Sacred ritual used to smokescreen plunder of Agusan’s ancestral lands

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The reactionary military and state defiled the tampuda, a sacred ritual of the indigenous Higaonon people, to falsely portray “Lumad unity” and smokescreen its scheme allowing expansion of foreign plantation and mining.

On May 12, the 402nd IBde spearheaded a fake tampuda to “reconcile” the Namatindong clan of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur and the Manhumusay-Pinakitob clan of Las Nieves, Agusan del Norte. Lumad “representatives” from five nearby provinces attended.

The activity was an affront to the sacred Lumad ritual which in the past served to unite different tribes in their defense of the ancestral land and forest resources. In contrast, the AFP used the tampuda to sanction the encroachment on thousands of hectares of Higanonon resource-rich land and forests in the Agusan provinces.

The two provinces are rich in land, forest, mineral and ocean resources. This is the reason why there is a swarm of foreign companies that plunder and destroy the environment and livelihood of its people. They connive with active and retired military and local government officials.

In Agusan del Sur, not less than three mining companies operate. One of the biggest is Co-O Mining which control almost 1,000 hectares and is owned by the Australian company Ten Sixty Four Ltd (X64). The X64 partners with Philsaga Mining Company which was established by a retired colonel.

Meanwhile, not less than eight mining companies operate in Agusan del Norte. Four of these have permits to operate, including the Agata Mining Ventures which is 60% owned by Canadian company TVI Pacific. Four other companies run by Filipino-Chinese partnerships are allowed to operate without permit to mine gold, nickel, cobalt and manganese. These cover the Taguiba Watershed which is Butuan City’s source of drinking water.

Apart from mining, expansion of commercial plantations is planned in the two Agusan provinces. One is the Las Nieves-Buenavista-Nasipit-Carmen (LasBueNasCar) Sustainable Agro-Forestry Development Project in Agusan del Norte. This targets the ancestral land of the Higaonon, as well as small rice and corn fields. Part of the project is the construction of road networks in interior communities and other infrastructures to facilitate the entry of local and foreign companies. The state allotted ₱61 million and the military focused its operations in the area to suppress any opposition to the project. Adjacent communities were dotted with detachments to suppress the people.

One of the project’s biggest beneficiary is Nestlé, manufacturer of Nescafe, which promotes the production and sale of green coffee beans (raw coffee) in Las Nieves town. The project is supported by the Department of Agriculture and World Bank, which funded it with ₱19 million. This aims to expand coffee plantations in the said town, monopolize the farmers’ produce and dictate farmgate prices. Nestlé, one of the biggest international companies, is notorious for shortchanging coffee bean farmers not only in the Philippines. (In a most recent study, farmers earn only 1%-3% of the price from every cup of coffee sold in the US by big companies because of extreme undervaluation of their produce.)

Like other provinces of North Mindanao, the Agusan provinces have long been militarized. Military harassment and red-tagging, forced surrenders, trumped-up criminal cases against leaders and members of farmers associations, illegal arrests, CAFGU conscription and other military abuses are rampant here. Not less than two leaders of the local peasant organization Unyon sa Mag-uuma sa Agusan del Norte were killed by state agents, one escaped an attempted murder and one was illegally arrested. All oppose the expansion of mining and plantations in their area.

Sacred ritual used to smokescreen plunder of Agusan's ancestral lands