportedly involved paramilitary elements.
“Central to this issue (killing of Lumads and military operations) is the rich mineral resources in the Andap Valley Complex around which these communities and municipalities are clustered,” the probe mission report said.
It said Benguet Mines, Abacus Coal Exploration and Mining Corp., Great Wall Mining and Power Corp., PNOC Exploration Corp., and SKI Mining and Exploration Corp. are set to start operations in these communities.
“Their mining machinery and security outposts have already been put in place while the communities are in forcible evacuation. The communities and their organizations have protested against destructive mining of their ancestral lands.
“The Andap Valley Complex is declared by these and other environment and indigenous peoples’ organizations as Ancestral Land At Risk of Mining site (ALARM site) since 2009 that must be protected to preserve the Manobo communities that thrive within the valley,” the report added.
According to http://www.doe.gov.ph/PECR5/index.php/area-1-surigao-del-sur (accessed on Nov. 13), Great Wall Mining holds Coal Operating Contract No. 145 for areas southeast of Carmen and Lanuza towns and Tandag City.
These areas and portions of Cantilan, Madrid, San Miguel and Tago towns (all in Surigao del Sur) as well as Sibagat town in neighboring Agusan del Sur cover 13,000 hectares and contain a potential of 209 million metric tons of coal, the same website said.
Abacus holds COC No. 148 which covers 4,000 ha within Tago and Tandag.
The other firms that are contract holders for Surigao del Sur’s coal mine sites are Empire Asia Mining Corp. (COC 192), Bislig Venture Construction and Development Inc. (COC 127), SKI Mining Corp. (COC 187), PNOC Exploration Corp. (COC 184), and Goodyield Resources Development Inc. (COC 176). Their contracts also cover Bunawan and Trento towns in Agusan del Sur.
The mission report further noted that Calpit Egua, a Lumad leader who heads a paramilitary group and is based in Sta. Irene, Prosperidad town in Agusan del Sur, runs a small-scale gold mining operation in parts of San Miguel, Surigao del Sur. It said Egua has been accused of forcing local communities to recognize his claims on farmlands and gold mine areas.
A report prepared by the 4th Infantry Division said the armed group led by Calpit is operating in the towns of Bayugan and Prosperidad in Agusan del Sur, and San Miguel in Surigao del Sur. (MindaNews, 09 October 2015)
According to the same MindaNews story, Jomar Bocales, a member of the paramilitary group that allegedly killed Samarca and company, said Calpit is the richest among the datus (tribal chieftains) having a gold ore mining site in the boundary of Barangay La Purisima in Prosperidad town and Barangay San Juan in Bayugan town.
The mission report said that in meetings attended by local officials, government agencies and the military to tackle the evacuation in Diatagon caused by the killing of Mapasu leader Henry Alameda on October 24, 2014, the military recognized Egua as the leader of the armed Baganis. (Bagani means tribal warrior.)
It said Marcial Belandrez, Egua’s brother-in-law, was among the armed men who dragged Alameda from his house and shot him dead.
“Belandres has been implicated in other cases of intimidation and harassment in other communities but still remain at large. He is among the so-called datu who were presented by the AFP in their press conference last September 15, 2015 in Camp Aguinaldo, exonerating the military from any involvement in the September 1 Lianga killings,” it said.
The mission report quoted an unnamed official of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples as saying the evacuees in Tandag can live in peace if they surrender to the government through Egua, who doesn’t hold any official position. The official supposedly cited the case of Datu Isidro Tejero who allegedly surrendered to Egua and is now granted clearance to return to his community.
“Marcos Bocales, one of the often-mentioned leaders of the armed groups, was officially introduced and acknowledged in 2009 by Col. Benjamin Pedralvez of the 58th IB as the ‘Commander’ of the Task Force Gantangan – Bagani Force (TFG-BF), the paramilitary group that was created by his unit ‘to maintain peace and order’ within the Mapasu communities in Lianga. It was the 58th IB that armed Bocales’ TFG-BF. This ceremony was attended by residents as well as representatives of the LGU who have attested to the fact,” the report added.
Witnesses interviewed by MindaNews on Oct. 1 alleged that some 30 Army troopers were with the members of the paramilitary group Magahat-Bagani who reportedly killed Samarca and his companions.
But the 4ID report contradicted the statements of Han-ayan residents that soldiers accompanied the killers. It said the soldiers were positioned some 100 meters from the “armed group” (Magahat) and the people who were forced to gather at the basketball court in Han-ayan.
The report said that while the soldiers had been given the go signal to engage the armed group, they chose to stand down in order not to endanger the civilians.
During the Senate public hearing in Tandag on Oct. 1, 4ID commander Maj. Gen. Oscar Lactao maintained the military doesn’t condone the presence of paramilitary groups like the Magahat.
In the same hearing, Col. Eduardo Purisima, commander of the 402nd Brigade said the military never issued firearms to the Magahat. “We can account all firearms in the brigade.”
Purisima said that since some of the Magahat were former New People’s Army members they could have brought with them their firearms when they left the movement.
Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel, also speaking in the hearing, said many killings have been attributed to the Magahat.
“If they’re not supported by the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines), why can they not be apprehended?” Pimentel said, addressing the military.
“How come they’re roaming around the province with high-powered firearms? Is government so inutile that they can’t be arrested?” he added.
The mission report said Purisima and other local military commanders refused to be interviewed, citing the foreign delegates did not have clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
The international fact-finding mission was initiated by the Friends of the Lumad in Caraga, a group composed of church people, human rights groups and other organizations.
The International Association of People’s Lawyers from Australia, Belgian and Dutch project partners of Alcadev and media practitioners from Vice News UK joined the mission that took place from Oct. 26-30. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)