Print Version    Email to Friend
Senate told murder of tribal leaders is linked to mining

MANILA (UCAN) : “The people who stand firm against mining activities are the ones being intimidated by paramilitary forces,” Father Bong Galela, the social action director of the diocese of Tandag, in Surigao del Sur, told a Senate inquiry in Manila on October 1.

Indigenous peoples, who are collectively known as Lumads, have been under attack by the paramilitary group, the Magahat-Bagani Force, in recent days.

Human rights groups believe that the force was trained and is funded by the Philippine military as a counter force to Communist-aligned rebels in the hinterlands of Mindanao.

The allegation is being supported by the clergy of Tandag diocese.

“We call for the disarming and arrest of the members of the Magahat-Bagani group,” Father Galela told the inquiry.

“We also demand the government ensure that there will be no cover-up in the investigation of these gruesome murders,” the priest said.

The Senate Committee on Peace, Unity and Reconciliation launched an inquiry into the September 1 murder of Emerito Samarca, the director of the Alternative Learning Centre for Agriculture and Livelihood Development in Liangga town, and two tribal leaders, Dionel Campos and Aurelio Sinzo.

Witnesses are accusing the Magahat-Bagani Force of committing the crime, but no suspect has yet been arrested.

The murders resulted in some 3,000 tribal people fleeing to the provincial capital of Tandag, where they continue to stay in makeshift shelters.

“We have to solve this problem as soon as possible,” a senator, Teofisto Guingona Jr., the chairperson of the inquiry, said.

“The people have to go home and live a normal life,” he stressed in an interview.

The Rural Missionaries of The Philippines reported that on September 28, another tribal leader was murdered by armed men in Agusan del Sur.

The victim was identified as 44-year old Lito Abion, the leader of the tribal organisation Tagdumahan.

A pastoral statement released by the clergy from Tandag notes that the indigenous peoples of Mindanao “are now victims of those who are hungry and greedy for power and wealth.”

The statement, which was released on October 1, says, “As priests of the diocese of Tandag, together with our bishop, we all strongly condemn the terrorisation, harassment and the killing of our Lumad brothers and sisters, as
well as denounce the root cause of it all.”

The clergy are calling for a careful and fair investigation into the allegation that the Philippine military is the origin and creator of the paramilitary groups.

The priests are also urging the government to investigate an alleged military plan to terrorise tribal communities as part of a counterinsurgency campaign in collusion with big mining companies.

A top official at the government Mines and Geosciences Bureau admitted that some mining companies do use military and police personnel to secure mine sites.

“But when they are accused of militarisation, they pull them out,” the director of the bureau, Elmer Billedo, pointed out.

“Then what happens, their base camps are attacked. These reports do not reach you,” Billedo said.

The official blamed the indigenous peoples for the conflict in their areas.

“There are many self-proclaimed tribal leaders and politically-anointed chieftains who say that they represent the indigenous peoples,” he said, adding that tribal people should come up with properly designated officials and representatives to negotiate with the mining companies.

However, the faith-based civil society network, Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc., says in a statement that an investigation should look into the possible culpability of mining companies “as more people observe the seeming connection of the killings to mining activities.”

Father Stephen Brongcano, the director of a Social Action Centre in the city of Butuan, cited a case in 2013 in South Cotabato where a local government official and a military colonel admitted that a mining company was funding a military unit suspected of carrying out the murders of a B’laan tribal woman and her two sons.

The Philippines is the world’s 20th biggest gold producer. Large and small-scale mines combined produced about 18 tons of gold in 2014 at a market value of more than US$700 million ($5.43 billion).