By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — After the murder of Santos Manrique, news of the supposed death of Belen Galleto, a local leader in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, circulated through text messages.
But Galleto is still alive. Like Manrique, Galleto is at the frontline of the fight of small scale miners against the entry of Napnapan Mineral Resources Inc. (NMRI) and RUSSELL Mines and Minerals in their community.
Manrique, who was the president of the Federation of Miners Aggrupation in Pantukan (FEDMAP), a barangay council member of Kingking village and a co-convener of the Save Pantukan Alliance, was shot dead by four unidentified men inside his house on April 12 in front of his grandson and wife.
“After Manrique, it is me who they are after. But their attempts to thwart the struggle of small scale miners will not prevail because we will not yield Pantukan to any foreign plunderer,” Galleto, spokeswoman of Save Pantukan alliance, said in a statement sent through email.
Bishop Modesto Villasanta, convener of the Exodus for Justice and Peace (EJP), noted that the entry of Russel Mines and Minerals has resulted in human rights violations.
A recently concluded peace mission dubbed as Duyog sa Panaw led by EJP revealed that before his death, Manrique was visited by employees of Russell Mining and Minerals, Inc. urging him to allow its operations in the area.
US mining company Rusell Mines and Minerals has acquired the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement of Nationwide Development Corporation (NADECOR) and is now on the exploration stage of the Kingking Copper Gold Project, in Sitio Upper Lumdanggang, and Binutaan covering around 1,656 hectares
Russell Mines will use the open pit mining method and projects an estimated exploration cost of P15.8 million ($363 thousand). The foreign firm estimates Pantukan reserves that an approximate 750 million tons of ore (averaging .387 percent copper and .432 grams gold).
“Police investigation reports pointing to personal conflict as the reason behind Ricky’s killing is a sham. Ricky was a good community leader. Those who would gain more for his death are those which have been eyeing the high grade and yet untapped gold reserves in Pantukan,” Hanimay Suazo, acting secretary general of human rights group Karapatan and member of the peace mission, said.
Since March, Pantukan residents have staged a series of protest actions and filed petitions at the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Compostela Valley to stop the exploration and operations of large-scale and foreign mining. They assert instead that the government should act on the management and rehabilitation of small scale mining areas in the province.
On March 9, Manrique was also detained for a day at the Marapangi Police Station after being taken by elements of the 66th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army after he was accused of being a supporter of the New People’s Army.
Galleto said that since the start of the operations of NMRI and Russell company, the 71st IB was deployed in Pantukan. “We have not experienced this since 2007. Now Sitio Lumanggang is a hamletted area, with around 10 elements encamped within a populated community. This clearly shows how mining firms are employing the state army to quell the peoples’ resistance,” Galleto said.
The Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP) that sent participants to the mission also said that the Russell Mines and Minerals did not acquire the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) of the Mansaka community in the area. The group will file a case against Russell at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UNCERD) for violating the rights of indigenous peoples.
The mission documented 11 cases of violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) victimizing more than 3,664 individuals in a span of only three months in Pantukan.
Villasanta said violations ranged from extrajudicial killing, harassment, attack or use of public places for military purposes, illegal checkpoint, and land-grabbing of indigenous ancestral lands, and disrespect of indigenous traditional leadership and cultural rights committed by both the military elements, and the US mining company.
EJP said they will file charges in relation to the murder of Manrique and the harassment of Galleto.
Galleto remains unflinching in her resistance. “Ricky’s murder was a blatant attack on all those fighting against the entry of large-scale and foreign mining in Pantukan and Davao region. Because of his death, we become more emboldened to fight for our rights against the foreign plunder of our natural resources and the intensifying attacks on all rights defenders like Ricky and myself,” she said.