By Franklin A. Caliguid
BUTUAN CITY—Some 300 New People’s Army guerrillas staged coordinated raids on three mines operating in Claver, Surigao del Norte province, on Monday, killing three security guards.
The communist rebels burned down 10 dump trucks, eight backhoes, two barges and a guest house, according to police and military officials. The rebels also seized several guns from private security guards and smashed computers in offices.
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which is currently holding peace talks with the Aquino administration.
The military said the refusal of Taganito Mining Corp. (TMC), Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp. and Platinum Group Metals Corp. (PGMC) to give in to the NPA demand for a revolutionary tax prompted the attacks.
In Malacañang, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa said “this incident is an isolated case and the business community and the public can be assured that the government is on top of the situation, and that this will not deter this administration from luring investors into the country.”
“The situation in the area has been contained,” Ochoa said. “We are now exerting efforts to ensure that those responsible for these attacks are brought to justice.”
Days earlier, a rebel leader called for the dismantling of mining operations that wreak havoc on the environment and displace indigenous communities.
TMC and PGMC are among the country’s leading exporters of nickel ore to Japan, China and Australia.
TMC is owned by Nickel Asia Corp., the Philippines’ largest nickel producer with Japan’s Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. as its partner. Taganito HPAL is a sister company of TMC.
In June, Nickel Asia said its sales volumes were likely to increase about 20 percent this year, with about 60 percent of output going to China. The company was looking to sell about 10 million tons of ore this year, topping last year’s record of 8.3 million tons.
Some 300 rebels, wearing police uniforms and on several dump trucks, simultaneously swooped down on the compounds of TMC in Barangay (village) Taganito and PGMC, in nearby Barangay Cagdianao, at 10 a.m., according to a police spokesperson in the Caraga Region.
Superintendent Martin Gamba said company guards of TMC and PGMC were outnumbered and were forced to abandon their posts.
In the TMC raid, Gamba said the rebels set on fire the firm’s administrative office, several dump trucks and mining equipment.
Killed were three TMC security guards, said Colonel Rodrigo Diapana, commander of the Army’s 402nd Infantry Brigade based in Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur province.
4 taken hostage
Gamba said the rebels also seized four people, including Jose Anievas, the resident manager of TMC.
Chief Superintendent Reynaldo Rafal, the police chief of Caraga, said the rebels, some wearing military uniforms, seized three TMC officials at roadblocks, using them to gain entry into the mining sites.
After disarming private security guards at the site, the rebels herded all the people in an open area and burned down equipment and facilities, Rafal said.
Another group of rebels attacked the nearby PGMC also in Claver town. Three hours later, another mine site operated by Taganito HPAL, was also attacked by rebels.
Three barges bombed
Before retreating, the rebels bombed three barges docked at the TMC wharf.
As of press time, Gamba said the police had yet to assess the extent of damage on the nearby PGMC area, citing continued skirmishes between pursuing troops and the rebels.
Hours later, the rebels freed two of the hostages as military and police authorities continued to pursue them.
Gamba said one of those freed was Anievas. He did not identify the other freed hostage.
The police spokesperson said two more people, including the TMC chief security, remained in captivity.
20 Japanese unharmed
None of the 20 Japanese working for a joint-project between TMC and Sumitomo were harmed during the raid, according to Gamba. The Japanese live on the same compound that the rebels raided in Taganito village.
In Camp Aguinaldo, a military spokesperson said the attacks in Surigao del Norte were extortion-related.
“The New People’s Army is already losing mass-base support so it uses force or coercion to get financial support. That’s why this happened,” said Colonel Arnulfo Burgos Jr., public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Burgos considered mining firms and other private businesses “soft targets” for the NPA.
The attacks came days after the spokesperson of the National Democratic Front in Mindanao called on the NPA to dismantle “environmentally exploitative and destructive large-scale mining companies” operating in Caraga.
Jorge Madlos alias Ka Oris said the Aquino administration’s failure to protect the environment was displacing indigenous communities and was causing massive environmental havoc.
“The revolutionary movement shall continue to uphold and to carry our national policy of banning and dismantling large-scale mining, logging and agribusiness companies with a track record of violating revolutionary policies,” Madlos said in a statement.
The mining operations of TMC and PGMC in the hinterlands of Claver were marred with controversies amid alleged irregularities in the acquisition of mine permits, displacements of “lumad” (indigenous people) communities and environmental destruction.
In May, the Tribal Coalition of Mindanao Inc. (Tricom) asked the Supreme Court to cancel mining permits, licenses and agreements granted to TMC, PGMC and three other mining firms over supposed spurious tribal consent documents in securing licenses and permits.
Tribal communities also alleged that open-pit mines operated by the firms posed danger to the environment and health of the lumad communities in Claver.
Sporadic clashes between soldiers and communist rebels were reported in Claver and adjacent towns of Gigacuit and Bacuag as government troops pursued the rebels.
No casualties have been reported from the clashes, according to Diapana.
“More troops have been deployed as part of our relentless pursuit operations against the rebels,” he said. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan in Manila and Reuters