MANILA, Feb. 8, 2013—The social arm of a Catholic diocese in Mindanao has asked for the government`s immediate action on the death of tribe members in alleged military operations in South Cotabato.
The Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel (SAC-Marbel) has sought the intervention of the government particularly the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to look into the incident.
Fr. Joy Peliño, SCA-Marbel coordinator condemned the killing on both sides of indigenous peoples and military.
“This is too much already for the community, which is why we are calling on the president to command the government agencies to investigate and resolve this situation,” Peliño said.
He added that they need the intervention of the CHR together with the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Philippine Army and the Philippine National Police in their region to investigate the situation in the mountains.
“We are aware that there is an increasing deployment of military forces in the area, but we believe that there is no concrete reason for them being there other than looking after the mine area. Thereby, threatening the rights of the indigenous communities living there,” Peliño added.
He believes the presence of military forces and militias alarms the communities and pushes them to fight against them because of fear and to defend their ancestral land.
Incidents call for investigation
The call for investigation arose after another alleged encounter between members of a tribal community in Tampakan versus military forces.
In a report gathered by SAC-Marbel, on January 29, Kitari, a member of the B’laan Tribe was going to Sitio Bong Mal when he saw military men identified as members of the Task Force Kitaco.
Fearing for the safety of his family, he ran back to his home in Nakultana and told his wife and children to leave and stay at their relatives’ place.
But Kitari what shot twice in an encounter that took place afterwards. He was brought to a hospital in Koronadal City where he underwent operations from sustained gunshot wounds but was declared dead after two hours.
On January 30, another shoot-out happened in Bong Mal which wounded a relative of Daguil Capion, a tribal defense warrior opposing the entry of mining companies in their ancestral domain.
In a dialogue with Church officials, representatives from the Bong Mal communities, Police and Military officials last February 3, the military assured the communities that they can go back safely to their place.
Military officials on the other hand promised the people that more restrictions would be ordered against the Task Force Kitaco, and that a court martial will proceed in two weeks time.
Kitaco is a special task force created under the Army’s 1002nd Infantry Brigade assigned to oversee the secure areas where SMI-Xstrata’s mining project operates.
Representative Teddy Brawner Baguilat, chair of the committee on national cultural communities of the House of Representatives has scheduled a congressional hearing to be held in General Santos to hear about the problems of human rights and extra judicial killings from community leaders themselves.
Baguilat condemned the killing of IP members and the continued threat of violations against them.
“In our planned Congressional Inquiry this coming February 21, my colleagues in Congress and I will study the different cases and put forward concrete actions to the government offices concerned,” Baguilat said.
Peliño said that he looks forwards to the Congressional Inquiry but also asks for immediate action from the government.
“We strongly call on PNoy to carefully examine whose interest is promoted and protected here but with a clear bias to the least, especially of the IP communities, not just the foreign investment and to command the pull out of military deployment in the area or at the minimum order the cessation of all military activities and violence in the areas affected by the Tampakan mining project. We ask for fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Constitution for self-determination and the right to defend their ancestral land,” Peliño furthered.
Militarization of Tampakan Mining Site
Tribal communities and their support groups fear the increasing presence of militias as investment defense forces is due to the entry of SMI-Xstrata in pursuit of the Tampakan mining project.
The SMI-Xstrata Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) for the Tampakan Gold-Copper Mining Project cover 23, 571 hectares in four provinces namely, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur, and Saranggani. The permit overlaps four ancestral domains including CADT 102, CADT 108, CADT 72 and CADC 74.
A pre-requisite before actual operations is the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous communities who will be affected by the development project.
But the B’laans and other tribes have not issued their approval/FPIC for the project that will take their ancestral lands from them.
The military`s presence in the area brought tensions among members of the indigenous communities since they are prevented by the mining company from conducting any activity. (Jandel Posion)