Three years ago, our dear province of Compostela Valley and the nearby province of Davao Oriental were devastated by Typhoon Pablo (International name Bopha), damaging billions of properties and claiming thousands of lives mostly of poor farmers in Compostela, New Bataan, Monkayo, Boston, Baganga and Cateel.

The actual statistics on the death toll may be debatable to this date, but the trauma of our people from the tragedy is permanently etched in their hearts and minds. Typhoon Pablo was considered to be the most deadly typhoon in our province’s history.

Catastrophic landslides can be attributed to the loosened soil profile brought by denuded forest covers. The deforestation can be traced through decades of logging operations by big logging companies such as Sarmiento, Valderama and PICOP among others.

The already depleted forest in our province is now being opened to large scale mining companies like Agusan Petroleum and Minerals Corporation (AgPet).

AGPET is a large-scale mining company that operates on the vast natural resources of Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental, in particular the mineral resources. The first exploration permit (EP No. 01-11-XI) will cover 9,997.53 hectares of land from the base portion of Mt. Diwata and traverse to the communities of Barangay Naboc in Monkayo town , Barangay Ngan, Panansalan and Mangayon in Compostela town and Barangay Pagsabangan in New Bataan town. The second exploration permit (EP No. 02-011-XI) will cover 2, 415. 19 hectares in Barangay Ngan and San Miguel in Compostela and Barangay Aliwagwag in Cateel Davao Oriental.

Since 1980’s Lumads and Bisaya settlers harmoniously live in the areas that is subjected for AgPet’s exploration, relying their livelihood in farming and small-scale mining. Mass dislocation of livelihood looms as AgPet operates on their communities.

But the problematic IPRA law and Mining Act of 1995 paved the way for opportunism and divisiveness among the lumads, only few people benefited while displacing more than its majority. The Tribal Representative in Compostela town Guillermo “Imong” Blanco, president of the tribal group Kaimunang Lumad sa Compostela (KLC) sold the ancestral rights of the lumads to Candido Balunos and subsequently to AgPet.

As mining trends in the communities of Compostela, Balunos started to finance mining operations in the area. In 1997, upon the effectivity of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA), Imong Blanco applied the Ancestral Domain Claim and was awarded in 2004 and automatically issued a Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) to Balunos. Candido, Marilou and Sons (CMS) sold their mining rights to AgPet in exchange of P200,000,000.

Meanwhile, Imong Blanco, the tribal “leader” who acted as “tribal dealer”, received not less than P40,000,000, including a house and lot in Tagum City which costs P19,000,000, elf truck and two pick-up trucks, surrendering the rights of the Lumads in Compostela.

The people of Compostela Valley, especially in AgPet affected areas, has enough experience with natural calamities like that of Typhoon Pablo. With such terrorizing experience, the people earned enough consciousness in defending the environment from large scale mining plunder. Also, the threat of dislocating their livelihood sealed their commitment to oppose the entry of AgPet in their communities and to some extent victoriously pushed Barangay and Municipal resolution to scrap the exploration permit of AgPet.

But the growing people’s resistance were met by brutal force from the state’s fascist apparatus particularly the 66th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (66th IB-AFP) led by Lt. Col. Gilbert Roy Ruiz.

Lt. Col. Ruiz and their minions in the 66th IB launched massive operations against AgPet’s critics, from red-tagging to assassination attempts among many other forms of human rights violations. From June to November 2015 rights group recorded 14 cases of rights abuses in Compostela town.

Worse, the 66th IB-AFP created a paramilitary group called tribal force through the Investment Development Fund (IDF) to protect and serve as private guards for Agusan Petroleum.

Despite of the pseudo pro-people posturing of the 66th IB the people of Compostela and New Bataan towns knew very well the bloodstained record of this fascist battalion. The people will never forget the murder of the father and son Dagansan in Manurigao, New Bataan, Compostela Valley.

On October 12, 2014, the farmer Dagansans were brutally killed by members of the 66th IB while on their way to their farm to harvest their corn produce. Following the murder, inconsistencies on the declaration of the 66th IB exposed their role on the crime.

There is a need to engage the local government unit (LGU) on policies such as the Environment Code of Compostela Valley; the 3 out of 3 Principle, wherein there must be a unanimous decision in three levels (provincial, municipal and barangay) before allowing large scale mining company to operate.

As we oppose the entry of AgPet, we also need to expose the role of Imong Blanco in this midnight deal and oppose the fascist ploy of the 66th IB and its paramilitary tribal force.

In terms of national policies we need to scrap the Mining Act of 1995 and push for responsible mining and national industrialization of the mining industry through the People’s Mining Bill. We also need to immediately scrap the IPRA for it places the lumads among any other indigenous people in a very disadvantageous position.

The most sincere commemoration of the typhoon victims is to heed the call to defend the environment, there is a greater need to consolidate the survivors in our march against AgPet and to assert a sustainable rebuilding efforts far from that of this corrupt government’s shameful programs.

The long history of people’s struggle proved that through militant actions we can effectively defend the environment and the livelihood of our people, as it provides amalgamated lessons. It is the urgent role of the people to carefully study the issue and carry out strategic and tactical goals in opposing AgPet.

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