Tuesday, February 09, 2010

School burning prelude to militarization, says environmental rights’ group

KORONADAL CITY, Philippines - A group campaigning against XTRATA-SMI’s Tampakan Copper and Gold Project said it suspects the burning of a government school within its contract area is meant to harass indigenous communities who have openly expressed their discontent against the mining firm.

The SOCSKSARGEN CAN or Climate Action Now said that on February 1, the Datal Biao Elementary School in the village of Danlag in South Cotabato's Tampakan town was burned by still unidetified men. The military blamed the New People’s Army rebels for the attack. It said the Datal Biao lies within the Mine Development Area of Xtrata-SMI.

“We believe that the incident could be used to give reason for the deployment of more military personnel in the area especially that there have been series of spontaneous protest actions of the B’laans directed against the company since last year” said SOCSKSARGEN CAN or Climate Action Now spokesperson Sister Susan O. Bolanio.

Earlier reports quoted Dagil Capion, a B’laan leader who led a barricade against XTRATA-SMI days before the burning, said the incident could be used to justify the permanent deployment of soldiers to stifle opposition to the project.

“For who else would benefit of the military presence, and who else could be interested to have military presence in the area?” asked Bolanio, adding that the military as a state apparatus is tasked to protect investors especially in areas prone to conflict.

The church on the other hand, questions the seemingly lack of effort from the local government to conduct an impartial investigation regarding the burning of the school building.

“We, and even the the affected indigenous peoples' communities are confused by the ease some local authorities point fingers to some groups as suspects without formal investigation,” said Father Romeo Catedral, Director of the Social Action Center of the Diocese of Marbel.

Catedral suggested that XTATA-SMI, the military and the local government should not participate in the investigation, since “they are never perceived by the local populace as objective”.

“This will not be the last unfortunate incident in the area as long as the mining company insists their presence. This company is simply creating more trouble in the guise of development,” Catedral said.

Catedral also questioned the sincerity of the mining company in respecting the rights and concerns of the stakeholders including the right to say no to the project as well as in providing the people the necessary information including the results of their feasibility studies.

“They promised to provide us a copy of the feasibility study report but until now they failed,” Catedral said.

“The fact that the B’laans protested against XTRATA-SMI’s project makes us believe more that the company lies in projecting itself as responsible and ethical in their conduct of operation. SOCSKSARGEN CAN will continue its campaign against the project,” Bolanio said.

SOCSKSARGEN CAN is a multisectoral coalition of various groups working for climate justice and is campaigning for the pull out of XTRATA-SMI in the region. (Erwin Quinones)

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