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In Surigao and Caraga Region, a Brutal Push for Investments

When the Armed Forces of the Philippines launched in recent months military operations in the Caraga region that led to the displacement of thousands of Lumad residents, officials defended it as part of their campaign to defeat the communist movement by 2010.

But a closer look revealed that, far from a counter-insurgency operation, the massive militarization and dislocation of communities had more to do with protecting business interests — primarily mining investments — in the Caraga region. Human-rights group say this is done at the expense of residents, especially the indigenous tribes that live in the areas affected by these investments.

Although there is nothing particularly new in all this, the Arroyo regime had actually taken the extra step to ensure that the military would act as veritable security guards of these companies, in effect signaling to investors, especially those in the extractive industries that tend to displace locals, that their interests would be protected by the might of the state.

In February last year, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced the creation of the Investment Defense Force (IDF), a special unit of the AFP tasked to safeguard mining operations and investments. The IDF’s function, according to Arroyo, is that of a “protective shield” for power and mining facilities.

During a visit to Siargao, Surigao del Norte, in April 2008, Arroyo emphasized the importance of the IDF. She told reporters that she had ordered an increase in military deployment in Caraga for the protection of mining companies.

“I asked the military to post military units…the Investment Defense Force that would not only secure the mining companies but also do civic actions in coordination with the local government,” Arroyo had said. “Mining investments must be protected as they contribute much to government coffers and create new jobs.”

The latter claim might be true in some respect but there is no denying the toll these investments have taken on local residents. The formation of the IDF, according to Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, who is one of Mindanao’s leading advocate for tribal rights, has resulted in increased military deployments in communities where there is active resistance to, among other things, large-scale mining interests threatening the environment, as well as the people’s livelihood and native ways of life.

“The indigenous communities have been fighting these big companies because their intrusive operations have destroyed the natural environment, thus also the homes and livelihood of the locals,” Ilagan said in a recent statement. “But every opposition is met by harassment and human rights violations by the military.”

Mining in Surigao del Sur

The Caraga region, particularly Surigao del Sur, is known for its rich mineral resources. Among the major mining companies there are CTP Construction and Mining Corporation, Benguet Corporation and Carrascal Nickel Corporation (CNC).

CTP Construction and Mining Corporation is owned by Clarence T. Pimentel, a brother of Surigao del Sur Governor Vicente T. Pimentel. In its website, the company claims to have two mining properties in Carrascal town, covering a total of 4,000 hectares. This town was among those heavily militarized recently.

Benguet Corporation has mining operations in several provinces throughout the country, and carries out coal mining in Surigao del Sur. Its chief executive officer (CEO) is Benjamin Philip Romualdez, the president of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines. Among the members of Benguet Corporation’s executive committee is Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, a close political ally of Arroyo’s. The Romualdezes own 44 percent of Benguet Corporation.

CNC’s president is Antonio L. Co, who is also the chairman and president of Grand Asia Steel Resources and Dragon Asia Rolling Mills. Among its other major investors are Chen Fa Guan, also chairman of China’s Fujian Wuhang Stainless Steel Products; Carlos Chan, also chairman of Liwayway Marketing Corporation (Philippines), Chan C. Brothers, and Liwayway (China); Ferdinand Borja, also president of FS Borja Mining Corporation; and Fu Kong Sang, also president of Fulim Global Mining and Export Corporation.

The Lumad communities of Surigao del Sur are also among the areas recommended by the Department of Energy (DoE) for the mining of coal in the recently concluded Philippine Energy Contracting Round. In the Philippine Energy Contracting Round, which was concluded last June, the DoE offered a coal-mining area covering 6,000 hectares in San Agustin and Lianga towns, and another one covering 4,000 hectares in Tandag and Tago. All these towns have been affected by the militarization in recent months.

Caraga: A Major Mining Area

The presence of large mining companies in Surigao del Sur is best contextualized by the fact that it is part of a region that has long been on offer as a haven for large-scale mining.

“There are…mining opportunities in Caraga, the northeastern region that holds the country’s largest gold deposits,” reads a Jan. 29, 2004, statement from the Office of the Press Secretary.

Rich in gold, nickel, silver, chromite, manganese, copper, and other mineral resources, Caraga is considered one of the country’s major mining areas. The region is also reported to contain the country’s largest nickel deposits.

Ten of the Arroyo government’s 24 “Priority Mining Projects” are in Mindanao, with one of the largest being the Nonoc Nickel Project in Surigao del Norte.

As of March 2009, based on a report by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau during the 5th Caraga Mining Summit held on April 23-24, Surigao del Sur has the largest number of exploration permit applications in Caraga, with 35. Following are Agusan del Sur, with 27; Surigao del Norte, with 22; Dinagat Islands, with 21; and Agusan del Norte, with 13.

Surigao del Sur also has the largest number of applications for production-sharing agreements (APSAs) in the region, with 19; followed by Agusan del Norte, with 18; Agusan del Sur, with 17; Surigao del Norte, with 12; and Dinagat Islands, with five.

Caraga is covered by 41 mineral production sharing agreements (MPSAs), with 15 of these covering the Dinagat Islands, 13 covering Surigao del Norte, eight covering Surigao del Sur, and one each covering Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur. All in all, these 41 MPSAs cover a total of 96,186 hectares, or 5.05 percent of Caraga’s 1.9 million hectares.

Among the largest mining firms operating in Caraga are Taganito Mining, Platinum Group, and Oriental Synergy Mining, all in Surigao del Norte; SRMI Metals in Agusan del Norte; and Philsaga in Agusan del Sur.

Mining and Militarization

Critics have castigated the Arroyo regime for the militarization in Surigao del Sur and the rest of Caraga. “The Arroyo administration is ‘developing’ Caraga as the mining capital of the Philippines,” Isaias Morales of the human-rights group Karapatan in Caraga told Bulatlat in a recent interview. “The deployments are highest in mining and eco-tourism areas.”

“Mining and militarization are like twins,” said Ilagan of Gabriela in a recent webcast interview with Bulatlat.

In Surigao del Sur, militarization intensified in the Manobo communities following the conclusion of the Philippine Energy Contracting Round.

Militarization drove the Manobos of San Agustin, Lianga, Carrascal, and Tago towns to evacuation centers in Lianga town proper and in Tandag, the provincial capital.

The places used as evacuation centers — the Lianga Gymnasium and the Tandag Diocesan Pastoral Center — were crowded and the evacuees suffered from the lack of support from government agencies. Only through the efforts of their leaders were the members of these communities able to survive the harrowing conditions in the evacuation centers for almost three months.

Their community leaders brought their plight to the attention of government officials, non-government organizations, and people’s organizations at the local, national, and international levels. They would not go back to their communities, they said, unless the military pulled out. The military announced its pull-out only after the issue came to the attention of national leaders.

But the presence of the military still looms over their communities. Ilagan, who was also the spokesperson of Task Force Surigao, branded the military’s pullout from the Surigao del Sur communities as a “relative pullout.” While the military had pulled out of Lianga, Ilagan said, they had given notice that they would be back to continue implementing their “development” projects in the area. In Carrascal town, the soldiers did not even bother to leave. (ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO, Bulatlat.com)

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