ZAMBOANGA CITY: Communist rebels have claimed responsibility for a daring raid on a logging company in Sultan Kudarat province in Mindanao in southern Philippines.
Efren Aksasato, a spokesman for the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said the raiders destroyed a backhoe, a grader, two dump trucks and a logging truck, among other equipment and assets of M&S Co. Inc., an affiliate of David M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI), in the village of Hinalaan in Kalamansig town.
He added that the “punitive action” was carried out recently by the NPA’s Mount Daguma Front Operations Command.
“The Lumad [indigenous people]and peasant masses in the area have persistently demanded to hold accountable and punish the company for numerous atrocities to the civilian populace affected by [its]operation,” Aksasato said.
He also accused the company of landgrabbing and human-rights violations, among other serious crimes against the Dulangan-Manobo tribes.
“It has been four decades, or since DMCI acquired M&S from the Magsaysay family, that [DMCI] has unceasingly encroached on the Dulangan people in Sultan Kudarat. A string of atrocities and human rights violations perpetrated by fascist government troops, company-hired paramilitary groups and company guards were directly connected to the company’s aggressive operation,” Aksasato said.
He added that the depressing plight of the Dulangans worsened at the course of the company’s implementation of the Integrated Forest Management Agreement or IFMA that began in early 1990.
Aksasato said the tribesmen had been prevented from tilling their own farms and those who attempted to do so were harassed by company guards.
“Fearing for their lives, they were forced to leave their communities. Their farms planted with native coffee, corn and various food crops were bulldozed and cleared. And before long, the company started planting Arabica coffee, eucalyptus deglupta [bagras], gmelina arborea, acacia mangium, pinus carribea, falcata and mahogany among others,” he added
Aksasato said the tribesmen have been opposing the encroachment on their ancestral domain, but can only do so little to protect their rights.
In August last year, according to him, some 300 residents gathered at and barricaded a logging area in Sitio Elem in the village of Salangsang in Lebak town to protest the clearing up of their farms and demolition of their houses for construction of logging roads.
Aksasato said the Mines and Geosciences Bureau in 2000 approved the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement for Kalinan Timber Corp., now South Davao Development Co. Inc.—another DMCI affiliat—covering 1,274 hectares of mineral-rich area within the IFMA concession of M&S.
He noted that while M&S and DMCI insist that they are pursuing an environmentally sustainable and financially viable approach that directly addresses poverty alleviation, jobs creation and the decentralization of progress, as well as the imperative of preserving and developing the forest resources, the Dulangan and settlers incessantly decry their poverty, landlessness and beleaguered state, injustices and government neglect.
“More and more of the masses are dispossessed of their lands and means of living while Consunji revels in super profits from exporting raw forest products and manufacturing high-quality construction materials. They are relentlessly hounded by the company guards and mercenary agents and are obliged to pay for the company’s safe conduct pass,” Aksasato said.
“Being one of the few elite families in the country who are well-entrenched politically and economically, the Consunjis are enjoying government backing and unrestrained from getting full control of the resources in the Dulangan-Manobo ancestral lands. They rely on military power, hire private goons disguised as Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary elements under the 38th Infantry Battalion and organize their workers into a private army to augment the company’s forces. It is a company policy to pay their guards and armed workers who are able to eliminate anybody who stands in their way,” he claimed.
Aksasato said DMCI also employs “mercenary” troops under the 6th Infantry Division, the Regional Public Safety Battalion and Special Action Force, including the 7th and 8th Marine Battalion Landing Teams to protect their economic interests in the province.
There was no immediate statement or reactions from M&S or DMCI, and even the military and police authorities over the allegations and accusations of Aksasato against them.
The NPA has been fighting for a separate state for more than five decades.