A few days after anti-mining activist Esperlita Garcia posted bail for a libel case filed against her on the basis of her Facebook post, her daughter reported that two men and a woman came to their house looking for her.
By INA ALLECO R.SILVERIO
MANILA — Cagayan-based anti-black sand mining activist Esperlita Garcia is facing death threats.
Garcia made headlines last week as the first “victim” of the Republic Act No. 10175 or the Anti-Cybercrime Act of 2012 after she was arrested on October 18.
Garcia, 62, a retired teacher and president of the Gonzaga Alliance for Environmental Protection and Preservation (GAEPP), was arrested by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation at her house in in Calayan, Gonzaga after Judge Conrado Tabaco of the Regional Trial Court of Aparri issued a warrant for her arrest. The arrest warrant was issued on the basis of a May 2011 libel suit filed by Gonzaga, Cagayan mayor Carlito Penetescoste Jr. Mayor Pentescoste alleged that Garcia’s post in her Facebook page about the violent dispersal of an anti-mining protest action was libellous.
The Gonzaga Alliance for Environmental Protection and Preservation is against the magnetite sand extraction project operated by Chinese firms in Gonzaga.
In a report written by Melvin Gascon of Inquirer, net, Garcia said three strangers, two men and a woman came to her house in Gonzaga, Cagayan on October 23 and asked for her. When her daughter told the strangers that she was out, they left.
“Things like these do not scare me. It is just my children and grandchildren I am concerned about,” she told Gascon. She had been forced to canceled a trip to Aparri, 250 kilometers from Gonzaga, to get the documents pertaining to the libel case against her.
She told the reporter that there appears to be a “conspiracy” against her case and that officials of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other agencies of government are working to make sure that she gets pinned.
Earlier, the youth group Anakbayan slammed Garcia’s arrest last October 18 and said that the case against her is an example of what would happen when the 120-day temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 is lifted.The group said this serves as ‘a preview of e-Martial Law’.
Garcia told the media that despite being a senior citizen, she was not given the slightest leniency by the arresting agents.
“I am a senior citizen but I was treated like a hardened criminal. They did not even give me a chance to bathe or change from my house clothes. They just dragged me into a car,” she was quoted as saying in a report in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Garcia was taken to the NBI regional office in Tuguegarao City, about three hours from Gonzaga, where she was detained overnight October 19, but was released the following day after she posted bail amounting to P10,000 ($238).
She told the Inquirer that she was most troubled over how the the prosecutors and the judge determined that she should be arrested when Republic Act No. 10175 or the Anti-Cybercrime Act of 2012 was passed only recently but has since been suspended via a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court that will lapse on February 6, 2013.
Garcia is becoming even more popular because of the Facebook site “Cyber-Perling” wherein supporters and environmental advocates gather to post articles, pictures and memes about irresponsible mining. In one of her posts, “Cyber-Perling” said that the case against her has no basis.
“May our key leaders, especially, our anti graft and anti corrupt President Noynoy Aquino do something the soonest appropriate sanctions to those involved in my illegal and cruel arrest, to the filer of the libel case against me as well as his lawyer, and to those responsible in the issuance of a warrant of arrest. The foremost consideration why I should not have been arrested that way should be my being a senior citizen. ”Dapat sa tuwid na daan lang po tayo.”Ito po ang laging sinasabi sa atin ng ating Mahal na Pangulo ng bansa. In God, we trust.”, she wrote.
Critics of mining using the internet
Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said that what Garcia experienced serves as a preview of what Filipinos can expect once the TRO on the cybercrime law lapses. He said it was not surprising that an anti-mining activist is the first victim of ‘e-Martial Law’, considering the intensifying resistance nationwide against foreign, large-scale, destructive mining operations, and President Aquino’s bias in favor of these mining operations.
Only last week, members of the 29th Infantry Battalion strafed the house of an anti-mining leader of the B’laan tribe in Bong Mal, South Cotabato and killed three civilians, two were children. In September, an 11-year old was killed while his father, an-anti-mining chieftain sustained minor mounds when they were ambushed by unidentified men, in Barangay Conacon, Bayog town, Zamboanga del Sur. Still last March 5, paramilitary troops murdered an anti-mining Lumad leader in Bukidnon.
“With opponents of large-scale, destructive mining resorting to the internet as a means of informing the public and gathering more support, the cybercrime law will be used to stomp out such tactics” said Crisostomo.
According to reports, the Beijing-based Huaxia in 2011 was issued two 20-hectare mining permits for magnetite sand covering residential and coastal areas, within the 200-meter shoreline. Gonzaga is a first class municipality located 125 kilometers from Tuguegarao City. It has a population of approximately 35, 400 people.
The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) said that in 2011 when the construction work of Huaxia began, communities were already worried over the possible negative impact on the environment and the lives of residents themselves. It said the permit covers residents’ homes but the permits were allegedly given without public consultation.
The group’s research revealed that magnetite mining causes agricultural and environmental problems as black sand mining in coastal areas have resulted in coastal erosion, inundation of communities, and degradation of marine ecosystem. In 2009, alliance sent a team to look into the reported beach erosion in Cagayan province, reportedly due to the illegal black sand mining operations in the area.
Unrelated to cybercrime law
For its part, Malacañang has denied that Garcia’s arrest was connected to the cybercrime law.
In interviews with the media, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said it was up to the courts and the Cagayan fiscals to determine why a warrant of arrest was issued against Garcia because of a post she made in her FB account. He said the courts will justify why the judge issued an arrest warrant despite the TRO on cybercrime law and the still unclarified issue of publication when it comes to online libel.
“No. There is no Cybercrime case. This is not a Cybercrime case. This is a case of libel filed. In fact, if you notice, the bail posted was P10,000. The penalty for online libel is prision mayor, which is higher than the penalty imposed under the Revised Penal Code. Obviously, this is a case filed under Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code. So this is not a case of e-libel,” he said.
In an interview with Abs-Cbn news.com, Pentecostes himself said he no longer recalls the exact statements Garcia made, only that they were damaging to his reputation.
“What she posted on Facebook was really damaging to the reputation; it was very libellous,” he was quoted as saying in Filipino in the report.
Pentecostes also said Garcia was running against him in the May 2013 mayoralty race. He also reportedly said that he will not withdraw his case against her to “teach her a lesson for her arrogance.”
A kingpin of mining
In any case, an environmental group came to the defence of Garcia and said that her arrest was an under-handed ploy to silence critics of destructive magnetite mining operations in Gonzaga, Cagayan. The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) called Pentecostes Jr. “, a known pro-mining kingpin” in the province.
“Even a standing TRO on the Cybercrime Prevention Act did not prevent Mayor Pentecostes from harassing environment leaders in the municipality with an online libel case. This clear case of state-sponsored harassment is yet another manifestation of the impunity in Cagayan towards opponents of magnetite mining operations, particularly the Lian Xing Phils Stone Carving Co. and Huaxia Mining and Trading Corporation,” said Leon Dulce,the group’s spokesman and convener of Task Force-Justice for Environment Defenders (TF-JED).
Dulce said Garcia’s case and her illegal arrest is the 19th incident of human rights violation (HRV) this year, and second this month of October alone. These reported human rights violations range from death threats, persecution and vilification to physical harassment, community displacement and even attempted assassinations. In the meantime, 13 politically-motivated killings have also already been recorded this year.
“Mayor Pentecostes demonstrates once again his penchant for strong-arm tactics to cover up the various cases of freshwater contamination, coastal erosion, decreasing fish catch, fish kills and degrading aquatic ecosystems experienced by communities because of magnetite mining operations,” Dulce said.
In March, at least 4,000 local residents led by local anti-mining alliance Batanga-Calayan Laban ti Minas (Bacalem) and regional peasant group KAGIMUNGAN protested in Gonzaga against the entry and magnetite mining operation of Chinese mining company Huaxia. Protests continued until April, and during one of the protests, Pentecoste and his 50 fully-armed escorts, reportedly harassed a peaceful multisectoral assembly at St. Anthony Academy near the Gonzaga municipal hall.
Omeng Bayudan, Bacalem leader was arrested and the protesters were able to video document the manhandling incident but the mayor grabbed the camera and threw it to the ground.
In the meantime, police checkpoints were also set up to stop people from the barangays of Batangan, Minanga, Tapel, Iska. Protesters coming from Aparri were also hindered from joining the protest.
Based on reports, a case was filed against Pentecostes in 2011 at the Office of the Ombudsman for physical harassment against the protesters during an anti-mining mobilization. The leader-organizers of these protest actions were subjected from then up to the present to a series of incidents of intimidation, harassment, threats and militarization.
“Mayor Pentecostes’ libel suit against Garcia is a classic example of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) used by corporations and other powerful entities to discourage opposition to their anti-people and anti-environment projects,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-PNE. “The people of Cagayan must strengthen their resolve to struggle against magnetite mining through GAEPP. We also encourage lawyer advocates to help maximize the SLAPP defense mechanisms instituted in the Supreme Court’s Annotation to the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases.”