Wednesday, June 22, 2011

NPA Armed Contacts,Second Quarter of 2011,Part III:More Misery in Pantukan

In two recent "Development Aggression" entries I covered both the Good Friday Landslide in the municipality of Pantukan in ComVal (Compostela Valley Province) as well as the subsequent issues with the American-based multi-national that is attempting to mine there, Russell Mining. Pantukan is like so many of the communities in the Diwata Mountain Range. Blessed with almost unimaginable beauty they are simultaneously cursed with an over-abundance of natural resources. Some might be scratching their heads, wondering just how there can ever be an "over-abundance" of natural resources...

To digress for a moment,if one were to poll laymen and ask them what the number one cause of war and conflict has been throughout the history of man they would more than likely say, "Religion." Of course that seems like a fair answer but it is absolutely incorrect. The cause of almost every single conflict that has wracked this planet has been natural resources,or to be specific, control of those natural resources. Religion is sometimes used as the ideological vehicle but it isn't the actual impetus.

Segueing back to the Diwata Mountains...Gold more often than not brings only misery. It attracts the worst of humanity. Huge communities spring up around its source and for a brief while there is hope. Yet anywhere one finds fast money they also will find people who aim to live like parasites, off of the good fortune of others. Pimps,drug dealers...Corruption abounds, from those sworn to protect like the AFP and PNP (Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police) to those sworn to serve their communities in other ways, like politicians and civil servants.

Seeing vulnerable,ill communities insurgents are drawn to such places as centres of gravity, or ground zero in that particular dynamic. The NPA,or New People's Army, is drawn to such places for several reasons. The top two reasons are equally important; first, boom towns present a myriad of funding possibilities. "Revolutionary Taxes" are little more than Protection Rackets that target a vulnerable demographic. Living amongst a corrupt security apparattus what can a targetted business man or company really do? There is no choice but to pay up and pay they do. The average rate of "Taxation" for a multi-national corporation mining the Diwata Mountains averages a neat P1 Million ($22,000) PER MONTH. The NPA loves to tell anyone who listens that they are battling against foreign-based corporations who aim to siphon off the nation's patrimony as the poor Lumad (generic term applied to all Animist Hilltribes on Mindanao) are lucky if they even net 2 or 3 years of backbreaking labour at not much above the minimum wage.

The truth of the matter is that the NPA wants these multi-national bloodsuckers working these hills just as bad as the Government sitting in Manila does. Both are just as greedy and both have exactly the same endgame, control of the central axis of power and to gain this, or in the Government's case to retain this, they need money, lots of money.

The second reason is that the multi-nationals are a large cog in the dynamic that creates these battered mountain communities. What better pool of recruits could the NPA ever hope for? Let's see...on one hand you have an existence of pathetic misery with a life expectancy of 47 years with 1 meal a day of white rice and Bitter Melon (Ampalaya)...or a life as a guerilla where you are led to believe you are working to help create a world where everyone will have enough to eat and enough money to live. Naturally the life of a gueriila is many more times attractive and this is why the bast bulk of the NPA's forces on Mindanao are Lumad.

On May 4th, 2011 in Pantukan's Barangay Tibagon three columns from the 71IB (Infantry Battalion) were on patrol when they walked right into an NPA ambush courtesy of Front 2, the Crucifino Uballas Command. As is so often the case it began with an IED (Improvised Explosive Device,as in "bomb") that immediately killed the soldier on point (the soldier walking at the lead of one of the columns). In the 55 minute long firefight that followed 2 more soldiers were critically wounded. The AFP, trying as always to use its scraps for propaganda value claimed that the heartless NPA senselessly attacked an AFP element as it engaged in Search and Rescue Operations relating to that aforementioned Good Friday Landslide. Uh,guys? The landslide was in Barangay Kingking, the soldiers in this contact were in Barangay Tibagon. More over, Search and Rescue Operations ended 2 days earlier and don't involve three columned formations. People DO pay attention to the facts so the AFP should at least try to spin its dirtywork intelligently.

Speaking of Barangay Kingking though...On May 12th in that barangay's Sitio Maplog,near the border of Sitio Lawa'an the NPA's 3rd Pulang Bagani (Red Warrior) Company of the Merardo Arce Command (SMRC,as in Southern Mindanao Regional Committee) implemented an impromptu checkpoint.Shortly thereafter 4 motorcycles were stopped. All 4 were driven by SCAA soldiers employed by Saint Augustine Copper and Gold. Saint Augustine is a joint venture that serves as the aforementioned Russell Mining and its local partner NADECOR's (National Development Corporation) local operating entity. Philippine Laws require all foreign owned companies to engage a local partner in sn advantageous 60:40 split, in favour of the locally owned company. To try and maximise this disadvantageous relationship a multi-national will sometimes create a local operating entity,hence Saint Augustine.

On the morning in question a company geologist was on his way to examine a test hole.SCAA,or Special Citizens Active Auxiliary, is 1 of the 4 CAA (Citizens Active Auxiliaries) entities used by the AFP as the cornerstone of its Counterinsurgency Programe. While many Filipinos are quite familiar with another of the CAA entities,the CAFGU,or Citizens Active Geographical Force Unit, the SCAA remains a mystery to most.The are privately funded by business owners but trained and equipped by the AFP.While CAFGU will almost always have extremely old M1s (Garand 30 caliber) the SCAA almost always carries AFP quality weaponry (not that the AFP has anything really effective). Because CAAs on average have but 45 days of extremely minimal training and tend to carry AFP quality weaponry they are a primary target of NPA tactical assaults.

As the 4 motorcycles neared the checkpoint,with the geologist riding tandem on one,they realised too late that they were trapped.One SCAA soldier immediately dumped his bike and ran off into the jungle.A second,CAA Casiano,stupidly reached for the M4 carbine on his back and was shot to death.The other 2 CAAs and the geologist fully complied and the NPA captured three M4 carbines and three ICOM V87s (walkie-talkies). It was initially believed that the fourth CAA,the one who ran off into the jungle,had been captured or killed by the NPA but he surfaced after nightfall, 14 hours later.Apparently,in his blind fear he ran headlong through the jungle and clear over a cliff. Luckily for the CAA the cliff face turned into an incline several meters down and some scrub vegetation broke his fall. Other than some scratches and bruises he is none the worse for the wear.

Russell slash Saint Augustine holds a 600 hectare tract that spans parts of Barangay Kingking and an adjoining barangay. It is interesting that the geologist was up and about considering that the Provincial Government had specifically issued the outfit a Stop Work Order, or as it is called in the Philippines, a Cease and Desist Order some weeks before. The issue at the centre of the Order is the company's failure to address illegal encroachment upon its tenement by small scale miners. Though Russell doesn't hold paper on the portion of barangay Kingking that suffered the April 23rd landslide its tenement is also swarming with fly by night operators hoping to turn a fast profit. It would seem counter intuitive for a huge mining corporation to not act when people engage in what amounts to bold faced theft but the companies are only concerned with the bottom line.

If you are the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of a multi-national mining corporation and you have a tract producing say 14 Million US Dollars a month...but end up losing 1.2 Million US more from poaching small scale miners you need to do a cost:benefit analysis. If you turn the SCAA on them you will have what amounts to a sub-conflit (small war) on your operation's doorstep. If you are a publicly held corporation it will murder your share price as well as your stockholders' portfolio...If it expands to AFP participation the government might just clamp down on you. There are a plethora of less than savoury outcomes and so parasitic small scale miners are endured. If you are an LGU (Local Government Unit,as in municipal or provincial government) executive you don't have such freedom.Landslides that kill dozens every few months ON TOP of the social ills such a trade produces by relation arent worth stomaching,ergo the Order handed down by Governor Uy.

The NPA spin meisters justified the "operation" by pointing out that a local tribesman,Santos Manrique,had been killed just a couple of weeks before. Mr.Manrique was a very vocal opponent of the Russell tenement and his death is widely believed to be linked to that opposition. In reality Saint Augustine has refused to pay its Revolutionary Taxes. This in turn means that the NPA has declared open season on the company.

Just two days after the checkpoint incident, on May 14th, in that same barangay,Kingking,a routine torture...I mean interrogation of a villager by the 71IB revealed that 2 men had been seen laying a weapons cache in a newly dug pit. Carefully excavating the hole the soldiers discovered 8 IEDs in rice sacks. The IEDs had identical signatures as the device that recently killed 3 in the neighbouring town of Maco, in addition to wounding 7.

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