• Higaonons mourn loss of Datu Sandigan

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    In his speech in the recently concluded Mining Conference 2014 organized by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), Vice President Jejomar Binay said, “We must take an accurate inventory of our nation’s natural resources and if possible plot a schedule for harnessing these resources with long-term goals firmly in mind.”

    Fausto Orasan, known as Datu Sandigan, to the Higaonons in his community, believed otherwise. Abundant with minerals such as gold, the ancestral domain of the Higaonons in Cagayan de Oro City have been subjected to several mining explorations and under Datu Sandigan’s leadership, the community consistently refused and condemned mining operations.

    Datu Sandigan believed that it’s possible to pursue economic activities that would alleviate the lives of the people without destroying the environment or compromising indigenous people’s rights.

    The leader had been steadfast in his defense of his ancestral domain, and had played an active role in the protection of the natural resources not only within his tribe’s ancestral domain but of the entire Cagayan de Oro City.

    This commitment, and difference of views with those who push for the extractive, exploitative and destructive industry of mining and logging, has cost Datu Sandigan’s life.

    In the afternoon of September 13, Datu Sandigan was gunned down by unidentified men in Sitio Cabalang, Barangay Tuburan, Cagayan de Oro City while he was on his way home from a meeting. He died instantly from the multiple gunshot wounds in his body.

    His wife Bae Matatao Orasan was joined in her mourning by the Higaonon community and the local government of Cagayan de Oro. The City Environment Officer described Datu Sandigan as the “soul of the forests.”

    Datu Sandigan had been an active partner of the local Environment Office in the campaign to preserve the remaining forests in the city uplands. He was part of several raids in mining and logging sites conducted by the local government.

    On the day before he was killed, Datu Sandigan received a death threat. Apparently, not the first. In fact, according to Bae Matatao, in June last year, Datu Sandigan was shot in their house by still an unknown assailant, but he survived that attempt on his life.

    The Cagayan de Oro City police are gathering leads on the death of the tribal chieftain. Authorities are looking at two angles of the brutal slay of Datu Sandigan—politics, illegal mining and logging. Investigators revealed that they have already identified two persons who they suspect as Orasan’s assailants.

    Indeed, the message was loud and clear—the extractive industry in Cagayan de Oro is a serious big business, and anyone who crosses its path, has to be silenced. At all cost.

    This is so in the entire Philippines. Datu Sandigan is the 26th community rights defender against mining and other exploitation of natural resources who was killed under the Aquino administration. (Alyansa Tigil Mina)

    The view that natural resources is for corporate profit, and that human rights, and lives are simply part of business expense, seem to be so ingrained in our system, that not even the change of administration will change this development model.

    What is demanded now is a radical shift in how we look at our resources, and our people.

    The natural resources are finite. The massive exploitation of nature has increased the vulnerability of communities to the dire impacts of climate change. The conversion of food sources—farms, rivers and seas, forests—to open pit mines and tailings disposal is worsening people’s hunger.

    Future generations will have to continue to rely on nature for their survival. To rob them of nature’s generosity is inequitable, and unjust.

    Datu Sandigan’s fate is both a cautionary and inspirational story. It reminds us of what we are up against and what it takes to win our struggles. Most of all it reminds us why we must stand and continue to fight. The risks are great, but the costs of not standing up and not speaking out are even greater.

    Bae Matatao, along with the family and supporters of Datu Sandigan, laid her husband, the tribal leader, and the community rights defender, to rest.

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