Pattern of violence
The inventory of damaged or stolen properties alone conveys the enormity of the New People’s Army attack on the Taganito Mining Corp. in Claver, Surigao del Norte: 9 barges, 20 dump trucks, 22 backhoes and bulldozers, a smelting plant, a guest house and other buildings bombed and burned. Cell phones, computer equipment and firearms looted. Also, some 2,000 employees, including Japanese engineers of the mining plant, held hostage for hours—the attack apparently a leisurely enough event for the NPA rebels that they had time to conduct an “indoctrination” session with the mine’s employees on top of the burning and looting they had come to do.
The attack on TMC was only the largest and most spectacular of the NPA’s coordinated assault against three mining concessions in Surigao, the other two targets being Taganito HPAL Nickel and Platinum Group Metals. The widespread destruction has caused the mines to cease operations for the meantime, depriving local workers of their jobs and throwing prospects for the growth of the mining sector this year, projected at 17 percent, out of whack.
Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda continues to insist the NPA attack was an “isolated” incident. Yet only a few days earlier, suspected rebels also burned 12 Victory Liner buses in Tarlac—the fourth such attack on the company in as many years, said its spokesman, for its refusal to comply with the NPA’s demands for what it calls “revolutionary tax”—the kind of low, contemptible shakedown the communist rebels and their sympathizers love to decry when done by the military and police, but which assumes the glamorous sheen of the so-called revolutionary struggle when wielded by them and their guns. If Lacierda would rather not see a pattern in these incidents, he is entitled to his own version of reality—but certainly not from his official perch as a Cabinet member whose duty is to provide his boss unblinkered policy advice and perspective.
President Aquino has spent the last months or so travelling to other countries to woo foreign investors back to the Philippines, declaring the country “open for business” once again, after the cronyism and rapacity of the Arroyo years. The vibe has been good so far, with international business observers expressing a largely bullish outlook on the country. But in light of the stepped-up NPA banditry around the country that only ends up sabotaging whatever commercial endeavors stouthearted investors are willing to sink in, it’s clear that the state’s security forces are coming up short on the back-end part of the deal.
Simply put, businesses need to feel secure to go about their business. Once they fork over money and resources to build an enterprise, they have a reasonable right to safety, security and freedom from harassment and coercion—whether by corrupt government functionaries or by jungle renegades in the grip of a bankrupt ideology. All those rosy PowerPoint presentations before world business titans about the Philippines finally getting its act together will go for naught if, in one stroke, 300 NPA rebels can raze a multimillion-dollar mining site to the ground, with no soldier or policeman in sight to attempt to restore order, until many hours after the attackers have left the place a smoldering heap.
Peace negotiations are scheduled to resume in Norway later this month between the government and the National Democratic Front, an effort that has hardly inched forward in 24 years. With the way the NDF’s armed wing is rampaging across the country, deploying its presumptuous brand of alternative justice (for allegedly damaging the environment and violating workers’ rights), the government panel should make it plain to the rebel group that no peace deal is in the offing unless it can verifiably rein in the violence and banditry of its armed minions.
And, to demonstrate its own commitment to upholding the law, Malacañang should direct the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to ensure as well the mining companies’ full compliance with environmental and community-protection statutes in their operations. The alleged devastation wreaked on their host places has been used by the NPA to justify its slash-and-burn campaign. By holding companies forcefully to the law on proper business practices, the economy gets on sound footing—and those seeking to destroy it are starved of the moral ammunition to do so.
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