“It is very alarming that the Aquino government opts to collude with mining firms and multinationals in implementing a military solution in order to continue operations and pursue profits at the expense of our communities.” – Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
In the wake of the successful operations of the New People’s Army against three mining firms operating in Surigao del Norte, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is planning to train and employ militias to supposedly guard mining areas. Environmentalist groups are not taking kindly to the idea even as President Benigno Aquino III has given the proposal his thumbs up.
“We see the AFP’s collusion with the Surigao mining corporations to heighten militarization in communities severely affected by their mining operations as an open threat to critics of mining plunder. The established link of militarization and human rights violations has been all too apparent in the past decade,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.
Last October 3, NPA guerillas destroyed the mining facilities and equipment of the Tag-anito High-Pressure Acid Leaching (THPAL-Sumitomo), Tag-anito Mining Corporation (TMC), and the Platinum Gold Metal Corporation (PGMC), as part of what it said to be its implementation of its policy related to the protection of the environment and natural resources and the defense of the rights of the Lumad people, peasants, and workers.
Since the attack, the AFP called for the deployment of Special Civilian Armed Auxuliary units (SCAAs) in areas where there are major mining operations. The SCAAs will get training and firearms from the military just like regular Cafgu militiamen. The salaries of these SCAAs, however, will be shouldered by the companies. Regular Cafgus are paid by the AFP and they receive only a P90 ($2.09) daily allowance. Salaries for special Cafgus will be decided by the companies that employ them.
Clemente said there is an established pattern of human rights violations increasing exponentially in areas where there is also increased militarization. He said the AFP’s plans to train militia and deploy them in mining areas is not the solution and is, in fact, an attempt to skirt the issue of destructive mining practices such as those of Sumitomo et al.
According to reports, the AFP has long been pushing for organizing and training SCAAs to guard the operations and facilities of mining and other extractive industries. The proposal, however, has been criticized by human rights organizations and institutions as ineffective in addressing armed resistance rooted in the destructive operations of mines across the nation.
Clemente said the deployment of SCAAs has been linked to increased incidences of harassment and other human rights violations to communities and environmental advocates. H e said that his group has since 2001 recorded 31 cases of extrajudicial killings involving anti-mining activists; five of these killings took place under the Aquino administration and were all connected to mining.
Aquino approves CAFGU deployment
For his part, President Benigno Aquino III is fully supporting the AFP in its plans for the deployment of militias to strengthen security activities in mining areas.
“Special CAFGUs will be territorial-based, will be subject to all the rules and regulations, will be under the watchful gaze of our Commission on Human Rights Chairman Loretta Ann Rosales,” Aquino told the media. Seemingly to allay worries of human rights groups that the CAFGU might commit human rights abuses, Aquino said CAFGUs will be under the AFP’s supervision and that units will also be assigned to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to prevent any possibility that the militia will transform into private armies.
“We do not foresee any abuses from them but rather they will augment the abilities of our security forces to preserve peace and order in our country,” Aquino told the media.
He said it was unjust for the AFP to double its efforts to secure the country’s hot spots considering that there were many Filipinos who could need to augment AFP’s militia numbers.
“We roughly have 250,000 men in uniform, they are guarding close to a hundred million Filipinos,” he said. “That is the exact same number of forces we had in 1986 when he had 50 million Filipinos. So we’re asking the members, our citizens who are in uniform, to do double the work and I think that would be unfair.”
The President has not made it a secret that he has been worried that the NPA attacks against what it said were destructive mining corporations and their operations will dissuade foreign investors from investing in the country’s mining intentions. For the last two weeks, Aquino has made the rounds of business groups and gatherings set by foreign investors assuring them that steps were being undertaken and that the mining industry is still very viable.
According to Aquino, the mining investors have already declared that they will not pull out of the country. “Investors have however made requests that security be improved in their areas of operations,” he said.
As of March 2011, the Philippines ranked number 66 among 79 global jurisdictions for miners looking for a “ friendlier” business climate, according to a survey by the Fraser Institute (FI) of Canada.
According to the FI, Venezuela and Honduras were the least encouraging to investors of industrial and precious metal mines, based on index potentials in government mining policies and mineral explorations. Last year the Philippines ranked the third least attractive at 70th place among 72 areas.
Increased militarization in mining areas
Gabriela Women’s Partylist Representative Luz Ilagan said Aquino’s move to allow mining firms to organize, hire and fund militias will lead to more human rights violations, the killing of indigenous peoples and environmental activists and the displacement of tens of thousands in mining communities all over the country.
Besides the extrajudicial killings, Ilagan said, environmental activists are also being harassed. Recent reports expose how green activists – Vince Cinches, Ma Geobelyn Lopez and Hope Hervilla have been harassed by military operatives.
“Displacement, harassment and killings all for the destruction of ancestral lands. This has been the experience of many Lumad communities in Mindanao and even in other regions when indigenous groups oppose the operations of big mining firms all over the country,” the lawmaker said.
Ilagan also said the Gabriela Women’s Party continues to receive reports on increasing military presence and the installation of police and military checkpoints in areas where there are mining operations by transnational companies and their local partners such as Lafayette’s operations in Rapu-Rapu island’ Albay, Filminera in Masbate island; Marcopper in Marinduque island, TVI in Zamboanga del Norte; Natural Mining Resources Development Corporation (NMRDC) in Mt. Diwalwal, Rio Tuba in Palawan; Crew Minerals in Mindoro Oriental, and Climax Arimco/Oxiana in Nueva Vizcaya, Abra, Batangas, and Zambales.
“It is very alarming that the Aquino government opts to collude with mining firms and multinationals in implementing a military solution in order to continue operations and pursue profits at the expense of our communities. The Aquino government should abandon this militarist solution and instead conduct genuine and meaningful consultations with communities, address legitimate demands and implement policies towards preserving our environment,” Ilagan said.
In Butuan City, officials of the AFP’s 402nd Brigade recently surveyed the premises of the two mining companies in Brgy. Taganito, bayan ng Claver, Surigao del Norte so that they could assess the current security status in the area.
402nd Brigade Commander Col. James V, Jacob and 30th Infantry Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Vincent Iringan accompanied the president of Taganito High Pressure Acid Leaching (THPAL) Corporation Takamori Fujimura and Nickel Asia Corporation president Gerard Brimo in the inspection.
Col. Jacob made the immediate recommendation that SCAA be deployed to guard the company and its operations, as well as the surrounding area. Jacob told the media that the SCAA will be given military training and issued high-powered firearms against all threats.
Address resistance to mining activities via peace talks
Kalikasan’s Bautista shook his head over the president’s support for the AFP’s plans, saying that it will not resolve the causes of armed resistance to anti-environment activities.
“We have said before that the immediate resumption of peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Government of the Philippines is the key. The Aquino regime instead seems to use the attacks as an excuse to stall the peace talks and to call for greater militarization in mining areas,” Bautista said.
The green group and other people’s organizations pushed for an environmental agenda in the NDFP-GPH peace talks through the inclusion of measures protecting the nation’s ecological health and the sovereignty of natural resources in the formulation of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER). Negotiations, however, have been put on hold by the GPH’s refusal to release its political prisoners who have been identified as NDFP consultants, protected from political persecution under the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG).
“Why is the Aquino regime deliberately endangering the peace talks by refusing to acknowledge the JASIG-covered political prisoners and calling for mining mercenaries? If it truly wants to address the mining industry’s concerns, it must immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners so we can proceed to the environmental agenda of the peace talks’ agreement on socio-economic reforms,” Bautista said.