COMPOSTELA, Compostela Valley – Hundreds of farmers encamped at the roadside here Friday to protest the ongoing exploration of a mining company.
Farmers from the Compostela Farmer’s Association (CFA) barricaded the highway as mining company Agusan Petroleum and Minerals Corporation (Agpet) started its drilling operations today a few meters away from the paved highway in Sitio Nursery, Barangay Ngan, Compostela, Compostela Valley.
The farmers are already restless morning of Friday, many squeezing their way into a tent area overlooking the area where the drilling machine is located and fenced.
Sitio Nursery residents, some whose houses are located only meters away from the drilling operations, got out of their house to join the protesting group.
The house where the tent was pitched is a few steps away from the improvised fence of the drilling crew. It is where the rice for the protesting farmers is cooked.
The pounding of the drill on the ground was ceaseless, loud and constant, overpowering the murmurs and, sometimes, the invectives the farmers throw at it and the company.
“They sneaked in their equipment early in the morning, while residents are still asleep,” said Bello Tindasan, CFA chairman.
Tindasan said they started to gather at the exploration site in Sitio Nursery, Barangay Ngan Thursday after getting information of Agpet’s arrival.
While some farmers say they already want to wrestle away Agpet’s machinery and some want to lift it off the ground and “confiscate” it, they can only look at it and listen to the unchallenged thumps the drill makes.
“When they were installing the equipment, police from the PPO (provincial police office) and troops from the (Army’s) 66th IB (Infantry Battalion) guarded them,” said Tindasan.
Tindasan said they will “exhaust all peaceful solution even if they already stamped upon our rights.”
Police Inspector Noli Biado, deputy police chief of the Compostela Police Station, however said their role is “just to go in between to avoid violence from both parties. That is our job.”
“They (Agpet) asked assistance from us, so we only responded. That is our job,” said Piado.
Piado said that “both sides have not become violent.”
Nestor Bation, chairman of the federation of Puroks (sub-villages), said almost all of the 20 sitios of Barangay Ngan have come to Sitio Nursery to protest.
“Our role is to keep the peace. The people said they are not at peace if Agpet will push their way to our communities. So we are also here to heed that call,” he said.
But Tindasan says Agpet already “employed the Army and police to aid it in its interests.”
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Along the road to Barangay Ngan, even slogan printed in rice sacks differ.
One slogan signed by the CFA said: “Palayason ang Agpet (Stop Agpet)” while another sign without a signature says “CFA ug NPA usa ra (The CFA and the NPA (New People’s Army) are one).”
While most of the sitios in Barangay Ngan have mainly farming as livelihood, Sitio Nursery residents are also small-scale miners.
Mining machineries like ball mills can be seen meters from the highway as some tunnels of residents are also near the road. The muffled churning of the ball mills is drowned-out by the drilling machine.
“What we get from these tunnels are very small amounts we use to augment our income and to pay for periodic needs like the tuition of our children,” said a resident.
Tindasan said the residents lack the equipment to refine ores.
“They do not plan to make tunneling their primary means of living, much more profit from it. What is important for us is how we can also preserve the environment,” he said.
He said the mining exploration in Sitio Nursery is the first but not the last.
“We know that they will dig 19 holes in total to gather samples. But we know they will not waste money with explorations they have no good basis. They then proceed with their large scale operations soon after,” he said.
Margarito Alcos, Jr, chairman of Barangay Ngan, said he “do not know yet what will happen.”
“Even if we knew, what can we do? We are clearly told by the MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau) that if the order came from the top (national office), we have no power to say no,” he said.
Alcos said that they “have no coordination or contact with the MGB.”
“We have passed barangay resolutions to cancel the operations because the people do not want it. But, the MGB said we cannot stop it,” he said.
Alcos talked with an Agpet representative and the police force about noon Friday amid the tension.
Farmers were already agitated, even suggesting they give a deadline to Agpet to stop the exploration process and remove its equipment.
However, gave time and wait for Compostela Vice-Mayor Reynaldo Castillo to arrive and set another dialogue.
“We will not allow Agpet to continue with this exploration in any area anymore. We do not want him here and we will camp here and not let their equipment pass,” said Tindasan.
MGB record shows that the Agusan Petroleum and Mineral Corp. was granted two exploration permits in Compostela town, to cover the villages of Nursery, Bango, Pulang Lupa, Mambusao and Kantigbaw, all located in Barangay Ngan.
The company’s permits cover one area in Compostela spanning 9,999.53 hectares, while the other area spans the boundary of Compostela and New Bataan towns with a total of 2,416.91 hectares.
Both were approved in April 18, 2012 and supposedly have expired last April 18 of 2013 but were extended to July 2016.
Agusan Petroleum is a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation owned by Presidential uncle and businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.(davaotoday.com)
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