SANTA CRUZ, Zambales: Police escorted a line of trucks loaded with nickel ore from a mining site in Barangay Bayto, but failed to break through a horde of protesters who have been barricading the road for the past two weeks, The Manila Times learned.
Dr. Benito Molino, chairman of Concerned Citizens of Santa Cruz, told The Manila Times that about 30 police officers and over 100 workers from the Zambales Diversified Mining Company faced off with more than 200 residents of Barangay Bayto.
Molino said the town police chief, who he identified only as Reyes, tried to mediate and convince the people to let the trucks pass.
The protesters were adamant against leaving though, appealing to the police officer’s sense of obligation to keep the peace and to respect the peaceful struggle of the people to defend their rights.
The situation became tense at about 3 p.m. when ZDMC officials began dispatching workers to the area with apparent orders to agitate the protesting residents, an action believed to have had the support of municipal officials.
Molino pointed out that policemen dressed in civilian clothes were reportedly seen riding in the mining company’s pick-up truck.
“This is bad . . . the mining companies together with local officials are using mining workers against affected people. This is a blatant violation of human rights,” Molino said.
But vigilant residents stood their ground and prevented the trucks from passing through their barricade forcing them to return to the mining site.
A woman identified as Luisa, one of the protest leaders, was allegedly picked up by a policeman identified only as Siquig, Molino said.
Protesting residents, headed by village councilmen Raul Ecleo and Louie Mirador started barricading the highway last month in protest of the continued operation of mining firms in the province.
Locals are blaming the mines for causing flooding and massive destruction to the environment.
Supported by affected residents from nearby villages, residents of Barangay Bayto successfully prevented about 26 trucks of ZDMC from transporting nickel ore from the mine to the port.
Molino acknowledged that ZMDC offered to negotiate with the residents but last week but the parties agreed on nothing specific.
The mining firm said it will invite other mining companies to attend another next meeting.
Sangguniang Panlalawigan committee chairman for legal matters Renato Collado told The Manila Times in a phone interview that the lack of quorum in the last two sessions has kept the council from taking up the problem.
Mudflows flooded Santa Cruz in October last year as an aftermath of Typhoon Lando that severely affected a number of barangays, including Bayto. Two people died as red mud destroyed homes, wasted appliances and killed farm animals.
The seeming inaction by local officials to the problems has spurred residents to initiate anti-mining protests.