If there is an issue that should be part of the decision to vote for anyone at all this coming elections, it is the Lumad killings, and the injustice that those who survive continue to live with. Thousands of Lumad are in evacuation centers, living off lugaw if there is food at all, away from the productivity of caring for their land, away from the schools that nurture their children, away from their homes.
The bigger picture we are looking at is that of mining, and how the next President must choose a side: the Lumad and their ancestral lands or the transnational mining firms and the business they bring in.
There is no in-betweens here. One cannot stand for one and not stand against the other.
Binay, mining, and policy
In September, soon after news broke that Lumad leaders were killed in Lianga town, Surigao del Sur on September 1, Vice President Jejomar Binay condemned the killing of Lumad leaders, expressing “concern over the mass displacement of Lumad in the <CARAGA> region because of alleged atrocities being committed by militiamen.” (The Standard 10 Sept 2015) The VP also said: “The undisputed fact is that three persons have been killed, atrocities were committed and communities forced out of their homes. This alone cries out for immediate government action.” (The Standard, 10 Sept 2015)
It is not clear though how this strong conviction to protect and seek justice for the Lumad might happen vis a vis his strong conviction in favor of mining operations in the country: “The mining industry could be the biggest contributor to the Philippine economy and could be the key driver towards industrialization and jobs creation and the development of the countryside,” he has said. (The Standard, 16 Sept 2015)
Taking from the Chamber of Mines, the VP says “mining and biodiversity conservation can co-exist,” but also that it has been subjected to “catch and go policies” under the current administration. (The Standard, 16 Sept 2015) What VP Binay is talking about is the kind of taxes imposed on mining companies and the goal of milking profits out of this foreign investment.
But given the kind of environmental degradation they effect, given the biodiversity and natural resources that these inevitably endanger, should taxes really be our main concern? One also wonders how the VP would reconcile his stand in favor of mining given indigenous people’s lands, and the rights of the Lumad and our IPs.
Poe, mining, and profit-sharing
Senator Grace Poe meanwhile seems to believe that what must go hand-in-hand with her stand in favor of mining, is the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOI), as this would require government to “mandatorily disclose all mining contracts to the general public.” (The Standard, 16 Sept 2014) The Senator’s concern with mining is primarily about how profitable these mining interests in the country are, and the kind of sharing that happens across all pertinent sectors. “Our government needs the transparency report to help it compute the right formula for what constitutes as fair and equitable share for everyone involved.” (The Standard, 16 Sept 2014)
One wonders if the Senator realizes that as far as the Lumad and their ancestral lands are concerned, a discussion of shares is not even on the table. For the Lumad, the entry of mining companies is already unacceptable, the discussion about prices and profits absolutely irrelevant: they are not to mine these lands the way transnational mining wants to do it. To speak of profit sharing as the major problem with mining is to fail at taking the Lumad’s concerns into consideration.
And yet Senator Poe sought to have an inquiry about the “increasing gravity of alleged harassment, killings, forced evacuations and dispossession of ancestral lands in communities and tribal schools of Lumad areas, perpetuated by military.” (Interaksyon, 8 Sept 2015) She aimed to “immediately put an end to the incidents, mete out the appropriate sanctions to those liable, and formulate legislative measures to further protect and improve the welfare and well-being of various indigenous peoples and tribes in the Philippines” (Interaksyon, 8 Sept 2015).
But at the heart of the dispossession of ancestral lands are the mining interests in this region. To the Lumad I have spoken to, the only reason the military are even in their communities is because of these mining interests; the reason there are paramilitary forces, is because of these mining interests; the reason fear is being sowed in their communities enough for them to choose evacuation centers despite horrid living conditions, is because of these mining interests.
Roxas, Nickel Asia, Taganito Mining, SR Mining
Ex-DILG and DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas might be the only presidential candidate who has come to face-to-face – at least to the public’s knowledge – with the Lumad. In early September, he was in Tandag City Surigao del Sur and walked into a tent where displaced Lumad were temporarily staying. Roxas dared ask them: “Ilang raw na kayo dito? Bakit hindi pa kayo bumabalik sa Lianga?”
A Lumad man responded in his language (translated here via Bulatlat.com and Kodao): “Because there are still soldiers there, Sir.” To which Roxas replied: “So … hindi ba sila magbigay proteksyon sa inyo?”
A Lumad woman responded: ““What protection? They are the ones killing our families there.” Roxas replies: “Sundalo?” To which the same woman says: “Who else? Bagani and the soldiers.” (Bulatlat.com / Kodao, 10 Sept 2015)
If this piece of information truly surprised Roxas, then he does not deserve the Presidency. Because he is also probably the only presidential candidate who has had his hands dipped in mining as a member of this administration. In September 2013, Roxas spoke about the opening of Nickel Asia in Surigao del Norte: “This facility, the second of its kind in the country, is considered single largest foreign direct investment in the mining industry today, amounting to P65.8 billion. It will also strengthen the Philippines’ foothold as a vital source of transition metals in the international market.” (Rappler.com, 5 Sept 2013)
Along with its subsidiary firm Taganito Mining, there is documented evidence of the environmental problems that Nickel Asia has wrought in the areas where they mine, and even as Roxas spoke about the opening of Nickel Asia in Surigao, the Church, our indigenous people’s groups, and concerned sectors had already stood up against mining and its adverse effects, not just on the environment, but also on the societies and communities that they intervene in. (Environmental Justice Atlas, accessed 27 Jan, (Mindanews, 4 Aug 2010, 8 Feb 2009)
There is a plunder case against SR Metals Inc., also in Surigao, owned by Miguel Alberto Gutierrez and Eric Gutierrez, “said to be close political supporters” of the President and Roxas. (Inquirer.net, 3 Mar 2015)
Roxas has defended the presence of the military in Lumad communities: “The government has to enter these areas by providing services, justice, fairness. <…> Indigenous peoples are in peril because they live in places that are rich in minerals and trees, timber. The reason why they are in peril is because the Left, as well as others who wish to exploit those minerals and natural resources are probably using or trying to use them. <…> As I said, what the Left fears are not the soldiers. Rather, what they fear are roads. As soon as you have government presence in those areas, indigenous peoples will no longer be taken advantage of, or used as pawns.” (Interaksyon, 10 Nov 2015)
The anti-Left rhetoric notwithstanding, what might be worse than the failure of Binay and Poe to make the connection between the Lumad killings and mining interests, is the decision of someone like Roxas to ignore what the Lumad themselves have told him: that it is the soldiers that have pushed them to leave their homes.
The worst decision just might be having another President who does not know how to listen.
Published in The Manila Times, January 28 2016.