NPA warned local officials in Surigao town vs mining operations

SAN FRANCISCO, Surigao del Norte (MindaNews / 21 November) —  Field commanders of the New People’s Army (NPA) warned local officials here in July, among them the mayor, and the  chair of Barangay Jubgan who was killed last week by motorcycle-riding gunmen, against the planned large-scale operations of a mining firm in this no-mining zone.

San Francisco Mayor Val Pinat recalled in a telephone interview with MindaNews on Saturday, that when local officials, including himself and Jubgan barangay chair Harry Amalla, visited the mountainous part of Barangay Jubgan on July 27 to check on a government property intended for the town’s solid waste management project and to consult residents there, more than a dozen NPA guerillas came to meet with them.

Pinat said they were held for a few hours by the rebels.

A close-up view of the site for the wharf being built in Brgy. Jubgan by Siargao Waves Corp. for its mining operations. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2021 by ROEL N. CATOTO/MindaNews

“Ka Lucas, Ka Jared and Ka Sanjo and many of them warned us about the planned operations of the mining firm,” he said. The area is rich in copper and iron, among other minerals.

“They are willing to die to protect the environment, the NPA commanders told us,” Pinat said, adding, they were also told that they were ready to kill.

Romeo Gordonas, former barangay official of Jubgan and now a contractual worker at the municipal hall, remembers they were held for a few hours and “warned about the mining activity.”

Gordonas was among the residents who opposed the mining operations in 2014.

Pinat said the municipal council declared San Francisco town a no-mining zone in 2014, following protests against the large-scale mining operations of Surimin Mining Corporation.

Surimin undertook a project purportedly to provide farm-to-market road in the village. The protests forced the firm to stop operations.

Larry Hernandez, Director of the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau in Caraga, said Surimin’s 2014 operations destroyed the area where it operated.

Siargao Waves Corp. extracting tons of debris along Jubgan River in Barangay Jubgan to build a wharf and road for its mining operations in the area. Photo taken Nov. 6, 2021 by ROEL N. CATOTO/MindaNews

According to Hernandez, Surimin Mining Corporation executed a deed of assignment to Siargao Minerals Properties Corporation over 3,991 hectares traversing San Francisco town and Surigao City. In turn, Siargao Minerals Properties entered into a contract with GoSun Siargao Waves, allowing it to operate on a portion of the area. The latter started mining operations on October 5, Jubgan barangay chair Amalla told MindaNews on November 6.

Surimin is owned by Dapa Mayor Elizabeth Matugas, sister of Surigao del Norte Governor Francisco T. Matugas and three-term Surigao City mayor, now Vice Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas.

Ramon Gotinga, concurrent assistant provincial administrator of the local government of the Province of Surigao del Norte, is one of the owners of GoSun Siargao Waves Corporation.

Pinat said that during the dialogue at the Pastoral Center on November 9, representatives of various government agencies confirmed the GoSun Siargao Waves Corporation has no extraction or mining permits.

The firm stopped operating that same day.

Silenced

Amalla was killed on Thursday, November 18 at around 8 a.m. outside his residence.

He was driving his Toyota Vios from Malimono town but upon reaching his residence was shot by motorcycle-riding gunmen who had tailed him. Amalla ran for cover through the passenger’s door. He tried to hide in the canal but the gunman followed and fired more shots at him.

He sustained gunshot wounds on the head and body and was rushed to the Caraga Regional Hospital in Surigao City and was on his way to a hospital in Butuan City but died along the way.

A resident of Barangay Jubgan said several angles have surfaced about the killing of Amalla.

“There’s angle of property owners affected by the mining, there’s a factor of fishermen who got affected because of their wanton operation, there are villagers who got mad at them because of the pollution and adverse effects on the operations, or within their shady mining operations or it could be personal grudge,” the resident said.

Gotinga said they have not shipped out stockpiles of minerals in the area. The company planned to ship out 100,000 tons of copper ore, iron ore and other minerals to China.

Hernandez said the exploration permit of Surimin Mining has expired while Siargao Waves Corporation has a pending application for a mining permit.

Gotinga said they have a contract with Siargao Mineral Properties Corporation which has a contract with Surimin Mining Corporation for use over a portion of their area.

Police Lt. Anglo Ambid, chief of police of San Francisco Municipal Police Office said they are still conducting a thorough probe on the killing.

Ambid said the motive could be mining-related.

Amalla acted as broker to the land owners directly affected by the mining activity. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)