By Lina Sagaral Reyes
PDI Mindanao Bureau
(First of two parts)
CORTES, SURIGAO DEL SUR — In the dying days of the Arroyo regime, there were whispered talks about harried deals between highly-placed officials in government agencies and business bigwigs to exploit what’s left of the country’s resources.
Among these quickie pacts are those that permitted companies to continue logging the last natural forests in Mindanao in the guise of developing tree plantations; thus, sealing the doom of indigenous peoples for whom the forests stands are ancestral domains as well as threatening the biodiversity of our islands and our country’s climate change mitigation strategies.
The case of the Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA) 02-2010 signed between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Ventura Timber Corporation (VTC), is a testament to such haste.
The paper chase to get an IFMA could last at least six months.
But a paper trail tracked by the Philippine Daily Inquirer-Mindanao Bureau showed that in the span of just four days in February 2010, three vital documents were signed in the upper echelons of two government agencies despite the absence of pre-requisite processes and papers from the ground as required by law, while in Butuan City, a memorandum of agreement was used to substitute for the Free and Prior Informed Consent process.
Having expired in March 2008, the former timber logging agreement (TLA) 355 of VTC, was converted into an IFMA. The PDI got no record of the VTC application for conversion of its TLA into IFMA .
The only record we got to show that there was an IFMA application was a work order dated Dec. 7, 2008 by the NCIP Regional Director Jose Dumagan Jr. instructing an eight-man team to facilitate the FPIC process.
The Ifma, signed by then-DENR Secretary Eleazar Quinto and VTC President Calvin Tan David on Feb. 10, 2010, allowed the latter 25 years (2010-2035) to exploit three parcels of forestlands in Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Norte.
According to the IFMA, a parcel covered the towns of Lanuza and Cortes (2,762 hectares), a second parcel in Madrid town, all in Surigao del Sur and another parcel located in Jabonga, Agusan del Norte.
The specific sitios and barangays covered by the IFMA were not mentioned. The hectarage covered for each town was not specified.
The IFMA, covering an area of only 7,363.05 hectares as compared to the more than 33,000 hectares of the TLA, was signed even without the Certificate of Pre-condition and Compliance Certificate from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), contrary to requirements by the NCIP Administrative Order No. 1, series of 2006 and mandated in the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act ( R. A. 8371).
Ironically, these two supposedly “prerequisite” documents were issued only three days later, on February 12.
The NCIP Resolution 001 which issued the Certificate of Pre-condition was approved and signed by four NCIP Commissioners in an en banc meeting.
The four signatories are: Rolando Rivera (commissioner for Luzon), Rizalino Segundo (commissioner for Region 2), Felecito Masagnay (commissioner for Southern and Eastern Mindanao), Miguel Imbing Sia Apostol, (commissioner for the Cordillera and Region1). Moreover, Masagnay also signed the Compliance Certificate as NCIP chairman-in-charge.
On Friday, the ninth of February, a day before the Ifma was signed with dispatch in Quezon City, 13 leaders belonging to the Kahugpungan sa Tribung Mamanwa Manobo (Katrimma), who has applied for ancestral domain claim over the area, were herded from their homes in Lanuza and Cortes in Surigao del Sur to a hotel in Butuan City.
There at the hotel hall, according to the tribal leaders, NCIP Regional Director Jose Dumagan Jr. persuaded them to sign as second party in a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) written in English.
Among the stipulations of the MOA is that it would substitute for the FPIC process and that Katrimma would allow VTC, the first party, to operate within their ancestral domain claim.
But under the IPRA, agreements like this could not have been signed by the parties unless the indigenous peoples have previously given their explicit and written informed consent beforehand to the IFMA. The MOA cannot substitute for the FPIC process.
Besides, the MOA’s third party, Eugenio Insigne, chair of the NCIP, has never affixed his signature on the MOA.
Yet, this MOA was the basis for the NCIP Resolution to issue the Certificates of Compliance and Pre-condition.
Previously, in December 2009, these Mamanwa-Manobo leaders and their members had unanimously agreed not to give their consent to VTC during a series of consultation meetings facilitated by the eight-man FPIC team led by Eulo Nugan and sent by Dumagan through a work order.
The tribes’ decision was reached after a baylan (spiritual leader), during a ritual, foretold that the logging would destroy their sources of livelihood.
But there is no record of that December 2009 FPIC process at the provincial nor regional NCIP offices in Tandag and Butuan, respectively. Sources at the NCIP-Tandag office say that it was never finished after the Mamanwa –Manobo ritual led to a no-consent stance on Dec. 23 last year.
A closer examination of the MOA reveals that it was not signed by the NCIP Commissioner or his authorized representative, as third party, and there is no direct translation of the English MOA into a language that can be understood by the Mamanwa-Manobo as required by law.
Only 12 of the 13 leaders mentioned in the MOA signed. The 13th leader, Anecita Gonzales, president of the women’s organization in Barangay Lubcon, left the hotel hurriedly soon after she realized what was happening.
Moreover, this MOA was revoked by the tribal leaders twelve days later, in a resolution filed on February 23. In his affidavit on the controversial MOA, Carmelito Montenegro, said that he was given an envelope containing cash, and was told that the cash amounted to P50,000.
But when he counted it, the one-thousand bills only amounted to P40,000. He later surrendered the cash to the Katrimma treasurer.
There are also no Certificates of Consent from other indigenous peoples in the other areas mentioned in the IFMA and in the NCIP Resolution.
The VTC also has not asked consent from the indigenous peoples in Jabonga, Madrid and Kitcharao, areas mentioned to have been part of the IFMA in the NCIP documents.
The VTC also were unable to get social acceptability resolutions from the barangays before the IFMA was signed. However, the barangays of Sibahay, Mampi and Nurcia in Lanuza towns issued resolutions of consent and social acceptability three months later, only in May, 2010.
PROTEST, RESISTANCE AND DELAYED RESPONSE
Immediately, on March 16, the leaders who signed the MOA in Butuan City, through their partners Green Mindanao Association and Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC) informed the NCIP in-charge Roque Agaton of the revocation of the MOA through a tribal council resolution.
On April 23, Myrna Caoagas of the NCIP ancestral domains division, in a letter to Carl Cesar Rebuta of LRC dated April 23, acknowledged the complaint and relayed the message to NCIP Provincial Office in Tandag for “ immediate action” on May 11.
NCIP Provincial officer Charlyn Binghoy responded by sending a letter to Eulo Nogan, FPIC process team leader asking for a progress report on May 17. She also transmitted the letter to Dumagan.
On September 30, Binghoy told Philippine Daily Inquirer-Mindanao Bureau that she never any response from Nugan and Dumagan.
In July and August, the Katrimma leaders led by Montenegro, had kept on returning to the NCIP offices in Tandag seeking response on and support for their opposition against the VTC logging operations.
But they said, they were told they cannot do anything anymore about the VTC operations.
On Sept. 6, Katrimma asked for copies of the IFMA and Certificate of Pre-condition and Compliance. These requests were again transmitted by Binghoy to Dumagan on Sept. 13. But Dumagan ignored these letters and sent no word to Binghoy.
“We are hurt not only because the logging will destroy the land. We are also pained becaue the government seems to be ignoring our complaints. We have persevered for so long and all we get is silence.
“We are passed from one office to another. We are frustrated that they tell us there is nothing we can do to stop the logging. Then they tell us to dialog and negotiate offering us money for our land,” said Primo Falcon, Katrimma vice-chair.
Six months after they have begun to seek for help,information and support in March and yet the lumad of Katrimma, had kept on returning to their homes from the NCIP office in Tandag, empty-handed.
On that eventful day of November 23, I went cold when I got the news that one of the 57 massacre victims was Atty. Cynthia Oquendo, a fellow activist, friend, and mother. The last time I saw her was when we had a small gathering a few weeks before: sharing a few drinks and friendly banters over sisig and crispy pata with a few college friends.
There was never any indication that that would be the last time I would see Cynthia, no black butterfly hovering around nor stories of goodbyes that in Cebuano folklore denotes a discreet premonition of one’s passing. We were there gathered, partaking of the cozy warmth of shared memories and the usual fare of how-are-yous sprinkled with a dose of political rhetoric. It was a nice albeit short night.
Many weeks later, there she was plastered on the frontpage: her voice muffled forever, body riddled with bullets, covered in dirt, dumped with 56 other bodies in a shallow grave dug using the Maguindanao provincial government’s backhoe. Brutalized. Dehumanized.
I browsed through various online analyses to understand the morbid logic behind these deaths and all other victims of political violence. I wanted to understand because in less than ten years, I have lost friends through a murderer’s barrel, Cynthia among them. There was Marvin Marquez, a youth activist and my son’s godfather, felled by sniper bullets in the hinterlands of Bohol. Another was Rev. Edison Lapuz, a human rights defender and an occasional house visitor, brutally assassinated while relaxing in his father’s house. There were also farmer-leader friends like Mayong Auxilio and Victor Olayvar, whom I met during my days as an agrarian reform volunteer, killed while preaching peasant rights to landless farmers.
Grief did gnaw at the soul for every passing of a dear friend. It made me reflect on this monster of a social structure that breeds and coddles sociopaths.
According to Mike Dobbie of the International Federation of Journalists: The Maguindanao massacre “is a culmination of the decades-long culture of impunity, where it’s been okay to kill journalists and nothing will ever happen — there will be no prosecution, there will be no trial..” Extrajudicial executions have been so rampant that the United Nations sent a team to investigate. In a 2007 report, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said that:
Since 2001 the number of politically motivated killings in the Philippines has been high and the death toll has mounted steadily. These killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, and land reform advocates, as well as many others on the left of the political spectrum. Of particular concern is the fact that those killed appear to have been carefully selected and intentionally targeted. The aim has been to intimidate a much larger number of civil society actors, many of whom have, as a result, been placed on notice that the same fate awaits them if they continue their activism. One of the consequences is that the democratic rights that the people of the Philippines fought so hard to assert are under serious threat.
The murders however went unabated even with strong international and local pressure exerted on the Arroyo government. From January to October of 2009 alone, KARAPATAN, a human rights organization, reported 78 extrajudicial killings of journalists and political activists raising the total to 1,119 victims under the Arroyo administration. For KARAPATAN, the blame squarely lies on the shoulders of the government:
In the first place, the massacre would not have happened had the AFP stopped supporting vigilantes and militiamen which it conveniently appropriates for its counter-insurgency program. It would not have happened had the PNP been serious in disbanding and dis-arming private armies as its billboard at Osmeña Boulevard brags. It would not have happened had the Gloria government junked the rule of the gun and its militarist Oplan Bantay Laya…These practices spawned a culture of lawlessness and worsening human rights violations across the land. Local warlords, like their national counterparts, impose their will as laws over their dominion. Worse, law enforcers, including military commanders, become warlords too.
Analysts point to a ‘weak’ or a ‘failed’ state as the structural cause for these deaths. Local elites like the Ampatuans ensure the political survival of national elites in exchange for largesse from the national coffer. To sustain this parasitism, any threat is muffled with weapons siphoned off from corrupt military brass. News reports relay that the Ampatuans maintain a weapons cache that could arm three full-sized battalions, replete with 60-mm mortars, machine guns, explosives, recoilless rifles, AK 47s, among others.
Truth be told, wherever political dynasties reign, a clan-owned military-supplied armory can surely be found. It comes as no surprise then that the massacre happened during the election period. Elections are often imagined as democratic exercises, instead these have become catalysts for intensified, and often violent, elite competition.
With Malacanang-pampered tinpot dictators spread all across the archipelago, the Ampatuan massacre will not be the last. Let’s just pray that no one we know will be the next victim. Again.