By JOAN GARCIA
ILOCOS — Political activists and journalists are endangered species in the country. With the renewed push of the Aquino government for the encouragement of foreign, large-scale mining operations in the country coupled with the president’s order for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to protect mining companies, environmental, anti-mining advocates have been added to the list of targets of attacks of state security forces.
Donna Rabang Peta, convenor of the Peoples Solidarity Against Large-scale and Destructive Mining in Ilocos Norte (PSALM-IN) and secretariat member of the Defend Ilocos Against Mining Plunder (Defend Ilocos), is the latest environmental advocate to be subjected to threats, harassment and intimidation due to her work.
Since late last year, Rabang Peta has been monitored by the Philippine National Police (PNP) of Ilocos Norte with supposed orders coming from Provincial Director Marlou Chan due to her involvement in the growing anti-mining campaign of the people of the province.
The latest incident happened last June 20, 2012 when Ms. Rabang Peta was included in a police blotter in the office of the PNP in Dumalneg, Ilocos Norte.
At around 4:00 p.m. of that day, Dumalneg Municipal Councilor Maylin Santos received a letter signed by chief of police PSI Freddie Evangelista inviting her to his office because several issues have reached him and Association of Barangay Council (ABC) President Faustino Tomas and that they wanted to clarify it with Santos.
Santos asked the letter bearer PO2 Eddie Mar Yadao what the problem is. Yadao explained that the PNP received reports about her supposed activities and trips outside of Dumalneg and that an activity of the New People’s Army (NPA) was purportedly conducted in her house.
Yadao also explained that their “big boss” wanted to know why Rabang Peta constantly goes to her house. Yadao reportedly said Rabang Peta is an activist and an organizer of anti-mining activities in Adams, Ilocos Norte. The “big boss” that Yadao referred to is Dumalneg Mayor Francisco Espiritu.
Santos questioned Yadao why her activities were being monitored and probed. She also explained that the activity conducted at their house is a discussion on organic farming and proceeded to show Yadao the visual aids they are using.
After the incident, she received a sketchy report from a reliable source that there was a police blotter, referring Rabang Peta as “Ka Donna” and described her as an organizer of anti-mining advocates.
According to Rabang Peta, she is frightened by the continuous threat against her life especially when the news of the blotter and surveillance reached her. “Our democratic space as environmental advocates, the places where we want to reach out to and share the cause and destructive effects of mining in the province, is decreasing because of these threats. This harassments and intimidations curtails the right of the people to organize and peaceable assembly,” Rabang Peta added.
Asked why she is being targeted, Rabang Peta explained that the issue of mining in the province is something that the people have always been vigilant about, the anti-mining activities and mobilizations have made the pro-mining politicians angry because their vested interests are affected. In Dumalneg, for example, Rabang Peta’s presence has been consistently questioned by Mayor Espiritu and that he even warned other Mayors regarding Rabang Peta’s anti-mining stance.
Governor Imee Marcos has also seemingly taken interest in Rabang Peta, especially after an anti-mining mobilization that was held at Laoag City last February. Marcos supposedly ordered that Rabang Peta be monitored and that her background be checked by the PNP.
At present, the uncle of Marcos, Benjamin Romualdez, is the chairman of Benguet Corp. and has an application for a Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) in the province covering a total of 21,513.3699 hectares.
Twenty municipalities with mining applications
Currently, there are twenty municipalities with mining applications in the province.
According to Rabang Peta, mining companies target Ilocos Norte because it is rich in gold, copper, magnetite, feldspar and iron ore. In the whole region of Ilocos, only the province has feldspar, which can be used for marble, porcelain and tiles and can be found in the mountains of Pasuquin and nearby municipalities.
The municipalities of Carasi and Piddig are rich in iron, copper and gold and have already on-going mining operations by Korean company Rigid Aggregates and Mining Corp.
Other mining companies that have been known for their destruction of the environment and communities such as Benguet Corp. and Olpaten Resources Corp. have already filed their applications.
Reports have also reached PSALM-IN and Defend Ilocos that there are parts of the province that the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) proposed to be declared as mineral reservations. As Rabang Peta explained, once a place is declared as a reserved site, extractive industries can easily enter.
These proposed sites cover the municipalities of Adams, Carasi, Vintar, Piddig, Solsona and Nueva Era.
Even areas that are declared to be under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Law of 1992 such as Pagudpud and Adams have mining applications in their area.
However, even if applications continue to pile up, the residents stand firm in their opposition to the entry of mining companies in their communities.
In Adams, as early as 2008, the residents have signified their resistance and held a dialogue with Benguet Corp.
In Vintar, a Municipal Resolution was passed regarding their objection to “the establishment of a mineral reservation and subsequent exploration activities and mining operations within the territorial jurisdiction” of the municipality.
For Rabang Peta, these actions of the people themselves are what make her stronger despite her ordeal.
Last July 5, as a counter-measure, Rabang Peta, together with the Ilocos Human Rights Alliance (IHRA-Karapatan), filed a complaint at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region 1 regarding the harassment and vilification against her.
CHR Investigator Omir Cacho, upon receiving the complaint, said that they will facilitate a dialogue between members of PSALM-IN, Defend Ilocos and the PNP and Municipal Official of Dumalneg, Ilocos Norte on July 20 to resolve the issue.
However, just last July 9, CHR RO1 Director Rommel Daguimol contacted the IHRA-Karapatan and told them to just ask for the help of local churches to help in the facilitation of the dialogue and that they will just attend to observe and mediate.
According to Zoilo Baladad, Public Information Officer of IHRA-Karapatan, although this declaration of the CHR is unfortunate, the campaign calling for a halt to the harassment remain.
A press conference condemning the threats, harassment, intimation and vilification against Rabang Peta and the other victims pushed through last July 11.
“Those who harass us want us to stop our actions regarding the large-scale mining in the province and the region. They know that for as long as the people remain strong, they cannot just do what they want to the environment and our communities. That is why we will not stop, we will continue to do what we can to save and protect our natural resources not just for us, but for the future generation”, Rabang Peta said. Reposted by