Coal mining violates indigenous peoples’ rights in Surigao del Sur
Amidst the spate of killings and forcible evacuation of Lumad and peasant communities because of intense military operations in Surigao del Sur over areas sold through Coal Operating Contracts (COC) by the Department of Energy, Noynoy Aquino’s 3-minute speech in Paris on the occasion of the 2015 Conference of Parties (COP) 21 on Climate Change is a big insult to the Lumad people, to genuine human rights and gender activists.
Abacus Coal Exploration and Mining Corporation has already brought their machinery to begin coal production operations in the Andap Valley Complex while the communities resisting it are in evacuation. Benguet Corporation is also raring to operate, as are Great Wall Mining and Power Corporation, PNOC Exploration and ASK Mining and Exploration Corporation. By the simple tactic of displacing communities through counter-insurgency operations, the Aquino Administration through the military, whether by coincidence or design, is paving the way for the unhampered operation of these companies who have long waited for this chance to make use of their “expensive” COC.
Noynoy Aquino as the PH poster boy of COP 21 is his spin doctors’ take on this administration’s superficial regard for the environment and seeming concern for indigenous peoples’ so-called climate vulnerability. It conceals the fact that it is the very policy of his government of promoting and protecting large-scale mining investments through the military as “investment defense forces” that destroys the ecological balance in ancestral lands that have been protected and defended by generations of these indigenous peoples that is making them increasingly vulnerable. They are made doubly vulnerable to natural and manmade calamities, as illustrated by the Lumad forcible evacuation crisis in Surigao del Sur today as a result of massive military deployment and operations in the province.
His bedrock principle lies on a foundation of imperialist greed, not on the human rights of the Filipino people, as his alternate reality designers proclaim. His administration is among the most brutal violators of human rights of indigenous peoples, just ask Michelle Campos and Karlgen Samarca whose fathers, Dionel Campos and Emerito Samarca, were killed by the paramilitary forces that this administration is using in its war for imperialist plunder disguised as counter-insurgency operations. Just ask the 3,000 Manobo victims of forcible evacuation from 23 communities that are still suffering amidst the intensified military operations in their mountain communities to pave the way for coal mining operations. Just ask more than 25 women who have given birth in the evacuation centers because of these military operations, who are nourishing and nurturing their children the best they can in the only sanctuary available to them to ensure their families’ safety from attacks. Just ask the family of farmer Orlando Rabuca who was killed as he continued to lead his community’s peasant organization in its campaign against mining despite threats to his life. That military and paramilitary units continue to commit grave violations against the right to life with impunity as they protect the biggest destroyers of the environment renders Aquno’s bedrock principles as insubstantial as air.
For human rights and environment activists in the Caraga region, Noynoy Aquino certainly does not represent our interests and our advocacies. The rapid degradation of the mountains of Claver, Surigao del Norte that is irreversibly affecting the marine, coastal, mangrove, riparian and forest ecosystems because of large-scale open-pit nickel mining is evidence of his hypocrisy. How can he talk of protecting us from climate vulnerability when his regime allows the wholesale destruction of natural shelters against climate disasters? After typhoons Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda that have spared Caraga from utter devastation, it is only a matter of time before we are hit by another catastrophic weather phenomenon.
By a hail of bullets or precipitation, the Aquino Administration is exacting the people’s blood by its total indifference to the concrete demands of the Lumad in Surigao del Sur for justice for their martyrs Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo; justice that remains elusive as the perpetrators of their killings remain at large. The communities can only be peaceful if the armed paramilitary men, including the private security forces in the payroll of mining corporations, that are committing these crimes, are disarmed and disbanded. Erring commanding officers and units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, especially the 75th IBatt and 402nd IBde must be held accountable as soldiers must be pulled out from the communities and temporary cessation of military operations must be done to allow the safe and unconditional return of the Lumad evacuees to their communities.
These calls are just. Noynoy Aquino must heed these calls lest the people call him a liar and a hypocrite in the persona that he is showing the world. He is also set to meet Pope Francis; we can only pray that he approach the Holy Father with the cleansing grace of granting more than 3,000 Manobo and peasant evacuees a blessed Christmas in the comfort and peace of their homes and communities.