PHOTO: Banwaon families sought refuge in Barangay Balit in early 2015 after one of their leaders, Datu Necasio ‘Angis’ Precioso, was killed by suspected members of the paramilitary group operating in their ancestral land. This was after Datu Angis was publicly accused by military officials of supporting the New People’s Army.
The Banwaon of Agusan del Sur are largely concentrated in the towns of San Luis, Maasam and the Libang River Valley. Their main livelihoods are fishing and farming. Compared to the tribes living in the more mountainous areas, the Banwaons are village-settlers.[i]
The ancestral land of the Banwaon has been greatly threatened by the incursion of logging and mining companies. Hence, they formed the Tagdumahan Indigenous Peoples’ Organization in order to fight those who are going to destroy their land and environment, specifically destructive mining and logging activities.
Mining interests in San Luis and neighboring towns involve gold mining. These are applications for exploration that have been denied but are under appeal by: Corplex Resources, Inc. (1,620 hectares); Malampay Mining Company Inc. (15,380 hectares) in Esperanza and La Paz; Tambuli Mining Company (15,460 hectares) in Talacogon and San Luis; Macote Mining Company Inc. (12,910 hectares); Makilala Mining Company Inc (2,378 hectares) in San Luis and Talacogon; Pacific Maunlad Mining Corp (8,000 hectares) in La Paz, Makilala Mining Company Inc. (2,888 hectares) in Talacogon; and PDEP, Inc. ( 16,150 hectares) in Loreto and La Paz.[ii]
Because of the community’s opposition to these business interests, military units deployed to clear the area have been harassing residents and burning down houses and communal facilities. But when their village chief, Necasio “Angis” Precioso was killed by suspected military elements on December 22, 2014, the Banwaon were forced to flee. Precioso, the founding chair of Tagdumahan, was against the entry of Malampay, Makilala and Tambuli mining companies in the towns of San Luis, La Paz and Talacogon. By February 5, 2015, some 207 Banwaon families or 969 individuals have fled their communities due to more threats from the 26th IBPA of 4th IDPA. The military also ransacked the properties of three families.[iii]
The military has been implementing the COPD operations in the area without consultation with or consent from the Banwaon, which is a violation of the UNDRIP’s provision that all military activities should be with FPIC from the indigenous community. The military has also allegedly forced the Banwaon to be conscripted in the CAFGU. Their refusal to join meant being tagged as NPA supporters.[iv]
In the evacuation center, around 20 Banwaon datus representing the displaced communities declared on February 1, 2015 that their opposition to corporate mining interest in their ancestral land is the reason why the military has been conducting intensified operations in the area. Residents and leaders who oppose the entry of mining are branded by the military as supporters of the NPA. According to Datu Bagala Mauro Mansilyohan, the chief community adviser of the Banwaon in Sitio Tabon-Tabon, Bgy. Mahagsay, San Luis, the military and paramilitary group wanted the Banwaon to give up their lands so that a certain Mario Napungahan, a tribal chieftain who used to be with the CAFGU, would be able to get a consolidated CADT. The Datu opines that this would facilitate the easier entry of interested mining firms in the area.[v]
The Banwaon believe that a CADT is not the customary recognition of ancestral land. For the Banwaon, the government should recognize their ancestral land because they have been tilling it to produce food for their families and the community since time immemorial. Getting a CADT for the Banwaon means that this would result in the loss of their ancestral land, since several mining companies also have applications for big parcels of land to mine.[vi]
According to Kalumaran, this is similar to what happened to other communities in San Luis. In Bgy. Binicalan, communities that agreed to a consolidated CADT supervised by a certain Datu Benhur Mansuonay have been forced to support mining applications in the area.[vii]
According to the report of the fact-finding and mercy mission conducted for the evacuees of Bgy. Balit, most of the evacuees’ common illnesses were cough, fever, loose bowel movement, urinary tract infection, headches, and hypertension. Food was scarce, and the local government donated merely 20 sacks of rice. The NCIP did not respond to their issues nor checked on their welfare.[viii]
Families from the Banwaon community of Balit, Agusan del Sur, are among the indigenous peoples currently participating in the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya Para sa Sariling Pagpapasya at Makatarungang Kapayapaan.
The story above is an excerpt from the book, ‘The Point of Development: Shrinking Spaces for Lumad vis-à-vis Mining Projects’, released by the RMP-NMR established Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies.
[i] “Ethnic Groups of the Philippines.” N.d. 26 Oct. 2015. http://www.ethnicgroupsphilippines.com/people/ethnic-groups-in-the-philippines/banwaon/
[ii] “Mining Tenement Statistics Report.” Mines and Geosciences Bureau Regional Office 13. Op cit.
[iii] Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Report of the Balit Mission. Op cit.
[iv] “Military operations force Banwaon tribe to evacuate; violations rampant--International Solidarity Mission.” Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. 11 Mar. 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. http://www.rmp-nmr.org/articles/2015/03/11/military-operations-force-banwaon-tribe-evacuate-violations-rampant
[vi] “Banwaon datus: Mining interest leads to human rights violations.” Joint Press Release of Kalumaran, Karapatan and Banwaon Community Adviser. 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 July 2016. http://www.rmp-nmr.org/articles/2015/02/02/banwaon-datus-mining-interest-leads-human-rights-violations
[viii] Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Report of the Balit Mission. Op cit.