By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO and RONALYN V. OLEA
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental – Mining companies operating in the southern and northern parts of Negros Occidental wield two weapons to be able to operate with impunity: deception and force.
This is what the International Fact-Finding and Environmental Mission (IFFEM) organized by the Asian Peasant Coalition, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) national office and Negros chapter found out after a week-long investigation.
The IFFEM was divided into two teams – one went to Sagay City, where magnetite and silica mining activities are being done and the other to Hinoba-an and Sipalay where “exploration activities” are being done by Philex Mining Corporation. Both teams conducted interviews with local officials and residents and inspected the sites of mining operations.
In the village of Old Sagay, Sagay City, residents told the fact-finding team that 14 members of the Special Civilian Active Auxiliary (SCAA) have been roaming the village at least twice a day. The entire Sagay shoreline is rich in magnetite/iron ore concentrate, which is a major component of steel. About 1,000 families who live along the coastal areas depend on the shoreline for livelihood. The site is where the Aspac Dredging and Restoration Inc. reportedly carries out magnetite mining activities under the guise of dredging operations.
“This has caused a significant level of fear and feeling of being threatened among the residents,” the fact- finding report read.
Aside from members of SCAA, security guards hired by the Aspac Dredging and Restoration Inc. would shoo away fisherfolk whenever they fish in the Himogaan River, where supposed “dredging” operations are being undertaken.
In October 2011, The Visayan Daily Star, a local newspaper, reported that residents are complaining about the mining company’s hiring of armed men who are driving the residents away from the mining area in Sitio Looc in the village of Old Sagay.
But Albert Golez, Aspac’s managing director, said in the same report that they hired “blue guards to secure their magnetite processing plant and equipment” because they have received threats from the New People’s Army (NPA), armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
This was the same excuse that was given to the fact-finding team when Leo Lentejas, who introduced himself as the site’s administrator, prevented the delegates of the mission to visit the site. Lentejas said that “friends from up there” might just want to do a “mapping” of the mining site and burn down their equipment. He added that the NPA is reportedly asking for revolutionary tax.
Due to the efforts to block the team from getting first hand information, three members of the mission, together with two local fisherfolk, rode a boat along the Himogaan river to take videos and photos of the magnetite mining activities in the area. True enough, men, which residents said are the security guards of Aspac, could be seen from afar driving the team away. One of them even ran to the edge of the shore, gesturing the team to leave.
What initially appeared to be fishermen riding another boat also signaled the team to go to the direction of the open sea, not towards the Himogaan River.
In Baviera, another village in Sagay City, members of the Revolutionary People’s Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade are reportedly being hired to protect the silica mining activities in the community. Helen Misa, a resident, told the fact-finding mission that members of the RPA-ABB are present in the area but they could not estimate how many they are.
Since the peace pact between the government of former president Joseph Estrada and the RPA-ABB was signed, the armed group has been integrated into the Armed Forces of the Philippines to serve as a force multiplier and members of the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu).
In a previous fact finding mission on May 2012, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas found out that the RPA-ABB are also being hired by landlords and even by local government units in their projects, such as the Task Force Ilahas, a Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office-led task force against illegal logging.
Executive Order 546 allows local officials to deploy Cafgu and Civilian Volunteer Organizations as auxiliary bodies for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to fight insurgents.
Meanwhile, in Hinoba-an, elements of the 47th Infantry Battalion of Philippine Army provide security at the Philex’s plant site. The Army unit has also set up a detachment at sitio Skid 7, Nabulao village, Sipalay City.
The mission also received reports that soldiers have intensified Cafgu recruitment.
Security guards of Philex also roamed the villages.
The south team was blocked by Philex’s security guards, led by Philex’s community relations officer Jomar Prietos, in Nagtalay subvillage, Talacagay village, Nov. 9. One of the men wore a black shirt with 47th IB written on it.
Delegates of the mission passed through the barricade of security guards. On board motorcycles without license plates, the men tailed the mission for about an hour.
Community service or bribery?
Besides the use of security guards, military and paramilitary forces, mining corporations attempt to get the approval of the residents through a softer approach.
Tambuli Mining Corporation, another mining company operating in the village of Baviera, Sagay City, donated a pre-school building, according to former village official Jiezel Belmonte.
“The schooling, however, is not for free,” Belmonte said. “Students have to pay $5 a month.”
Philex is more pronounced in its “community relations” efforts.
In an interview with the members of the mission, Editha Tagdoro, village chieftain of Talacagay in Hinoba-an town, said Philex provided financial support for the activities of the barangay. These include fuel for road repair, construction of basketball court and feeding program.
Ivan Alustor, Sanggunian Kabataan chairman, also said Philex provided financial assistance to their sports activities. The company also donated school supplies.
Asked about their stand on Philex’s mining activities, Tagdoro said, Philex conducted mitigating measures and rehabilitation efforts in the area.
The independent mission, however, found out that the so-called mitigating measures and rehabilitation efforts failed to prevent the damage to the environment.
Greg Ratin, secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Negros, told the team that Philex hired an ex-priest to convince the local residents to favor Philex’s operations. Ratin said he personally knows the former priest. “He even told me, when I chanced upon him, that he just needs to provide for the needs of his growing children,” Ratin said.
While the south team was in Buyog subvillage, Nabulao village in Sipalay, two men who introduced themselves as pastors, went from one house to another, trying to persuade the residents about the benefits of mining.
Findings of the mission, however, prove otherwise. Philex’s mining operations, even at the early stage of exploration, have already affected the livelihood of the farmers. a href=””>