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Harassement of Katribu Members Reported in Palawan

Monday, April 15, 2013
Members of Katribu Partylist in Manila protesting the Laiban Dam Project back in 2010 (photo courtesy of Bulatlat).

Members of Katribu Partylist in Manila protesting the Laiban Dam Project back in 2010 (photo courtesy of Bulatlat).

The national democratic partylist group, Katribu, has denounced the current “red-tagging” and harassment of its members and campaigners in Palawan:

Partylist group KATRIBU expressed concern over reports of harassment of its members in Sofronio Espanola, Palawan. According to Kakay Tolentino, a KATRIBU provincial coordinator and members were summoned to the police station over armed attacks made on mining equipment last December. “This is malicious red-tagging,” commented Tolentino.

A backhoe owned by Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation was burned by unknown armed men last December in Punang, Sofronio Espanola. A military official initially suspected ‘environmentalists’ and ‘anti-mining citizens’ to be responsible for the event.

Shortly afterwards, New People’s Army rebels admitted to torching the backhoe. A military detachment was built in Punang after the incident. The detachment was burned last March.

“It is alarming that government forces immediately link our members with these armed attacks. It has a chilling effect to our members, especially in areas with critical issues, such as mining and militarization,” Tolentino said. KATRIBU Partylist membership is mostly in areas affected by development projects, businesses, and military operations. “Our advocacy is for the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights, environment, and livelihood. We are prominent and active where these rights are violated or threatened. But our party does not engage in armed attacks,” Tolentino insisted. “Implicating our organization and our members to these sort of illegal activities is malicious, and a dangerous indicator of electoral violence, which are prevalent as elections draws near.”

Sofronio Espanola is a municipality in Southern Palawan where Citinickel Mines and Development Corporation (CDMC) operates a large-scale nickel mine. Indigenous Palaw’an tribes dominate the area and are critical of the mining operations of CDMC, according to Tolentino. “KATRIBU members in the Espanola complained of adverse effects of the mining operations of CDMC to the environment and their livelihood. At the onset, CDMC violated the rights of indigenous peoples to a free, prior, and informed decision when they commenced operations. Now the IPs want CDMC out of their lands,” Tolentino shared. “This critical stance of the indigenous peoples are now being exploited to justify the harassment of our members.”

Last year, an Environmental Investigation Mission (EIM) in the areas affected by CDMC was initiated by locals, and was attended by scientists and volunteers from Manila and Puerto Princesa. The EIM aimed to gauge the effects of the mine operations to the people and the environment. “The EIM solidified that CDMC violates safe mining practices. For one, their tailings pond is far below the standard. Mine tailings flow almost directly to water sources used for irrigation and household purposes. Harvest has declined sharply and health issues became prevalent in the area since CDMC started operating,” Tolentino claimed.

CDMC, however, was not acquiescent. “Our findings were not welcomed by the CDMC, and has done nothing to fix the situation and refuses to rehabilitate and adequately compensate affected residents for the damages done. Instead, it has denied the allegations and attacked the credibility of the mission,” says Tolentino. “Yet on the grounds, the negative effects of the mine operations are indisputable.”

“These types of harassment is a pressing issue. Instead of watching out for illegal posting of campaign materials, the Comelec must make actions against these types of violations as priority number one,” Tolentino said. “The safety of the electorate has more bearing to a clean, honest, and credible elections.”

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