Philippines: mineral interests to get their own militia force?

Indigenous and peasant communities in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao are protesting the armed forces' proposal to allow mining companies to establish their own militia force to secure their operations. The Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center is calling on President Benigno Aquino to bar private companies from forming what are to be known as Special CAFGU Armed Auxiliary (SCAA) units, arguing that it is the indigenous peoples and rural communities that are in dire need of protection from violence and attacks, not mining corporations.

The CAFGUs, or Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units, are a militia network established in the 1980s to combat the New People's Army (NPA) guerilla movement. They have been widely criticized as unaccountable, but the government has in recent years been moving towards increased collaboration between the military and private sector. In 2008, then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo created the Investments Defense Force after NPA guerillas attacked a gold processing plant in Mindanao's Compostela Valley. Within months, military operations in mineral-rich areas of the Compostela Valley had resulted in the displacement of hundreds of Mansaka and Mandaya indigenous people and peasant settler families amid claims of harassment, physical assault and torture.

The private security forces of mining companies have already racked up a growing number of violent attacks on community members and protesters against their operations. In 2007 the security chief of the Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation (SNPDC) shot to death a councilor from the nearby Sibuyan community during a protest outside the mine. This March, a company guard at TVI Resources Development (TVIRD) similarly shot to death a protester at a road blockade.

CAFGUs have also been implicated in illegal resource extraction. Last month, an army detachment commander and a CAFGU member were relieved of their duties amid reports of involvement in illegal logging activities in Negros Occidental province of Negros Island. The two are under investigation. (Mindanao Examiner, Philippines Sun Star, Oct. 16)

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