Karapatan hits continuing military ops in mining-threatened communities, disappearance of Cebu farmer advocate

Human rights alliance Karapatan condemned the continuing military operations in communities threatened by mining operations, saying these operations compound the problems faced by these communities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On July 17, as much as 100 soldiers have been deployed in Brgy. Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizaya, whose residents have mounted a barricade against the entry and continuing operation of mining corporation Oceana Gold Philippine Inc. (OGPI). The company’s Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement No. 1 has expired on June 20, 2019. However, last January, the company and its security personnel have reportedly showed a letter by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea allowing the entry of fuel trucks inside the mining area. On April 6, as the impact of COVID-19 hit communities, more than 100 personnel of the Philippine National Police conducted a violent dispersal on the barricades of the community, escorting a diesel tanker inside the OGPI mining area. 

Meanwhile, on July 15, at least 37 Lumad families in Sitios Panukmoan and Decoy in Diatagon, Lianga, Surigao del Sur evacuated to a neighboring community after bomber planes of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) dropped eight bombs near their community at 2 a.m. According to the residents, at least 4 helicopters, 2 bomber planes and 2 drones were seen hovering the community. Around 60 soldiers also arrived that day in Sitio KM 16 of the said barangay. Bombings were also heard in the nearby town of Tago on July 8, while gunshots from military helicopters were also reported on July 9. 

The said communities in Surigao del Sur are part of what is called the Andap Valley Complex, which has been in the radar of corporations for coal mining. According to NGO Caraga Watch, these mining companies training their sights on the Andap Valley Complex are the Benguet Corporation of the Romualdez family; Abacus Coal Exploration and Development Corporation; a Chinese company called Great Wall Mining and Power Corporation; the ASK Mining and Exploration Corporation; and the Coal Black Mining Corporation. Since 2015, these companies have been prevented from operating in the said area because of the refusal of Lumad communities to sign the free, prior informed consent agreement. 

“While rural poor communities, including that of indigenous peoples, grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the persistent lack of health services and inadequate financial aid delivered to far-flung communities in the country, they are constantly hounded by State-sanctioned military operations that benefit mining corporations encroaching on their ancestral land and communities. Such is a picture showing the direct role of government in exacerbating poverty in rural communities,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay. 

Karapatan also raised concern on attacks against development workers and advocates for the rural poor, particularly the continuing disappearance of Elena Tijamo of the Farmers Development Center (FARDEC) in Cebu. Tijamo, the program coordinator of FARDEC, was taken from her home at Brgy. Kampigganon, Bantayan, Cebu around 8 p.m. last June 13 by four unidentified armed men accompanied by two women suspected to be military agents. According to reports, the unidentified men and women who took Tijamo did not introduce themselves and wore masks and black clothes. More than a month has passed and Tijamo’s location is still unknown.

During a House panel briefing on November 5 last year on the modernization program of the AFP, the Department of National Defense listed FARDEC as a “communist terrorist front organization” along with 18 other humanitarian, indigenous and religious organizations such as Oxfam Philippines, the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center, the Cordillera People’s Alliance, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and Gabriela Women’s Party, among others.

“These attacks show the extent of the epidemic of human rights violations under the Duterte administration, where the poor are most affected. This coming fifth State of the Nation Address of President Duterte will expectedly neglect to mention these government-directed violations. It is thus incumbent on the victims of rights violations and our communities to demand justice and for a halt to these forms of attacks. We call on the AFP to keep out of communities and stop its bombings affecting civilians. We call on state actors to surface Elena Tijamo and to stop their threats, harassment and other violations against development workers and rights advocates,” Palabay concluded.