“The arrest of Agnes was meant to sow fear among the people in the attempt to plunder the rich mineral resources and displace resisting communities for large-scale mining operations. “ – Rural Missionaries of the Philippines
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – An advocate against large-scale destructive mining was detained and charged with common crimes.
Agnes Mesina, 40, a lay worker of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) – Cagayan Valley, was arrested July 4 at a coffee shop in Tuguegarao City by elements of the Philippine National Police Region (PNP) 2 together with the Tuguegarao City PNP. The arrest took place in the presence of ACT Teachers Party-List Rep. Antonio Tinio who, at that time, was meeting with Mesina along with organizers of the local chapter of ACT Teachers Party-List. They had just come from a consultation with public school teachers.
Mesina has been charged with frustrated murder of a certain Ernesto Belen, a barangay captain of Luga, Sta. Teresita, Cagayan. She was detained overnight at the Tuguegarao City police station and was transferred to the Aparri Trial Court the next day. She was released after posting bail amounting to P20,000.
“We believe that the action is devious and related to her public advocacy of people’s rights against mining operations and other developmental projects that destroy the environment and sources of livelihood of peasant folk in Cagayan Valley. In the past months, she helped form alliances of church people, farmers, youth, and professionals to intensify people’s anti-mining advocacy and campaigns in the region that prick the consciences of (the) powers that be,” leaders of various Church denominations said in a joint statement.
Sr. Minela Alvarez of the Religious of the Good Shepherd in Isabela, Fr. Clarence Olat of the Episcopal Diocese of Santiago, Fr. Roderick Labog of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente-Diocese of Isabela, Fr. Candido Adriano, CssR of the Task Force dor the Orientation of Church Personnel
Mission and Fr. Charly Ricafort, MI of the Task Force for Urban Conscientization signed the statement condemning the arrest of Mesina. The last two Church groups are mission partners of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP).
Sr.M. Francis Añover,RSM, RMP national coordinator, described Mesina as a “trusted” lay co-worker of Sister Mela Alvarez, RGS, the RMP-Cagayan Valley coordinator.
“Agnes tirelessly meets with priests, sisters and other lay workers including pastors and ministers of other faith beliefs in the region to express the concerns of the local communities regarding various projects such as the bio-ethanol, logging and mining,” Añover said.
According to Añover, Mesina helped facilitate a meeting of bishops, priests, ministers and lay workers in Cagayan province last January that resulted in the release of a statement calling for the banning of large-scale mining in the province. A month after, Mesina attended another meeting of similar nature in Nueva Vizcaya. More than 800 trooped to the meeting and voiced their opposition to mining. In that meeting, RMP said Bishop Ramon Villena “gave scathing remarks” against mining and also called for the banning of the activity in his Diocese.
“The arrest of Agnes was meant to sow fear among the people in the attempt to plunder the rich mineral resources and displace resisting communities for large-scale mining operations. But we are not cowed by these state attempts to silence us, because as rural missionaries we will continue our mission in the face of harassment against our lay workers in Cagayan Valley who are just defending their land, their rights, and natural resources against imperialist plunder not just for themselves but for the future generations,” Añover said.
In an interview, Nardy Sabino, secretary general of the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR) said the arrest of Mesina is pure harassment against a Church worker who is helping the poor, especially the peasants in Cagayan Valley.
“As a Church worker, she amplifies the voice of the oppressed,” Sabino said.
According to the Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Kamp), Mesina is “a long-time advocate for indigenous peoples rights, actively involved in campaigns against large-scale mining, logging and other environmental causes as well as human rights abuses.”
“This is the state’s attempt to cut short Agnes’s contributions to the peoples movement, whom she had served for many years,” Piya Macliing Malayao, Kamp spokeswoman, said.
Mesina served as chairwoman of Kabataan para sa Tribung Pilipino (Katribu) during her college days, and continued her advocacy for peasants and indigenous peoples in various organizations in Manila and other provinces.
Church leaders who signed the joined statement said that the trumped-up charge against Agnes Mesina “affirms the continuing state policy of political repression with its deceitful schemes to press charges against peace and justice advocates who they perceive to be ‘enemies of the state’ have not died down.”
“As church people, we demand that the government end its policy and operational plans that give rise to human rights violations. And we continue to demand justice for all victims of human rights violations. The charge against Agnes Mesina must be dropped and public apology be made by the arresting authorities,” they said.
The RMP called on President Benigno Aquino III to stop the vilification of our Church development workers and stop making fabricated cases against human rights defenders.
PCPR’s Sabino said the filing of trumped up charges against Church workers is not new. During the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, two Church leaders were also charged with common crimes. Pastor Edwin Egar of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and Pastor Mel Abesamis of the United Methodist Church were among the 72 activists in Southern Tagalog who were slapped with heinous crimes in 2008. The charges were recently dismissed.