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Anti-Mining Struggle in Barangay Anislagan (Philippines)

ANTI-MINING STRUGGLE IN BRGY. ANISLAGAN PLACER SURIGAO DEL NORTE, PHILIPPINES

(A View of Endless Resistance)

Anislagan, characterized by plain, rolling to hilly and mountainous terrain, with a total land area of 841.24 hectares forms part of the watershed area of Placer. Its total population is 1,392 persons (around 319households). Majority of the residents are farmers, mainly producing coconut, rice and banana. Anislagan was severely hit by typhoon Lilang in 1980’s, which practically destroyed livelihood and property. This forced the residents to engage in gold panning along the river to feed their families.

The residents went on with their livelihood activities, unhampered, until MMC (Manila Mining Corporation) entered the community in 2000. In August 2000, MMC conducted a medical mission in the Barangay. Pictures were taken, and signatures were obtained from the residents who availed of the medical services provided. The following month, MMC came back and called for an Assembly. The company’s representatives informed the residents that the company would undertake mineral exploration in the mountains of Anislagan but the residents would not support. The former retorted that they would go on despite the opposition of the local people. This prompted the residents to send petition letters to the office of the Municipal Mayor, DENR, MGB, and Department of Agriculture.

On February 24, 2001, MMC met with the members of the Barangay Council. In the meeting, they informed the council members that they would go on with the exploration since they already have a permit from the MGB. Thereafter, the residents held a picket on the highway that leads to Sitio Payao, the target site for mining exploration. This action lasted until the month of April 2001. This forced the mining company to conduct another consultation with the people in the Barangay. The meeting however was a failure. Instead of attending the meeting, the residents formed a barricade and locked up the multipurpose building to prevent the company’s representatives from entering the venue.

Notwithstanding the resistance of the local people, the company continued its mining exploration in the area. Its personnel discreetly took samples and put up a camp in the target site. When the residents learnt about the company’s activities, the local people requested the workers to vacate the site. But the latter refused to leave. This had moved the residents to hold a general assembly meeting on September 26, 2001 to discuss appropriate actions on the company’s refusal to heed their appeals. In the said meeting, the residents formed ABAKATAF with Gay Reveche, a United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) pastor assigned in Anislagan, as the first elected president. They have also decided to confiscate the mining equipment of the company and had them kept at the Barangay Hall.

The company responded by filing a case against several leaders of ABAKATAF. It also went on with its drilling operation. This annoyed the residents who immediately staged another picket. In effect, the court issued a status quo order to the two conflicting parties. Meanwhile, the picket drew support from members of the Catholic and protestant churches (UCCP and Pentecostal) and linked for ABAKATAF with Caraga Ecumenical Socio-Pastoral Action Centre (CESPAC), LRC-KSK and other CSO’s in Surigao Del Norte.

With the issuance of the status quo, the company continued its mining exploration. The residents responded by staging another picket that lasted for six months. During the picket, LRC-KSK and CESPAC conducted education sessions among the participants. This picket prevented the entry of the company’s workers who carried with them drilling equipment with the support of police forces from Butuan City. Despite the people’s action, the company still manage to establish camp in the mining site. To soften anti-mining sentiments, it also put up a Barangay Development Relationship Centre that provides livelihood support to the local people. Yet, only a handful of residents who are pro-mining availed of its services. The Centre eventually closed. Meanwhile, the heightened tension in the area compelled the Sangguniang Barangay to investigate the case.

In August 2002, MMC workers accompanied by nine policemen, tried again to enter the mining site via Barangay Makalaya, a neighbouring barangay of Anislagan. The human barricade staged by a combined force of the residents of Anislagan and Makalaya and their supporters notably priests, nuns, and other members of the religious groups thwarted their plan. Exasperated, the company’s workers destroyed the streamers of the picketers. Before they left, the police attempted to arrest some of the residents but the picketers held their ground. That day, the workers came back with the company’s legal officer and a handful of bodyguards. The legal officer attempted to negotiate, but the local people stood firm on their position to disallow the company from pursuing its mining exploration. A temporary restraining order was issued by the local court on 21 August 2002, but the residents went on with their picket. Police forces came and took the streamers on the next day.

At 2 ‘o clock in the morning of September 2002, the residents woke up to the ringing of the church bell and converged thereafter to go after the two vehicle’s loaded with company’s workers and drilling equipment. These vehicles swiftly passed by the center of Anislagan. Instead of proceeding to the site, the workers made a stopover at the house of a Tanod, local security force of Barangay Silop. They were then held up for five days, and the local people refused entry of the food delivered for the workers. Upon the prodding of the priests and nuns, the residents allowed the workers to accept the food for delivery. This prompted the Sangguniang Bayan to facilitate a dialogue between the conflicting parties. The dialogue failed because both parties maintain their position. While the
company argued the legality of its mining permit, the resident’s cited the company’s non compliance with the required community approval and its refusal to heed the appeals of the local people. After this, another status quo order was issued.

In 10 October 2002, the residents held another barricade to prevent entry to the company’s vehicle. They also went to the mining site where they met 200 workers who manage to enter through Barangay Makalaya. A confrontation soon ensued but the arrival of the police forces prevented the situation from worsening. The residents where furious at the blatant disrespect shown by the MMC. At the height of the confrontation, the residents set fire to the company’s equipment. The next day, the residents went to the drilling site and asked the workers to vacate the place. Police forces came, but, the workers refused to leave. This prompted the residents to set fire to the camp. Thereafter the MGB Regional Director arrived, along with other staff, to facilitate a dialogue, albeit without success. The residents had lost their confidence in the MGB; hence, they suspected the intention of the agency.

Anislagan was then branded a ‘red zone’ (Communist Party of the Philippines- National Democratic Front- CPP-NDF)/ NPA influenced area) due to the vigilance and opposition of the residents. In effect, the military deployed its 20th Infantry Batallion in the Baranagay on 10 December 2003 supposedly as a counter-insurgency measure. This unit was pulled out and deployed to Leyte when one of its members killed a resident after drinking session.

Apart from MMC, Silangan Mindanao Mining Corporation, Incorporated (Silangan), which discovered gold deposits in Boyongan, a neighbouring barangay of Anislagan, attempted to get the consent of the Estela Odtojan, the Barangay Captain, to use the barangay in going to and from its Boyongan project. Odtojan denied the request. On 28 January 2005, the Barangay Council of Anislagan passed a resolution asking the MGB to deny the application for the renewal of the exploration permit of the MMC and other mining companies.

The strong opposition of the people in Anislagan forced the MMC to stop its mining exploration in mid-2004. The residents refused to accede for several reasons. First, the company completely disregarded their position and had been unrelenting to their appeals. Second, it attempted to harass and intimidate the residents by filing 18 criminal and civil cases and undertaking surveillance on their leader (Pastor Gay). Third, the company obtained the support of several barangay leaders by giving out financial support. This prompted the residents to elect a new set of leaders with an anti-mining stance in the 2002 Barangay elections. Fourth and last, the spectre of death and destruction continues to haunt the local people.

Clearly, the environment and socio-economic damages resulting from the collapse of three tailing dams between 1995 and 2000 within the MMCs mine site near the town centre of Placer provide set back the company’s expansion project in Anislagan.

The formation of ABAKATAF, the series of mobilizations carried out by the members and the actions of the MMC strengthened the cooperation and unity of the local people. There were concerted efforts among the residents in thwarting the series of cases filed them by the company. This was made possible with support from the neighbouring barangays and CSO’s, e.g.,

LRC-KSK, CESPAC, KASAMA-KA, and Diocese of Surigao City. Presently, ABAKATAF members continue their vigilance, intent on protecting their lives, their environment, and their livelihood. Their leaders believe that there is a need to sustain the actions using effective strategies to counter the offensives of MMC and other mining companies.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Eco Struggle.