Toronto Filipino youth to Aquino: act now on Lumad exodus and LEP

Toronto Filipino progressive youth group Anakbayan-Toronto decry the spate of forced displacement of about a thousand residents of Barangay Kauswagan, Municipality of Loreto in the southern Philippines. The native people called generally by the term Lumad, sought help from the Agusan del Sur provincial government and now from the Davao City local government.

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Villagers have denounced the intensified presence of Bagani paramilitary troops of 26th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines that started on July 27. According to the village folk, the soldiers have been hunting down members of the New People’s Army (NPA) and have illegally captured and tortured four young individuals, namely Allan, 16 years old; Rico, 18; Roland, 19, and Jay-R, 17. They were allegedly the same troops who forced some residents to sign a blank document on behalf of a company who wants to establish a biogas plantation in the area.

Community-based Kahugpungan Alang sa Kalambuan (Kasaka) spokesperson Marilyn Egdames said the deployment of military personnel in the villages is “a smokescreen for government collusion with corporate interests in mineral resources, natural gas, jatropha, and palm oil – all of which Loreto is rich in.”

She also said that since 2012, Seng Hong Exploration has signed a contract with the Philippine government to explore Loreto, which is a part of the Agusan Marsh claimed to have rich natural gas deposits. The mainland Chinese oil company has been conducting geological and geophysical studies, including drilling of three exploratory wells in a portion of 750,000 hectares straddling the Davao Agusan basin.  Since 2003, the energy department has embarked on an aggressive promotion of oil and gas exploration in the country. Even as contracts with foreign companies wanting to explore potential oil sites in the country are being eyed.

Under the Petroleum Act, the government will earn some 60 % in royalty of whatever oil or natural gas will be drilled by oil companies from the site. While the petroleum sector is deregulated and liberalized, the pump pricing increase thus government officials looking for its most affordable alternative will continue to attract foreign companies to tap into the country’s oil and natural gas reserves.

With this in mind, the government ensures these projects be not derailed to boost oil production.

Massive military counterinsurgency operations are caused by these mining interests to which local people are demanding be withdrawn from their ancestral lands. According to Davao-based alternative online publication Kilab Multimedia, food blockades, harassment, arbitrary detention and other forms of human rights violations were experienced by the people not just in Barangay Kauswagan but also in Municipality of Patin-ay, Prosperidad, Agusan Del Sur. According to a statement by Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP) “half of this number are women, and there are 300 children among the thousand bakwit (evacuees.) Violence brought on by Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan is a scourge to the lives and rights of our women and children.”

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Militarization,  has been one of the main factors why there are numerous forced evacuations or bakwet occurring in Philippine rural areas. Dots can can easily be connected to draw the big picture on the phenomenon of migration of Filipinos, who are trying to provide a better life for their families, internally to informal settlements in urban core areas or abroad to countries like Canada.

Moreover, Canadian mining corporations remain to be one of the top investors in this sector in the Philippines. Extractive operations, for example, by Toronto Ventures, Inc in Bayug, Zamboanga del Sur, caused forced displacement of Subanons from the area. By far it is the first mining company doing such, which claimed the life of Jordan Manda, 11, on September 4, 2012 while his father outspoken tribal leader Timuay Manda was dropping him to school. Over a score more of indigenous Lumads have been slain from the beginning of the Aquino’s term in June 2010 until the present for resisting the land grabbing and destruction of their ancestral lands.

While national minorities are being neglected, the government has not answered the call for a genuine reform. Since July of this year, the progressive bloc in the House of Representatives is seeking the repeal of Republic Act (RA) 8479, otherwise known as The Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law of 1998, which oil firms have used as license to impose almost weekly oil price adjustments.

Labour export policy has continued further to be the major factor in the shift to global migration of Filipinos from the dictatorship Ferdinand Marcos to the current Aquino regime.

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Anakbayan-Toronto denounces Oplan Bayanihan and calls for the immediate pull-out of all military units in ancestral territories.

We continue to call for ending the Labour Export Policy! Struggle for National Industrialization!

Photo credit: Kilab Multimedia

Contact Reference: Rhea A. Gamana at anakbayan.toronto@gmail.com or 647.281.0652

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