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Priests deny police story: ‘USC Lumad needed no rescuing’

Priests hosting Lumad students and elders denied the police operation inside a Catholic-run university in Cebu City Monday morning was a rescue mission.

Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) Philippines Southern Province Provincial Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao, SVD and University of San Carlos (USC) President Fr. Narciso Cellan Jr, SVD said they are seriously concerned and surprised that the police alleged the incident was a rescue operation.

“[It] came as a surprise that reports about minors being ‘rescued’ surfaced today. While COSA (Cebu-Commission on Social Advocacies) mentioned that some parents were coming over to fetch their children, it did not dawn on us that the parents’ visit will necessitate the presence of policemen,” the priests in a joint statement said.

Bag-ao and Cellan denied the 24 Lumad as well as two volunteer teachers forcibly hauled from a retreat house inside USC’s Talamban campus to a police camp needed rescuing.

“Here, no rescue need ever be conducted because the presence of the lumads in the retreat house was for their welfare and well-being, and all throughout, they were nurtured, cared for, and treated with their best interest in mind,” they said.

Both explained that their hosting of the Lumad was in support of the bakwit (refugee) school program of the Save Our School’s (SOS) Network, along with Archdiocese of Cebu’s COSA.

President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the closure and destruction of indigenous peoples’ schools since 2017, forcing hundreds of their students as well as their teachers to seek refuge in Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao cities.

The priests pointed out that the four other schools within the archdiocese have hosted as many as 42 Lumad students, five teachers and three community elders (Datu) in the past two years.

The refugees were welcomed at USC-Talamban on May 11, 2020 where they were supposed to complete their modular schooling on April 3, 2020 after which, they would have returned to their respective indigenous communities.

The Lumad were forced to extend their stay since the Cebu City government imposed travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the priests said.

“After being locked down, the SVD Community has since sheltered the delegation at its retreat house, providing them with comfortable accommodation, and allowing them the use of its facilities for the lumad’s recreation,” Bag-ao and Cellan narrated.

The priests said that four of the delegates have since returned home after quarantine restrictions have loosened while more are scheduled to leave this week.

In videos and photos posted on social media platforms, the Lumad students were shown to have been roughly treated by the police during its operation Monday.

WATCH SOS’ LIVE VIDEO OF THE INCIDENT HERE.

Some were strangled from behind while some were handcuffed as they were hauled to the regional police camp.

‘NPA training inside a Catholic university’

In its News Brief No. 21-0261, the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Central Visayas bragged it rescued the minors from a “child warrior training” inside the university.

“Twenty-one Lumad children were reunited with their parents two years after they were ‘recruited’ by community organizers in Davao del Norte and brought to Cebu City to undergo revolutionary training as future armed combatants,” the police said.

PNP chief Debold Sinas further alleged that the Lumad children belonged to a New People’s Army front based in Talaingod, Davao del Norte.

“Police Regional Office 7 investigators are eyeing serious illegal detention, human trafficking, and violations of RA 9851 (IHL Act) and RA 11188 (Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict) charges against the arrested suspects,” the PNP added.

The police has yet to allow human rights lawyers to meet with the detainees, a full day after the arrests.

Lumad school children call for the release of those arrested in Cebu at a rally in Quezon City. (Photo by Jo Maline Mamangun/Kodao)

Demands for immediate release

The SOS in Cebu meanwhile called for the immediate release of the detained Lumad and their teachers, denying the students were coerced.

“The parents of the students provided authorization to the volunteer teachers to allow their children to join the Bakwit School. It is also the decision of the students themselves to take part in the Bakwit School,” SOS-Cebu said in a statement.

The group recalled the refugee schools hosted by schools and churches across the country were in response to the closure of 176 indigenous peoples’ school across Mindanao upon Duterte’s orders.

“It is then ironic for the police to claim to ‘rescue’ the Lumad when it is a truth that is widely known that it is the state forces that continuously harass and red-tag them. It is state forces themselves that continue to harm the Lumad,” SOS-Cebu said.

In Quezon City, the SOS Bakwit School at the University of the Philippines in Diliman led an indignation rally in front of the Commission on Human Rights along with indigenous peoples’ rights advocates Monday afternoon. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups assail Salem’s continuing detention

Media groups condemned government prosecutors and the police for their refusal to free Manila Today editor Lady Ann “Icy” Salem and labor organizer Rodrigo Esparago after the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed charges of illegal possession of arms and explosives against the two.

The executive board of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT)-Philippine chapter said “dark forces” are preventing Salem and Esparago from regaining their freedom.

“[T]here are dark forces, it seems, lurking to keep her (Salem) from returning to the folds of journalism and do what she does best – speaking truth to power,” IAWRT said in a statement.

The group said it had been more than a week since the trumped-up charges against Salem and Esparago had been dropped but both remain in jail after prosecutors from the Mandaluyong City prosecutor’s office and the Mandaluyong police contested the decision.

IAWRT however pointed out that the Court found the search warrant used to enter her home was declared invalid and the evidence against the two accused as inadmissible.

“It stands to reason that she should be freed, following this historic decision,” the group said.

Earlier, Salem’s lawyers from the Public Interest Law Center said the Court’s decision was “based on evidence, and on the merits of the case.” As such, the “issuance of a release order should be automatic and mandatory.”

IAWRT-Philippine Chapter urged the Mandaluyong RTC to look into Salem’s urgent motion for release.

“The planted evidence and trumped-up charges filed against her have been proven false and she deserves no less but freedom and justice to finally be served,” it said.

In a statement issued from London, Violet Gonda, IAWRT International President, said that Salem was arrested for her journalism.

“Journalism is not a crime. No one deserves to be kept behind prison bars for exercising the right to freedom of speech nor deserves persecution for being a journalist.”

Salem is also IAWRT-International communication officer.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also condemned the police and the prosecutors “for cruelly continuing to block freedom for Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem and trade unionist Rodrigo Esparago despite the dismissal of the obviously trumped up criminal charges against them.”

The law is meant to protect, not persecute, the people, the NUJP said, urging the prosecutors to respect Mandaluyong RTC Branch 209 Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio’s ruling that Salem and Esparago’s arrest violated the Constitution and the Rules of Court.

Quisimbing-Ignacio also scored the police for going on a “fishing expedition” and providing “inconsistent” testimonies.

“If anything, the judgment should be more than enough reason not only to release Icy and Rodrigo but also to hold accountable each and everyone involved in this clear attempt to pervert the law,” the NUJP said in a statement.

The group bewailed that Philippine laws are turned into weapons “by the very people supposedly sworn to uphold it and wielded against those supposed to benefit from it.”

“Yet here we see the city prosecutor and police advocating double jeopardy!” the NUJP said.

Both media groups also called for the immediate resolution of the case involving Eastern Vista executive director Frenchie Mae Cumpio who was arrested on similar charges in Tacloban City last February 7, 2020. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

One Billion Rising 2021: Campaign demands food security and end to violence against women

Women and other groups gathered at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City Sunday afternoon to participate in the annual One Billion Rising (OBR) global campaign on violence against women.

On its ninth year, the OBR worldwide is themed “Rising Gardens” to underscore the need for food security for the poor, especially women.

Some of the participants dancing to OBR songs. (R. Villanueva)

This year’s event in Quezon City was highlighted by the exchange of vegetable seedlings among participants to symbolize the women’s sector call for food security as well as a Php10,000 cash assistance for poor families.

The organizers said that aside from their continuing demand for an end to violence against women, they are intensifying their call for food security, livelihood, accessible health services and justice as the pandemic and worsening economic crisis batter the poor.

“The spread of the coronavirus exposed [the] worsened inadequacies in the delivery of public health and [other] social services in a neoliberal economic system. The militarized lockdown, one of the longest and harshest in the world, has caused an unprecedented crisis, with millions out of work and deprived of livelihood,” GABRIELA secretary general Joms Salvador said.

The LGBTQI+ community are once again present in this year’s OBR. (R. Villanueva)

Established in 2012 by playwright Eve Ensler and held annually across the globe on February 14, OBR has since become the biggest continuing global mass action in history.

Instead of celebrating a commercialized Valentine’s Day, the OBR gathers hundreds of thousands of women and supporters to join dance protests against violence against women.

OBR is also celebrated in key cities across the country, including Baguio, Iloilo and Davao.

One Billion Rising global director Monique Wilson. (R. Villanueva)

OBR global director and artist Monique Wilson said country directors all over the world decided to highlight the need for food security amid worsening social injustices this year.

“The theme Rising Gardens is a huge political resistance against violence against women and the violence of food insecurity, poverty, tyranny and the marginalization of women,” Wilson said.

Community garden destroyed

In her speech, Wilson pointed out that a community garden in Marikina City was destroyed by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Sunday morning, depriving the community called Olandes harvestable vegetables.

In posts on her Facebook account, Gabriela member Lita Malundras reported that heavy machinery bulldozed a community garden that Wilson herself helped establish.

Community women look helplessly as their garden is being destroyed. (Lita Malundras)

“Ang bigat ng makita mo ngayong araw ng mga puso ang kawalan ng puso ng mga nasa gobyerno ang sirain ang pananim na pinaghirapan at ginastusan ng mahihirap. Ang lupa na dapat pinagkukunan ng pagkain. Walang awang tinatabunan,” Malundras said.

(It is heartbreaking that in this day of hearts, the heartless in government destroyed the crops painstakingly planted by the poor. The land that should for food production, they heartlessly filled up.)

The once productive vegetable garden was destroyed in a matter of hours. (Lita Malundras)

“Nakakaiyak na makita ang mga tao na pinapanuod na lang ang mga sasakyan na sumisira sa mga halaman na kanilang pinagkukunan ng pagkain sa araw araw. Bukas darating si (Secretary Mark) Villar ng DPWH at (Secretary Frank) Cimatu ng DENR, kaya daw minamadali nila upang makita ang kautusan ng mga hari. Isigaw natin ang walang katarungan na ginagawa sa mga mahihirap,” she added.

(We are in tears seeing the people helplessly looking at machines destroying crops for their daily sustenance. Tomorrow, Villar and Cimatu are coming. They are rushing things so the kings may see their orders followed. We must tell everyone of the injustices they are doing to the poor.)

The DPWH and the DENR are reportedly undertaking preparatory work for future construction projects along the banks of the Marikina River. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Reds assure safe passage of anti-Covid vaccines into guerilla zones

The New People’s Army (NPA) will ensure unimpeded passage of anti-coronavirus vaccines in its guerilla base and zones, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) announced.

CPP information officer Marco Valbuena said the NPA will ensure that transportation of vaccines will be provided a humanitarian corridor into areas under the control and influence of the guerrilla army.

The CPP statement is in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s appeal Monday night to allow COVID-19 vaccines to be transported “freely and safely” in far-flung areas once they become available.

“The [CPP] must guarantee that the vaccines, in the course of their being transported to areas where there are no city health officers and medical persons…please leave the medicines alone,” Duterte said.

“I am asking you now to observe that rule because that is for the Filipino people…Kindly observe the rules of humanity,” Duterte added.

“It is a matter of principle for the NPA to respect all humanitarian undertakings that benefit the masses,” the CPP replied.

The CPP however suggested that the transportation, distribution and inoculation drive of Covid-19 vaccines especially in the interior areas be handled by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Philippine Red Cross and other civilian humanitarian agencies.

The CPP said personnel of said agencies are properly trained and have the facilities to undertake such missions.

“Non-Red cross vehicles that will be used as Covid-19 vaccine transporters must be clearly and properly marked with a red cross over [a] white background,” the group said.

The CPP also strongly suggested that the vaccines not be transported in military vehicles, especially those which are not properly marked and carrying armed soldiers.

“Over the past year, the AFP has been carrying out combat and psywar (psychological warfare) operations behind the veil of implementing Covid-19 restrictions,” Valbuena explained.

Using the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to transport and handle vaccines will not encourage people to be vaccinated especially in many areas in the countryside where people are traumatized by military garrisoning of their communities and helicopter gunships firing missiles, he added.

The CPP complained that peasant civilians are worried that the AFP might use the vaccination drive for counterinsurgency and demand “surrender” before vaccine.

The Manila government said that the first batch of anti-Covid19 vaccines may arrive next week and the first inoculations may start within February. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups slam Duterte’s personal vendetta vs ABS-CBN, challenge Congress to prove independence

Groups condemned Rodrigo Duterte’s latest tirade against ABS-CBN, saying the President only proved vindictiveness in announcing he will defy Congress should it pass a new franchise law for the network.

The group Pirma Kapamilya slammed Duterte’s recent statement that he will order the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) not to issue ABS-CBN a permit to operate even if a franchise law is passed.

“His recent pronouncement reveals that last year’s denial of ABS-CBN’s franchise was nothing more but his personal vendetta at the expense of the viewing public, press freedom, and of the displaced employees of the network,” Pirma Kapamilya in a statement said.

“This is a symptom of his toxic ‘personalan politics’ not needed at this crucial time,” the group added.

Pirma Kapamilya is a volunteer group gathering signatures for a people’s initiative for a new franchise law for the network.

In his latest Monday night public address, Duterte accused Congress is planning to restore the broadcast franchise of the Lopezes.

“I don’t have a problem if Congress restores it. But if you say that if they can operate if they already have a franchise, no. I will not allow them. I will not allow the NTC to grant them the permit to operate,” Duterte said.

He again accused ABS-CBN of being a tax evader.

“Unless and until taxes are paid, I will ignore your franchise. I will not give them the license to operate. That’s nonsense. It’s like giving them a prize for committing criminal acts,” Duterte said.

Pirma Kapamilya however said Duterte continues to spread lies about the tax issue of the network even as the Bureau of Internal Revenue BIR cleared the network of any tax obligations.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) challenged the House of Representatives to prove its independence and finally grant ABS-CBN its franchise.

“We are tempted to thank President Rodrigo Duterte for proving us right about what we have been saying all along, that the shutdown of ABS-CBN was a personal vendetta that a lapdog Congress helped seal,” it said.

“Perhaps it is not too late for the members of the House of Representatives to salvage their reputations, to prove that they are what the Constitution charges them to be, members of a co-equal and INDEPENDENT branch of government, and no longer the willing accomplices to the continuing siege on press freedom and all our other rights and liberties,” the NUJP added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Philippine mines continue unhampered 4 years after Gina’s shutdown order

In Benguet, critics are dismayed and wary of environmental degradation and natural disasters. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines is also waiting for Malacañang to resolve the suspensions and “move mining forward.”

BY MARIA ELENA CATAJAN/Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

What you need to know about this story:

  • The late DENR Secretary Gina Lopez’s closure and suspension orders against 28 mines in 2017 were not implemented following a review ordered by Malacañang.
  • A culture of non-implementation of environmental regulations has allowed mining companies to evade sanctions, according to former DENR undersecretary Antonio La Viña, a responsible mining advocate.
  • Residents of two towns in Benguet are worried over the likelihood of disasters in mine sites and environmental destruction.

BAGUIO CITY — In July 2016, in one of her first acts as environment secretary, Regina “Gina” Lopez ordered an industry-wide audit of 41 large-scale mines in the country. Seven months later, 23 metallic mines received closure orders and five others were told their operations would be suspended. 

A statement issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) dated Feb. 2, 2017 cited “serious environmental violations.” 

“My issue here is social justice. If there are businesses and foreigners that go and utilize the resources of that area for their benefit and the people of the island suffer, that’s social injustice,” Lopez said in a press conference that day. 

It was a quick move rarely seen against an industry that has significant contributions to the national economy. Mining stocks plunged.

Mining companies are big employers in rural areas –– over 180,000 workers nationwide, not counting indirect jobs created –– and contributed 0.5 percent to the economy in 2019. 

In Benguet, a mineral-rich province in the Cordillera region, mayors of two mining towns covered by the order welcomed Lopez’s bold move albeit concerns for thousands of residents who stood to lose their jobs. 

Operations of Benguet Corp. (BC) in Itogon and Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company (LCMC) in Mankayan were ordered closed and suspended, respectively. They are among the country’s oldest mines. 

Itogon Mayor Victorio Palangdan has had a strenuous relationship with Benguet Corp., at times finding the company responsible for his town’s environmental problems. He is also backing demands of indigenous people’s organizations, which claim ancestral rights to the land, for a bigger share of BC’s profits.

Mankayan Mayor Frenzel Ayong also supported a closer look into Lepanto’s operations. “It’s a welcome development for the government to look into the details of the operation [of LCMC] as well as its compliances with the law,” he said. 

Four years after Lopez’s crackdown,Benguet’s mines continue to operate to the dismay of civil society groups. Benguet Corp. and Lepanto did not cease operations except during strict lockdowns last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The mines that were served with closure orders by former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez were not closed at all and are operating after some of them appealed their cases to the Office of the President and the others to the DENR itself,” said Rocky Dimaculangan, Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (CMP) vice president for communications and national coordinator towards sustainable mining.

“If there are companies among the firms in the first round of MICC audit that were compelled to suspend their operations, it could be because of other violations outside the audit,” he said.

The mining companies immediately appealed their cases to President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017. The shutdown orders were put on hold amid warnings from the CMP then that shutting down mining companies would put 67,000 jobs at risk and cost the government up to P16.7 billion in taxes.

A Lepanto miner works underground in Mankayan, Benguet. Photograph: Lauren Alimondo/PCIJ

In Cordillera alone, mining companies employ close to 17,000 workers, with over 7,000 in large-scale mines and 10,000 in small-scale mines.

Duterte ordered the Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to review DENR’s audit. Lopez, who co-chaired the interagency body with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, questioned the review.

Three months later, in May 2017, Lopez was kicked out as environment secretary after the Commission on Appointments rejected her nomination. She died two years later after a battle with brain cancer.

In an e-mailed response to PCIJ’s questions, Malacañang said it could not disclose its basis for allowing the mining firms to operate despite Lopez’s orders as it was “protected by the deliberative process privilege.” 

“Albeit the proceedings herein are quasi-judicial in character, publicly divulging information and records, which include information on the nature of the case, violations allegedly committed, arguments of the parties, and other filings and pleadings made thereon by mining contractor-parties, relative to pending cases before this office is a violation of the sub judice rule as it constitutes blatant disregard of the same evils sought to be prevented by said rule,” said Ryan Alvin Acosta, deputy executive secretary for legal affairs.

‘Culture of non-implementation’

There has been no word about the MICC review or a final decision from Duterte on the mining companies that appealed to his office, although the DENR under Secretary Roy Cimatu in the last four years has upheld the closure of several mining companies and allowed others to operate again.

In Benguet, the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA) slammed the failure to implement Lopez’s orders against Benguet Corp. and Lepanto.

“The audit was the result of the long-standing struggle of the affected communities against the destructive operations of the mines. However, the suspension was never implemented. No mines in the Cordillera ceased their operation,” said Santos Mero, vice chairperson of the coalition fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples in the region.

Fay Apil, director of the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) in Cordillera, said they were still waiting for the MICC to confirm or refute Lopez’s audit on the two mines.

This goes to the “culture of non-implementation” of laws and regulations that has plagued the mining industry, said former DENR undersecretary Antonio La Viña, an advocate of responsible mining.

“It should have been decided quickly. This is why there is so much conflict in the mining industry. It’s an inherently risky activity and there are clear rules, but when rules are violated they are not enforced,” he said.

The DENR should also make sure its cases are airtight, he said, as mining companies have the money to pay the best lawyers.

La Viña said one thing going against the mining industry was its problematic public image because of a history of mining disasters.

“In theory, responsible mining is possible. The mining companies must follow the law. It needs strict compliance because of the destructive nature of the activity,” he said. 

In one of the country’s worst mining catastrophes, the 1996 Marcopper disaster in Marinduque province released 1.6 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailings into the Boac River when a drainage tunnel was fractured. It caused illnesses that residents suffer to this day.

In Itogon in September 2018, 19 months after Lopez issued a closure order on Benguet Corp., disaster struckasclose to 100 small-scale miners taking refuge in a company bunkhouse and a church during the onslaught of Typhoon “Ompong” (international name: “Mangkhut”) were buried in a landslide. 

Palangdan blamed the tragedy on Benguet Corp.’s operations, but the company pointed to illegal small-scale mining that it said it didn’t control. The bodies of the miners were not recovered. 

Miners rest in this bunkhouse near Benguet Corporation’s office in Itogon, Benguet. Photograph: Jean Nicole Cortes/PCIJ

Philippines’s oldest operating mines

Benguet Corp. has been in Itogon for more than a century, the oldest operating mine in the country. It started open-pit and underground mining operations in the town in 1903, employing thousands to extract ores of gold, nickel and silver. 

It ended its underground operations in 1992. But when pocket miners invaded the Acupan tunnel –– one of two underground mines that formed the company’s gold operations –– the company opened it to investors and established the Acupan Contract Mining Project (ACMP).

ACMP saw a large-scale operator and groupings of small-scale miners working together under a mine lease agreement while it prepared the mines for the final phases of rehabilitation and decommissioning.

Benguet Corp. lawyer Froilan Lawilao said it was the first of its kind. MGB hailed it as a model for partnership between a large-scale corporate mine operator and small-scale miners. 

Sixteen mining associations and cooperatives, involving up to 1,000 small-scale miners, operate their own pocket mines under a 60-40 profit sharing agreement. 

Lopez however thought the economic benefits to the community did not outweigh the environmental dangers. She ordered the Itogon mines closed after the DENR audit found Benguet Corp. liable for the October 2016 mine tailings spill that contaminated a 1.6-kilometer stretch of the river.

The audit report said the company committed the following violations:

  • operating a prohibited controlled disposal facility;
  • maintaining and storing toxic and hazardous materials without an accredited Treatment Storage and Disposal (TSD) facility;
  • failing to install air pollution control devices and apply for a permit to operate upon installation, and 
  • failing to rehabilitate the Antamok open-pit mine after it ceased its operations.

Benguet Corp. received the show-cause order on Oct. 28 and filed its reply on Nov. 1. The company claimed it had proof the findings were altered from an original version that declared the company compliant with mining laws.

Lawilao said company officials were told by DENR inspectors that Benguet Corp. passed the audit. A memorandum dated Aug. 16, 2016 stated that the company had complied with all legal and technical standards and “contributed to the local economy, except for some minor lapses.”

Lawilao also noted inconsistencies in the audit report, where the auditors allegedly interchanged the sites of Benguet Corp. with Lepanto. “These inconsistencies are serious and [indicates] the mine audit report was haphazardly prepared,” he said.

More disturbing was the “generalized finding of deficiencies for BC and Lepanto,” he claimed. 

Benguet Corp., he explained, did not rehabilitate the Antamok open-pit mine because its operations were merely suspended. There are plans to reopen it. 

And because Benguet Corp. began operations before the Mining Act of 1995, it was not required to deposit an approved amount for rehabilitation once operations cease.

When small-scale miners’ rushed to the Antamok mine site, it eventually prompted Benguet Corp. to apply for final decommissioning, which will turn the area into a Minahang Bayan. This will allow small-scale miners to operate legally and under the government’s radar.

Lawilao said the infractions committed by the company were “mostly permitting issues or operational concerns” that could be fixed without stopping their operation. Executives were surprised when they saw the news in September 2016 that Benguet Corp. was among the companies recommended for closure, he said. 

“In a nutshell, we alleged that we were issued a stoppage order without any basis. The audit findings are not bases to suspend the mining company’s operation because these are minor offenses. We were just advised to implement remedial measures, like to register the [tailings] dam,” he said.

Benguet Corporation’s Tailings Storage Facility Dam No. 2 in Itogon, Benguet. In 2020, the company’s plan to raise the level of the dam was met with protests from downstream communities. Photograph: Jean Nicole Cortes.PCIJ

The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) opposed Benguet Corp.’s plans to continue its mining operations in Itogon, however, and stood firm that it was time to return the land to the municipality. 

Imbes na i-rehab, mas inisip pa nito kung paano mas pagkakitaan pa ang lupain lalo na ang bahaging nasa ilalim ng kanilang mining patent (Instead of starting rehabilitation, it found a way to continue to profit from the land especially in areas under its mining patent),” the CPA’s Mero said.

Halimbawa, ang mga proposal nilang rehabilitation is to transform the Antamok Open Pit mine para sa bulk water reserve ng Baguio. Noong hindi umubra ay gawin daw na sanitary landfill. Mayroon din silang pagtatangka na mag-venture sa real estate at pag-convert ng bahagi ng kanilang mining patent into an economic zone,” Mero added

(For example, there was a proposal to rehabilitate the Antamok Open-Pit mine by transforming it into a bulk water reserve for Baguio. When it didn’t work, they said they could turn it into a sanitary landfill instead. They also attempted to venture into real estate by converting parts of their mining patent into an economic zone.)

Mero was worried that disasters could strike again if the tunnels were not rehabilitated. “Many of the abandoned tunnels were not properly backfilled. These pose hazards to the community especially during continuous rains, strong typhoons and earthquakes. There are also reports that in their contract mining areas, they are now mining the pillars, further weakening the ground,” he said.

The people are better off finding alternative livelihoods, said Mero.

“More than 100 years of mining yet our town and its people remain poor. The [landslide during typhoon ‘Ondoy’ in 2009] and subsequent closure of SSM (small-scale mining) operations and the pandemic have totally exposed how hard life is in Itogon. Even if we host the oldest mining company, we are also concerned about the unrehabilitated tunnels and open pit mines,’ Mero said.

Benguet Corp. had been under the control of the Romualdez family until the administration of Duterte, when Benjamin Philip and Daniel Andrew Romualdez, sons of alleged Marcos crony Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, left the company after decades of fighting government sequestration.

The economist Bernardo Villegas, an independent director, was installed as chairman in late 2019. The company reported nearly P116 million in net income that year on revenues of P802 million. 

Lepanto: First copper concentrator

Lepanto, on the other hand, was established in 1936 and was the first to operate a copper concentrator in the Philippines. 

The company alone employs over 2,000 employees and boasts of its ISO certificate, first issued on May 12, 2016, stating that the company had complied with environmental management standards. 

The audit report said Lepanto committed the following violations:

  • dumping mine tailings directly to the river;
  • violating health and safety regulations;
  • maintaining and storing unregistered TSD; and
  • operating a controlled dumpsite.

Lepanto also contested the 2017 suspension order that cost the company over P1.8 billion, the company’s resident manager Thomas Consolacion told reporters then. 

It was granted a stay order on Oct. 12, 2017 after it filed an appeal with Malacañang. The company was ordered to pay P27,275 in fines to the MGB and P100,000 to the Environmental Management Bureau. Lepanto also agreed to monthly inspections.

Read Lepanto’s memo on the lifting of the suspension order here.

PCIJ reached out to Lepanto corporate communications head Butch Mendizabal for an interview and for copies of the suspension order and appeal it had filed with Malacañang. The company declined both requests.

Notwithstanding Lepanto’s ISO certification and support from residents directly employed by the company, protests from host and downstream communities hound the industry giant. 

The call to cancel Lepanto’s mining permit started in 2002 when local scientists, health professionals, and academicians formed Save the Abra River Movement (STARM) with a series of environmental investigative missions and studies from 2002 to 2005, which yielded proof of the river’s decline due to mining.

Communities dotting the Abra River banks have long attributed the rivers’ siltation and pollution to Lepanto’s operations, endangering the people’s primary source of irrigation, fishery and other livelihood.

The Tailings Storage and Facility 5A of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company. Photograph: Lauren Alimondo.PCIJ

“Abra River is an integral component of the broad people’s call for Lepanto’s closure,” said Mero. 

From Benguet, the river flows to the municipalities of Cervantes, Quirino and San Emilio in Ilocos Sur, and traverses the towns of Luba, Manabo, Bucay and Bangued in Abra. Its waters meet the West Philippine Sea in Santa, Bantay and Caoayan, also in Ilocos Sur.

“When the company started, there were still no laws prohibiting the dumping of waste directly into the bodies of water. For decades, Lepanto disposed of its waste in the streams, which eventually found their way to the main river system,” said Mero.

Companies were allowed to use natural water bodies for their mine wastes provided that these were treated. The company used to course mine waste through a tributary creek connecting to the storage facility. 

Lepanto built its first dam to contain silt and wastewater in the 1960s, but the company suffered three dam failures until 1993, releasing volumes of tailings to the river and destroying rice fields along its banks.

In the municipality of Santa in Ilocos Sur, Lepanto’s tailings dam poses a threat to all communities along the Abra River. “We are the catch basin. All waste from upstream will eventually reach our communities here, where the river exits,” said Vice Mayor Jeremy Bueno.

In March 2017, during the hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in Baguio City, Bueno told lawmakers that “Lepanto’s Tailings Dam 5A on the Abra River’s headwaters is a clear and present danger to life in the entire river basin.”

Bueno said his position on the matter remained the same. “There has been no significant change, even when the company was ordered to cease its operation, the looming threat from the tailings dam remained,” he said.

In 2004, Lepanto faced fines for polluting the Abra River. It was penalized by the Pollution Adjudication Board after failing the effluent standards required on rivers. The government slapped the company with minimal fees in the same year.

The Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) launched another probe in 2008. A test conducted in April that year found that lead content in Dam 5A exceeded the normal lead levels. The research findings and succeeding pollution probes by the EMB further strengthened the call for Lepanto’s closure.

But MGB’s Apil said Lepanto made adjustments to its operations before Lopez’s audit report came out, piping its tailings from its mills to a tailings dam in compliance with her orders for all mines to stop channeling their waste through bodies of water.

Lepanto recorded heavy losses in 2019. Its net loss widened to P1.03 billion from P775 million as revenues dipped 3% to P2.12 billion amid weak gold trade in 2019. The company was controlled by the family of businessman Felipe Yap.

Sinking towns

The environmental issues in Benguet’s mining towns are beyond the findings of Lopez’s audit report.

In October 2015, a sinkhole measuring about 150 meters swallowed six houses during the onslaught of Typhoon “Lando” at Sitio Kamangaan in Barangay Virac in Itogon.

Later, about 500 more houses were identified to be at risk of being swallowed by the sinkhole.

A report by the National Institute of Geological Sciences of the University of the Philippines (UP) said the subsidence was caused by a pipe out that started at the old drain tunnel of Benguet Corp. Heavy rains triggered the collapse of soil.

At that time, Mayor Palangdan insisted Benguet Corp. must admit responsibility for the Virac sinkhole and stay true to a promise to rehabilitate the mine. The sinkhole created a five-hectare danger zone.

But Benguet Corp. did not take responsibility for the sinkhole. Instead, it offered remedial measures and a relocation site at their old timber yard, former dumping grounds of the mining firm. However, resettlement is being hampered by disputes between land claimants and the mining company.

Those rendered homeless have since been renting homes while BC employees were given temporary resettlement.

Mining next door. These households are located near Benguet Corporation’s mine in Itogon, Benguet. Photograph: Jean Nicole Cortes/PCIJ

In 2018, when Typhoon “Ompong” struck, Palangdan was ready to renounce mining and go back to farming after small-scale miners were buried alive in a landslide widely attributed to the town’s mining operations.

He lamented how the town was destroyed, forcing people to look for other means of livelihood. 

Benguet Corp. again denied responsibility for the landslide and said illegal mining and gold processing activities were carried out without its permission. 

MGB also attested that the landslide was not caused by mining alone, as there were aggravating circumstances.

Environment Secretary Cimatu immediately ordered a halt to small-scale mining in the Cordillera and deployed soldiers and police to enforce the ban, sealing all tunnels. 

The death of the miners revived calls for the opening of a common mining site under the “Minahang Bayan” scheme for small-scale miners. 

The Minahang Bayan centralizes the processing of mineral output within a zone, helping curb illegal, unregulated and indiscriminate mining. It also allows the government to better monitor gold production by small-scale miners.

In 2019, a Minahang Bayan permit was awarded to the Loakan Itogon Pocket Miners Association (LIPMA) within the patented mineral claims of Benguet Corp., which endorsed the application. 

In Mankayan, sinking was first observed in 1972 or almost four decades after Lepanto started mining operations.

The subsidence has crept into the villages of Colalo and Poblacion, pushing former Mankayan mayor Materno Luspian to call for an independent probe to find the cause and solution to the perennial danger.

In 1975, a team from the then Bureau of Mines, Commission on Volcanology and Bureau of Public Works investigated ground movement in Barangay Poblacion.

The team found cracks along concrete pavements, house floors and walls, and displaced posts. Buildings and structures were found to be below standard and erected over weak foundations.

The probe found no conclusive evidence that underground work at the mines caused ground movement. Sinking was attributed to rainfall, topography, highly fractured and altered overlying rocks as well as disturbance of the slope by man and nature.

‘Bold moves need support’

Lopez’s Feb. 2, 2017 order was contentious even inside the DENR. Protocol was not followed, too.

Apil said the DENR didn’t normally slap mining companies with outright suspension orders. Usually, the DENR  informs the company first about its violations and gives it time to comply. 

The audit report was also submitted directly to the DENR central office in Quezon City, bypassing the regional offices. “Unfortunately, we were not provided [with the report] here in the region. It was only there, at the DENR central office that they vetted the results,” Apil said.

Mero said it resulted in confusion on the ground. It was not clear what agency was to enforce the directive and ensure the shutdown of mines. The MGB regional office had minimal participation in the audit, he said. 

On Aug. 9, 2019, MGB’s Cordillera office recommended the permanent lifting of the suspension order against Lepanto after it said the company fully complied with all the requirements set by the MICC.

On Jan. 9, 2020, Apil also endorsed granting Benguet Corp.’s appeal against the closure order but imposed conditions that the company would implement its corporate social responsibility programs.

Four years after Lopez’s shutdown orders, the status of Malacañang’s review is still unknown. CMP’s Dimaculangan said the MICC scheduled a second round of audits in early 2020 although he said he’s unaware if this was completed.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told PCIJ he’d defer to Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, whose office refused to divulge information on the specific cases.

The CMP said it was also waiting for Malacañang to finally resolve Lopez’s shutdown orders and “move mining forward,” citing the industry’s potential to contribute to economic recovery amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“To achieve this, we believe that the government should resolve the suspension orders issued by former Secretary Lopez, which is still pending with the Office of the President, after compliance with any corrective measures recommended by the MICC,” said Dimaculangan. 

President Duterte, who has kept the previous administration’s ban on open-pit mining, has repeatedly warned he would shut down mining operations in the country if miners didn’t follow tighter environmental rules.

But it was clear that Duterte didn’t have as much zeal for Lopez’s crusade, said La Viña, as when he ordered the shutdown and rehabilitation of the tourist island of Boracay in 2018.

“The lesson there was: You have to do bold things with the support of the president,” said La Viña. –– With research and reporting by Sherwin de Vera and Lauren Alimondo, PCIJ, January 2021

This story was produced with the support of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.— PCIJ

KMP: Land-grabbers murder farmer, burn down houses

Landgrabbing has led to the gruesome murder of a farmer in Norzagaray, Bulacan and arson in Calamba, Laguna the last two weeks, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reported.

Norzagaray farmer Rommy Torres was found stuffed inside a plastic drum in faraway Mabitac, Laguna last Friday after being reported missing last February 4.

The drum where Rommy torres had been stuffed. (KMP photo)

Torres reportedly went to harvest bananas in his farm lot within a disputed 75.5 hectare area in Sitio Compra, Barangay San Mateo last February 2 but has since failed to come home.

The stench coming from the drum led residents to discover the body of Torres that bore gunshot wounds in the mouth, chest, and back.

Torres was among agrarian reform beneficiaries involved in a land dispute with Royal Moluccan Realty Holdings Inc. (RMRHI) whose guards have recently filed theft charges against 14 farmers who were harvesting bananas and coconuts inside the property.

Investigators said the murderers poured concrete into the drum to further hide Torres’ remains. (KMP photo)

In a statement, the KMP slammed the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for its continuing failure to farmers from land-grabbing by landlords and corporations.

“The DAR should be more proactive in resolving land dispute cases, especially when the entities involved employ violence and terror. In this case, instead of protecting the farmers and ensuring their right to the land, DAR watched from afar. The hands of DAR Secretary John Castriciones are stained with blood,” KMP national chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

Ramos said that the Office of the President (OP), in a decision dated December 29, 2015, had ordered that portions of the disputed land in Norzagaray which have been developed agriculturally prior to 1988 should be compulsorily acquired by the government for distribution.

The farmer families residing on the disputed land have been tilling the land since the 1960s, he added.

The peasant leader explained that an April 25, 2017 decision from the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) had already dismissed a petition from RMRHI, which was affirmed by a Court of Appeals decision last June 17, 2020.

The farmers of Norzagaray thus have a strong legal basis for their continued assertion of their rights to the land they reside in and tilled, the KMP said.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: KMP reports more attacks against farmers in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog

“They have dutifully complied with legal processes as they faced the illegal and savage acts of Royal Moluccan. Meanwhile, DAR watched from afar as Royal Moluccan’s goons evicted the farmers, fenced their lands, and continually harassed them after, chasing them further off as they tried living on the margins of what was once their farm lots,” Ramos said. 

Both decisions failed in preventing DARAB sheriff Virgilio Robles Jr. from executing a demolition of the farmers’ homes in March 2018 and October 2019, however, KMP said.

A victim watches as their house burns to the ground. (KMP photo)

Arson in Hacienda Yulo

Torres’ gruesome murder followed the arson of two houses within disputed properties in Hacienda Yulo in Calamba, Laguna last January 22.

Houses belonging to Freddie Cacao and Mario Mangubat, members of the KMP-affiliated Samahan ng mga Magsasakang Nagkakaisa sa Buntog (Samana-Buntog), were torched by armed men believed to be employed by the Yulo-owned San Cristobal Realty, the KMP said.

The perpetrators dragged Cacao and wife Criselda at gunpoint before setting fire to the house, the group reported.

The same group set fire to Mangubat’s house an hour later while his wife Dottie was inside.

TERROR IN HACIENDA YULO: Mga gwardiya ng Hacienda Yulo, nanutok ng baril sa magsasaka

Last January 9, armed men also demolished two houses in the area while they trained high-powered guns on terrified residents, the KMP reported

The goons also attacked a certain Jojo De Leon while ransacking and destroying several houses.

The perpetrators also fired their guns that injured four farmers, KMP said.  

San Cristobal Realty has reportedly entered into a deal with Ayala Land, Inc. for the construction of another high-end project in the area.

Samana-Buntog said government’s inaction in land disputes and the absence of a genuine land reform in the country had led to violence against them.

Samana-Buntog spokesperson Leo Mangubat said the government has exempted portions of Hacienda Yulo from industrial development since the early 1990s but are yet to be given to agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Mangubat said their ancestors had been tilling their farm lots since the 1910 Taal Volcano eruption.

“Our ancestors have been here way before the DoJ (Department of Justice) opinion of 1990, the CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) of 1988, and the Yulo family’s claim which began only in 1948,” Mangubat said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Journos pedal for jailed colleagues

Media groups and supporters held a biking event Sunday morning to commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of a journalist in Tacloban City on what they claim are trumped up charges.

Members of the People’s Alternative Media Network (Altermidya), the International Association of Women in Radio and Television-Philippine Chapter, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) biked around Quezon City to call for the dropping of charges against Eastern Vista executive director Frenchie Mae Cumpio.

The bikers along Quezon Avenue on their way to the Commission on Human Rights.

Cumpio was arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives by the Philippine National Police (PNP), allegations uniformly leveled against arrested critics of the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The event also called for the immediate release of Manila Today editor Lady Ann Salem whose case was dismissed by the Mandaluyong Regional Trial Court just last Friday due to inconsistencies in the statements submitted by police witnesses.

Salem was arrested by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the PNP last December 10, International Human Rights Day.

She remains in jail, however, pending the issuance of a release order by the court.

The bike event started at the University of the Philippines and made its first stop at ABS-CBN where a brief program was held.

The bikers pedaled on to the statue of press freedom icon Joaquin Roces and then to the Commission on Human Rights were programs were also held.

Altermidya national coordinator Rhea Padilla and Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity convenor Tonyo Cruz vowed to continue their struggle to free Cumpio and Salem.

ABS-CBN Rank and File Employees Union president Jon Villanueva for his part thanked the media organizations and press freedom advocates for their continuing support to the beleaguered network.

ABS-CBN Rank and File Employees Union president Jon Villanueva.

Members of the Photojournalists Center of the Philippines welcomed the bikers at ABS-CBN.

The NUJP meanwhile hailed Mandaluyong RTC Presiding Judge Monique Quisumbing-Ignacio’s cancellation of the search warrant used against Salem that “suffered from vagueness.”

“Even as we eagerly await Icy’s (Salem) return to freedom, we denounce the gross injustice she was subjected to by the agents of a government bent on suppressing the independent media and freedom of expression,” the NUJP said.

In a separate statement, the NUJP demanded the release of Cumpio it said was arrested and is being detained on spurious charges.

“The ordeal of Frenchie Mae is part of the increasing persecution of the critical media by the forces of a government so intolerant of criticism and dissent that the mere exercise of democratic rights is enough for one to be branded an ‘enemy of the state,’” the NUJP said. # (Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)

BANGAR’S GUERRILLAS: A small town’s valiant yet forgotten history of resistance during the Philippine-American War

by Mac Ramirez

At the northernmost part of the Province of La Union is Bangar, a small and quiet town nestled between the West Philippine Sea to the west, the mighty Amburayan River to the north, and the majestic Cordillera mountain range to the east. Its people are famous for crafting the hand-woven fabric called ‘inabel’ which, because of its durability, were used as sails of galleon ships during the Spanish colonial days.

At present, Bangar’s ‘inabel’ blankets, table runners and hand towels are in high-demand, both locally and overseas. Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray visited Bangar last March 2020 and even sat on a native wooden loom to try her hand at weaving this beautiful fabric.   

Map of La Union province.

But apart from the ‘inabel’, not much is known about the town of Bangar.

Who would have thought that this small and quiet town has a valiant history of resistance and played a significant role during the Philippine-American War?  

When President Emilio Aguinaldo and his Council of War resolved in November of 1899 to shift to guerrilla warfare as the means to fight the American invaders, Ilocano freedom fighters wasted no time in preparing and leading the masses for revolt.

Guerrilla units spread like wildfire in La Union and other Ilocano Provinces. The people of Bangar rose up and heeded the call to defend the country. The Bangar resistance movement was so strong and organized that American forces at that time dared not venture around those parts without sufficient numbers.

“An Insurgent Column on the march.” (Collier’s Weekly; May 10, 1900)

Hotbed of ‘insurrection’

US Army Captain F.O. Johnson of the 3rd Cavalry summarized the situation in Bangar in a report to General Samuel Young dated March 6, 1900. He informed the headquarters in Vigan of the presence of at least five active guerrilla organizations within a radius of merely ten miles of Namacpacan (present day Luna) and Bangar [Ochosa, The Tinio Brigade]:

“The situation is such that it is unsafe to send out bodies of less than 40 or 50 men. The insurrectos have a well-organized system of espionage and all movements are immediately reported by couriers. Secret information leads me to distrust most of the native officials…”

The cohesion of the Bangareños to the guerrilla cause was a major source of dread for the Americans during the war’s height. The place was literally crawling with guerrillas and sympathizers. Even the parish priest of Bangar, Padre Bonifacio Brillantes, was an ardent supporter of the ‘insurrectos.’ He was later convicted by the Americans for having once rung the church bells in a bid to warn the guerrillas on the approach of the enemy.

“The topography is such that it is impossible to bring large forces in contact with these insurrectos,” read part of Johnson’s report. “When they greatly outnumber the Americans; they fight, otherwise they retreat into the mountains.”

That was the situation in Bangar. As to the general situation in the First District of La Union in early to mid-1900, Major General Elwell S. Otis described it, thus: “This today is the worst part of the Philippine Islands.”

The final fall of the Spanish in Bangar

That Bangar is so committed to the cause of independence and freedom at that time was not at all surprising. Just a little over a year prior, in August 1898, the final victory of Filipino revolutionists in La Union against the oppressive Spanish colonial regime was sealed in Bangar.

After almost a week of intense fighting, Spanish soldiers under Lieutenant Don Goicochea, who were then holed up inside the Bangar Convento, surrendered to the Filipino revolutionists in August 7, 1898. Eleven days after, on August 18, General Manuel Tinio accepted the “Acta de Capitulacion” of the Spanish forces in Bangar – one of the only two official acts of surrender signed in La Union soil, the other one being in the cabecerra San Fernando which was signed on July 31. Thus the more than three centuries of Spanish colonial rule in the Province of La Union finally fell in Bangar.

Historian Adriel Obar Meimban, in his book “La Union: The Making of a Province 1850-1921,” noted that during the final assault against the Spanish in Bangar, “all rose up to a man.”

Spanish Governor de Lara of Ilocos Sur testified that during the fighting in Bangar, the unremitting vollies of fire from the guns of Filipino revolutionists were heard from even across the Amburayan River in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. The Spaniard admitted then: “En La Union, no quedaba un hombre que no fuese rebelde” (In La Union, there was no man left who was not a rebel).

My great-grand aunt Paula Ramirez’s husband, Don Daniel Perez, was named Gobernadorcillo of the newly installed Filipino Revolutionary Government in Bangar. Back in September 1896, Don Daniel Perez (Interprete de este Juzgado) was among the twenty prominent Ilocanos who were tagged as leading “conspirators” and “subversives” in the friar-concocted “Supuesta Conspiracion.” The Vicar Forane of San Fernando, Fray Rafael Redondo, accused them of plotting to massacre Spanish officials in La Union.

Along with Daniel Perez who were exiled and banished to Palawan’s Balabac Island in 1896 were the leaders of the supposed ‘conspiracy’: Don Lucino Almeida of San Fernando, who would later on become La Union’s Presidente Provincial or Governor, and Don Ireneo Javier, who would later on become Ilocos Norte’s Governor and first representative of the province to the Philippine Assembly of 1907. Javier would also marry Perez’ daughter, Trinidad Ramirez-Perez.

The memory of victory against their former colonial oppressors is still fresh in the hearts and minds of the people of Bangar. Thus with a new set of invaders and colonizers at hand, they are ever prepared and willing to defend their hard-fought freedom.

Summing up the sentiment of the La Union umili (townsfolk), Governor Almeida telegraphed President Aguinaldo in Malolos on January 6, 1899. He said that La Union is prepared to go to war for independence as it did so valiantly against Spain, this time against the Norte Americanos:

“The dissemination of the news that the war against the Americans is impending as they greedily prey upon this Philippines, a continuous stream of news from all the towns have been received by me to show to the authorities and to the people that they resent, and they do request to offer themselves, including their possessions and lives, and they are grateful for your acceptance of their offer.”

[English translation from original Ilocano, by Meimban]

Thus, the people of La Union prepared for war. And when the Americans set foot in La Union soil in November 20, 1899, Filipino guerrillas are ready for action.

Bangar’s guerrillas      

MAP OF GUERRILLA OPERATIONS IN LA UNION. Photo from the book “Tinio Brigade”

The guerrillas of Bangar were part of Guerrilla Unit No. 1, led by Captain Anacleto Mendoza who was tagged by the Americans as the ‘prime disturber’ in that part of La Union. This outfit was responsible for the successive strikes in the first days of the year 1900 that completely infuriated the Americans.   

Attack on Bangar

On the night of January 10, 1900, some fifty armed guerrillas led by Lieutenant Francisco Peralta stormed Bangar, ransacked the Presidencia and executed the Presidente Municipal “who had earlier been marked for liquidation for his collaboration activities.” [Ochosa, The Tinio Brigade] Two other municipal officials, the Delegado de Justicia and the Delegado de Industria, were also executed by the guerrillas that night for supporting the enemy.

In response, the Americans sent a cavalry patrol to hunt down the daring raiders but they were ambushed in Sudipen (then a part of Bangar) by waiting Filipino forces under Lieutenant Simplicio Geronilla. The clash left two Americans killed and three others wounded.

A few days before the January 10 Bangar night-raid, Lieutenant-Colonel Juan Gutierrez, commander of all the guerrilla forces in La Union and Southern Ilocos Sur, ordered all guerrilla units to collect “acts of adhesion” from prominent citizens for purposes of propaganda abroad.

The Civil Governor of La Union, Don Lucino Almeida, likewise, convened all the Presidentes of the Province at his residence in San Fernando and ordered them to “furnish food, provisions and supplies from time to time to the forces in insurrection against the United States.”

Pocket guerrilla operations will continue to pester the Americans in the succeeding months. But the twin attacks in Bangar that greeted the New Year of 1900 – the night-raid of January 10 and the ambush thereafter – stood out for its cunning and audacity. Orlino Ochosa, in his book “The Tinio Brigade,” wrote that the said attacks were deemed by the Americans then as “war crimes” that were “unpardonable.”

Apart from the presence of armed guerrilla bands, the American occupation forces in Bangar also had to contend with the existence of the Sandatahanes – a phantom army of bolomen – that by March of 1900, a new garrison was set up by the US Army in Bangar.

The presence of another American garrison, however, did not dampen the fighting spirit of the Bangareños. By the middle of April 1900, Major Pascual Pacis and Lieutenant Juan Mendoza, of the guerrilla army’s Milicianos Territoriales, were at Barrio Paratong in Bangar recruiting men by the hundreds to join the resistance.  

Said recruits were initiated similar to that of the Katipunan rites, in that they were made to sign their oaths with their own blood and they were subjected to branding on their right breasts using the mouth of a heated bottle.

Maj. Pacis and Lt. Mendoza, who were later convicted by the Americans for their guerrilla activities, must have been recruiting members for the recently revived Katipunan in Bangar, considering that on May 5, 1900, a cache of Katipunan blood-oaths were discovered by the Americans in nearby Tagudin in Ilocos Sur.

Bangar will yet again witness another bold guerrilla attack on the night of May 5, 1900. Lt. Peralta and his men managed to sneak past American lines and again entered Bangar and assassinated five locals who served as Americans scouts. One of them, a former soldier of the guerrilla army who, exactly a month before, deserted to the Americans and turned-over to the enemy his company’s complete muster-roll [Scott, Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901].

Back then, the locals derided their town mates who were being too friendly with the American forces. On the part of the guerrilla army, this is considered a mortal sin that is punishable by death.

By December 22, 1900, the US Army’s 48th Infantry listed a total of nine persons killed and thirty persons or more assaulted in Bangar for “sympathy and assistance rendered the American cause.” Three of those killed and two of those assaulted were municipal officers.

In all areas covered by the US Army’s First District, Department of Northern Luzon, a total of 100 persons were assassinated for supporting the Americans, 26 of them were municipal officials.

The Americans, on the other hand, also vented their ire on town officials whom they suspected of supporting the “insurrectos”. On Christmas Day of 1900, American authorities ordered the arrest of all of Bangar’s municipal officials led by its then Presidente Municipal for “conspiracy.” [Scott, Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901]

In early 1900, the legendary General Manuel Tinio, commander of all Filipino forces in the entire Northern Luzon, issued an order to punish, by penalty of death, all those who will surrender, support or give assistance to the enemy.

“Although I would regret to have to shed the blood of my compatriots, I am disposed to take all the steps necessary to punish rigorously the traitors to the country.”

Guerrilla chiefs were also instructed by Aguinaldo’s Chief of the General Staff in 1900, to “kindly order all their subordinates, down to the lowest level, to learn the verb ‘Dukutar’ so as to put it immediately in practice.” In so doing, he said, it is “most salutary for our country.” [JRM Taylor papers] 

“Dukutar,” from the root word “dukot” or “ca-ut” in Ilocaco, meant the abduction and assassination of enemy forces, collaborators and spies.

It is worthy to note that the liquidation of spies and traitors to the cause were part and parcel of guerrilla warfare. In the face of a superior adversary, Filipino freedom fighters then had no choice but to resort to these kind of tactics, which also include, among others, the cutting of telegraph wires and the constant harassment and raids on enemy patrols, posts and detachments.

Even the commander of the American Forces, General Arthur Mac Arthur, admitted the prevalence of assassination of traitors on the part of the guerrillas.  In 1901 he reported: “The cohesion of Filipino society in behalf of insurgent interests is most emphatically illustrated by the fact that assassination, which was extensively employed, was generally accepted as a legitimate expression of insurgent governmental authority.”  

My great-grand father Isidoro Ramirez, the son of Don Hipolito Ramirez and a distinguished citizen of Bangar, was implicated as one of the conspirators in the January 10 Bangar guerrilla attack. He along with his town mate and cousin Manuel Bautista and Maximo Roldan, a native of nearby Namacpacan, were arrested and jointly tried by a US Military Commission convened June 3, 1900 in San Fernando, La Union.

Though they pleaded “not guilty” to all the charges, they were sentenced “to be hanged by the neck until they are dead.”

Public hangings in Bangar

Ramirez, Bautista and Roldan were publicly executed at the Plaza of Bangar on November 23, 1900. They were the first Filipino patriots to be hanged in La Union (perhaps in the entire Ilocandia) and, as such, the US Army meticulously planned and prepared for their public execution.

Adriel Obar Meimban, in his book “La Union: The Making of a Province 1850-1921,” wrote that Colonel William Penn Duvall, the American Commander based in San Fernando, received specific instructions to conduct their execution in a manner that is “quiet, orderly, dignified and soldierly.”

He was told to “select the particular place in Bangar, providing suitable material and the necessary labor for erecting the scaffold and procuring the rope, cord, etc required.” Thus an imposing wooden scaffold was ordered constructed in Bangar’s town plaza beginning October 1900.

Because two of the sentenced men – Ramirez and Bautista – were Bangar’s native sons, the Americans were extra-careful in keeping them in custody from their detention cell to the gallows, “lest they tempt guerrilla attack or attract ‘special attention’ from the people.”

On the day of the execution, Col. Duvall was instructed to undertake precautionary measures “to control the throng,” as thousands of Bangar-folk and citizens from surrounding areas were expected to gather at the town plaza for the hanging. The taking of photographs of the hanging was banned and newspapermen were not allowed on site.  

“The Provost Martial executed the martyrs upon the order of the Commanding Officer. Then the C.O. reported personally to Vigan for further instructions,” Meimban narrated.

Thus, “with no mawkishness of sentiment nor with the least abatement of the intended grimness and terror,” Ramirez, Bautista and Roldan were hanged in front of a horrified people, on top of a newly-built scaffold that would soon hang several other high-ranking guerrilla officers of the Tinio Brigade.

A public hanging in Bangar. Photo from Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by Arnaldo Dumindin

The public execution of sentenced “insurgents” was a major part of the US Army’s anti-guerrilla strategy – and they chose Bangar as their stage.

Perhaps to strike fear among the populace and to punish the town for its strong support to the guerrilla resistance, the people of Bangar were, on every occasion, herded to the town plaza to witness these “macabre public hangings.’

On September 13, 1901, the town hosted yet another triple-hanging of top leaders of Guerrilla Unit No. 5. They were 1st Lieutenant Natalio Valencia, 2nd Lieutenant Hilario Quesada and 2nd Lieutenant Patricio Zaidin.

Zaidin, a native of Alilem, was the last guerrilla leader to fall into the enemy’s hands in the La Union and Southern Ilocos Sur theatre of war.

Meanwhile, the proponent of the audacious raids in Bangar in the first half of 1900, Lt. Francisco Peralta, was also hanged in Bangar on October 11, 1901. Before his execution, Peralta uttered these last words: “Goodbye my beloved country. I am going to another world, sparing you further pains and anguish by sacrificing my life. Beloved countrymen, pray for me as I will pray for you in the next life. With love and courage, I am willing to die for your sake. I am not afraid to die.”

“Beyond death, Peralta became a hero,” wrote Meimban.

Also to meet his fate at the gallows of Bangar was Major Aniceto Angeles, one of the original commanders of the Philippine Republican Army’s La Union Battalion and the guerrilla chief of Guerilla Unit No. 2. He was hanged on October 18, 1901 with fellow guerrillas Fermin Directo and Tomas Torres.

More than 2,000 people were made to witness the hangings which, according to Meimban, was a “nauseating spectacle.”  When he was given the chance to speak before the gathered masses, Major Angeles shouted in defiance: “I am satisfied with the sentence and accept death!”

The hanging of Filipino prisoners of war by the Americans was strongly denounced by President Aguinaldo. From his mountain lair on January 17, 1901 he issued an urgent proclamation condemning the hangings as “repulsive and inhuman” and castigated the practice as “unheard of cruelties and shameless violations of the most elementary laws which are being committed by the imperialists.” [JRM Taylor papers]

He then “ordered and commanded” guerrilla chiefs to negotiate prisoner exchange “at the rate of one American for every three of the many Filipinos who have been condemned to death by them, and who are expecting to be executed at any moment.” 

Furthered Aguinaldo: “In case the American commander refuse us the requested exchange, the American prisoners, whatever be their number, will be shot – the punishment for those attempting our national integrity…”

War in the mountains

Despite the bloody triangle of US Army’s anti-guerrilla campaign in the Ilocos Provinces – the prosecution of guerrilla supporters, the garrisoning of towns, and the public execution of ‘insurgents’ – the ‘war in the mountains fit for the small against the big’ (guerra de montaña es la propia del pequeño contra otro mayor) as described by Col. Juan Villamor in his memoirs, continued to rage in Northern Luzon for almost two years.

Ochosa summed up the valiant and impressive resistance of the Ilocanos:

“Manuel Tinio and his brave band of Ilocanos and a few Tagalogs fought the invaders for almost two years. Surely it was a short war, but that beau geste demonstrated once more the sturdiness and indomitable character of the Ilocano “nation,” this time fighting as part of the Filipino nation; and it was a great struggle that proved the worth and mettle of their Tinio Brigade. The history of that brigade is the history of that war.

The last word on the historical and political significance of the Ilocano phase of our national struggle for independence comes from no less than the American Commander himself, General Arthur Mac Arthur, who defined that little war in Ilocos as the “most troublesome and perplexing military problem in all Luzon. In all Luzon.”

Bangar – that small and quiet town at the northernmost part of La Union – truly was a giant when it came to fighting for freedom and independence. Its people courageously fought and booted-out the Spaniards in 1898 and again bravely faced head-on the American occupation forces during the tumultuous Ilocano phase of the Philippine-American War of 1899-1901.

Sadly, Bangar’s valiant contributions remain seemingly forgotten and untold. There is not even a mention of it in its own official town history.

Nevertheless, Bangar has distinguished itself and has proven worthy to be called “ili daguiti kalalakkian” (where men-of-men come from). More than four decades after the Philippine-American War, the sons of Bangar’s guerrillas of 1899 -1901 will step up to the plate and assume the honorific role of their fathers before them and will gallantly face another set of unwelcome occupiers – this time the Japanese Imperial Army and this time, fighting side-by-side with their fathers’ former adversary, the Americans. As was before, the guerrilla movement in Bangar during the Japanese Occupation was so strong and organized, as evidenced by the presence of a big guerrilla camp situated in the fastness of Barrio San Cristobal in Bangar.

Indeed, Bangar’s valiant history of resistance must be remembered and retold. The martyrs of Bangar and the many others who laid their lives in the defense of our Motherland must forever be put in a place of honor and recognition. #

Sources:

  • Charges of cruelty, etc., to the natives of the Philippines. Letter from the Secretary of War relative to the reports and charges in the public press of cruelty and oppression exercised by our soldiers toward natives of the Philippines. February 19, 1902;
  • THE TINIO BRIGADE: Anti-American Resistance in the Ilocos Provinces 1899-1901, Orlino A. Ochosa;
  • Ilocano Responses to American Aggression 1900-1901, William Henry Scott;
  • La Union: The Making of A Province 1850-1921, Adriel Obar Meimban, Ph.D;
  • The Philippine Insurrection Against the United States: A compilation of documents with notes and introduction by John R.M. Taylor

Photos used in this article had been supplied by the historian.

Mac Ramirez is a long-time national president of the Commission on Elections Employees Association. His previous history article for Kodao may be read here: MYSTERY SOLVED: Spot where missing Fil-Am war memorial once stood finally found

Aklan activists warn of more SEMPO-like raids by police, seek help from local leaders

Activists in Aklan province asked local political and church leaders to stop a repeat of mass killings and arrests of civilians by the police.

In an open letter to Aklan Governor Florencio Miraflores, Representatives Carlito Marquez and Teodorico Haresco Jr., the Diocese of Kalibo, and the local media as well as to residents, members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN)-Aklan and the Makabayan bloc appealed for the preemption of a repeat of the massacre of nine Tumandok tribespeople and the mass arrest of 16 others last December 30.

“[W]e are conveying our appeal to all of you to take necessary actions so as to preempt the perceived occurrence of a SEMPO (Synchronized Enhanced Management of Police Operations)-like operation in the province of Aklan that might cost lives of civilians,” the activists said in their January 24 letter.

The activists explained they suspect that another SEMPO is about to happen, this time against leaders and members of both BAYAN-AKLAN and the MAKABAYAN Bloc in the province.

Makabayan is a group of progressive political parties that are members of the House of Representatives, including Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Kabataan Youth Party and ACT Teachers Party.

“We are making the public aware that the gale of red-tagging campaign of the NFT-ELCAC (National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) is blowing strongly in the province of Aklan amid (the) crisis of COVID19,” they said.

The activists said tarpaulins demonizing their groups abound in Kalibo City while surveillance and monitoring of their activities increased since January 4.

The activists suspect that State forces are behind the harassments.

The 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army also increased its harangues against their organizations on its Sunday block time radio program, the activists complained.

The Tumandok had been subjected to the same threats and harassments before the Rizal Day massacre and mass arrests, the letter explained.

“The current red-tagging and subjecting of activists under intense surveillance are incidents that serve as preludes to warrant-less search and arrests, massacre and killings,” the activists said.

The appeal added that local political and church leaders personally know the activists who are engaged with them in dialogues and humanitarian activities for Aklanon’s welfare.

“Yes we are activists, but we are not terrorists,” the letter said.

“[W]e are appealing to the provincial government of Aklan through Governor Florencio T. Miraflores and to the Chairman of the Committee of on Human Rights in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Aklan to immediately take necessary action to protect our civil, constitutional and human rights as your constituents in the province,” the activists said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)