Papuans want Filipino miner out of their ancestral land
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - October 29, 2018 - 12:00am

A Filipino miner is causing social unrest in the Pacific island of Bougainville, the same way he stirred up Mindanao tribesmen against his mining. Tens of thousands of Bougainville natives are livid that SR Metals Inc., owned by Eric Gutierrez, is to log and consequently extract copper. Central authorities in Papua New Guinea are being asked why an outsider has been allowed into the Panguna forest. Foreign mining in Panguna had triggered a ten-year civil war, 1988-1998, that claimed the lives of 20,000 people. Since then Panguna has been declared a “no-go zone.”

Gutierrez’s SRMI up to recently was extracting nickel in the mountains of Tubay, Agusan del Norte. Dispossessed Lumad had opposed his 20 years of supposed small-scale mining that actually exceeded legal limits. It also denuded forests in and beyond its 128-hectare concession. Three thousand tribe folk and lowlanders had petitioned for SRMI’s closure, to no avail. Their lawyer was assassinated in broad daylight and a protesting priest falsely accused of rape. Violent clashes spread to other mines in other towns over the years, during which 68 tribesmen were killed.

SRMI claims to have received exploration rights from Papua president John Momis, a defrocked Catholic priest. Gutierrez’s partner, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice was reported to have said they are moving all their equipment from Agusan to Bougainville. Supposedly the government in that Papuan territory welcomes them into 183 square kilometers of forest and proven copper mines.

Bougainville tribe leader Cletus Miarama disputed them, however. “SR Metals did not have free and informed consent to go into our customary land and explore,” he declared. “They are going into our customary land without our permission. They are even also going into our sacred sites.” The battle scarred Bougainville natives never surrendered to the superior government forces. Their civil strife ended in stalemate, and can reignite for the same exploitation of Panguna natural resources.

SRMI gradually closed down during the first two years of the Duterte administration. At least thrice during the 2016 presidential campaign and five times thereafter President Duterte publicly denounced Gutierrez as a destructive, abusive miner. The BIR presently is investigating SRMI for unpaid taxes from P28-billion in ore exports to China. In 2008, the Supreme Court found the mine guilty of over-extracting nickel from its yearly 50,000-ton ore limit.

Gutierrez had found favor with the Aquino administration as financier of the then-ruling Liberal Party, and Erice as spokesman. President Noynoy Aquino reportedly signed as witness for SRMI to recompense original Tubay mine licensee Rodney Basiana P1 billion, a debt that was never paid. Aquino also twice awarded SRMI for supposed responsible mining.

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The presidential spokesman’s postscript on Isidro Lapeña’s removal as Customs chief is intriguing. Supposedly Lapeña was a victim of a smear drive by drug syndicates and their abettors at the bureau.

Three persons publicly had disputed Lapeña’s clearing of his men of the 1.6-ton shabu smuggling via four magnetic lifters at Manila pier. None of them are criminals.

PDEA chief Aaron Aquino may be junior to Lapeña, who once headed the agency, but he was on the ball from the start. His data analyses reconstructed the events. Clues were in a separate but aborted sneak-in of 355 kilos of shabu in two other lifters at the Manila International Container Port. Brought to the four lifters found in Cavite, Aquino’s best sniffer dog detected drugs. Weighing the truck, cargo container, and four steel lifters against the declared import gross and net weights, the discrepancy of 1,600 kilos was discovered – to indicate the volume of contraband that slipped past Customs. Street prices of shabu plunged in Metro Manila, while bigger volumes began to be taken from pushers – showing a sudden flood of the drug. Lab tests proved that the shabu onrush and the 355 kilos seized at Customs were of the same purity, so made in one factory. Likely it was from the Golden Triangle, as the declared shipment origins, Malaysia and Vietnam, are not meth suppliers.

Customs officer Atty. Lourdes Mangaoang is a resource person of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission that is probing all the sacked Customs officials. As well, of the NBI that is investigating the narco-smuggling. Mangaoang reviewed x-rays of the four lifters based on her five years as head of that unit. At once she noticed an oddity: x-ray inspection was done at 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, July 14, before the operators’ 8 a.m.-shift. Images showed cloudiness in the lifters’ hollow insides, indicating contraband. That should have signaled a physical inspection – more so since it was the first time that lifters were being x-rayed at the MICP. Instead the lifters were cleared for release. Mangaoang knew from experience in interdicting P17 billion worth of firearms, drugs, and jewelry that metal was the usual concealment of contraband. Since there were no requisite cranes, chains, cables, and support frames, she noted, the lifters were never intended for industrial use -- only from smuggling.

Sen. Dick Gordon may have yelled at the summoned officials, but that was how he broke Customs Agent Jimmy Guban into confessing. With a police colonel and a PDEA deputy, Guban had tried to sneak in the two lifters, but staged a “bust” of the 355 kilos of shabu to look like heroes when preparation fouled up. Gordon also discovered the script that Customs deputies were reading to mislead his Blue-Ribbon Committee probe. He made the consignees-for-hire point to their masterminds, and the Cavite warehousemen to narrate the Chinese lessors’ retrieval of the contraband – never to return despite the long remaining duration of the lease. He sewed together the evidence and testimonies. Like, the weak underbellies of the lifters at MICP and in Cavite were sawed open to get the contents. He correlated the asbestos fabric at both sites as heat protection for the shabu contents while being shipped on open decks under the sun. Gordon gave President Duterte initial word about Guban, which was why the latter included the police colonel and PDEA deputy in the latest drug matrix.

Those can’t be vilification campaigns. Legal counsels tend to think themselves superior to the counseled. When acting as spokesmen, they then tend to overspeak for the client. President Duterte’s last word on the matter was so different: “I wouldn’t have gotten (Lapeña) if he was corrupt. The perpetrators really just got past him because these were insiders. He couldn’t get hold of them; the system overwhelmed him.”

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