“This atrocity against those who consistently protect the environment and help alleviate the plight of the poor only shows how the AFP and its chief, President Aquino tolerates, encourages, and considers as policy the Martial Law-like trampling of our rights…” – Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Southern Mindanao
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
The environmental group Panalipdan Mindanao (Defenders and Advocates of Environment, Creation, and Patrimony) has come to the defense of its secretary general Benedictine nun Sr. Stella Matutina. The group said Sr. Matutina is the target of a vilification campaign by the 28th Infantry Battalion (28th IB). According to reports, the 28th IB has been spreading malicious stories that Matutina is not a real nun and that she is actually a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).
Sr. Matutina was first alluded to as an NPA member during a barangay assembly called by the 28th IB in Lantawan, Lupon, Davao Oriental in March 2. The 28th IB was in the process of putting together a barangay defense system in the area, and a certain 1st Lt. Hermie Montelibano reportedly said that the slain environmentalist priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio was killed because he was an NPA. The also said that that there is also a nun named “Stella” who is an NPA pretending to be a nun.
The following April 15, San Isidro, Davao Oriental residents were warned by a certain 1st Lt. Francisco Lingat against joining an Earth Day forum on mining organized by Benedictines for Peace at the Diocese of Mati.
Panalipdan has immediately declared its protests against the AFP’s attacks.
“Sr. Stella has played an active role in the struggles of local communities in Davao Oriental against large-scale mining and commercial logging. She and two other environmental advocates, Ma. Fe Matibo and Wencislao Mapa, were detained for eight hours in a barangay hall in Cateel by the 67th IB in 2009 after conducting an environmental education session for the community,” Panalipdan said in a statement.
The group said the threats against Sr. Matutina reflects the Aquino government’s support of multinational large-scale mining at the expense of local communities and natural resources. It said that Davao Oriental has fourteen approved Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs), the largest number in Region XI.
1st Lt. Lingat of the 28th IB has reportedly confirmed at another barangay assembly in Mati in November 2011 that their deployment in the province is part of the Investment Defense Force, a creation of the former Macapagal-Arroyo administration to defend mining investments. The same is being continued under the Benigno Aquino III government.
“Aquino has also foregone his campaign promise to revoke Arroyo’s Executive Order 546 that established paramilitary groups in defense of mining companies,” Panalipdan said. “All of this raises concern for environment defenders as violence continues to be unleashed against the people’s struggle to protect their land and livelihood since the start of Aquino’s presidency in 2010.”
Sr. Julita P. Encarnacion of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines -Southern Mindanao Region (RMP-SMR) has previously said members of the religious community were “aghast” against the worsening political repression in the country. Encarnacion has said that members of the religious community should take a “strong stance on behalf of Sr. Matutina.”
“This atrocity against those who consistently protect the environment and help alleviate the plight of the poor only shows how the AFP and its chief, Pres. Aquino tolerates, encourages, and considers as policy the Martial Law-like trampling of our rights as church people and missionaries advocating for an end to the pollution of our country’s lands and rivers and the deprivation of the peasant’s land and livelihood,” she said.
Finally, Panalipdan said unless the Aquino government reverses its policy on large-scale mining, “more blood and more natural disasters will stain the Mindanao landscape.”
“Lives are being sacrificed for the sake of foreign business interests. We urge the Aquino government to reverse its interests in large-scale mining, disband paramilitary groups, and stop the military operations in communities,” it said.