Flat­ten 'em hills

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Front Page - BY ARNOLD P. ALAMON

The back­hoe and the bull­dozer used to rep­re­sent the kind of un­fet­tered gov­ern­ment modus that al­lowed for the tram­mel­ing through of pow­er­less and voice­less com­mu­ni­ties. In pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, these un­for­giv­ing heavy equip­ment were de­ployed against jour­nal­ists in the in­fa­mous Maguin­danao mas­sacre and the oc­cu­pied farm lots of land­less peas­ants in Ha­cienda Luisita.

In the time of Duterte, the same im­punity re­mains and even ratch­eted up a notch higher. The back­hoe and the bull­dozer can­not any­more aptly rep­re­sent the prac­tice of im­punity by the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion against com­mu­ni­ties that it wishes to dec­i­mate or take over. Aerial bombs dropped from the sky to “flat­ten em hills”, are now the emerg­ing man­i­fes­ta­tion of the unchecked gov­ern­ment power es­pe­cially in far-flung ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties that are also con­sid­ered to be hot­beds of the Moro or com­mu­nist in­sur­gen­cies.

Re­call that Duterte ut­tered this very com­mand to his Armed Forces in Davao del Sur when he was about to scut­tle the peace talks with the Left last March 2017. Not soon af­ter, bomb­ing runs were be­com­ing stan­dard in the op­er­a­tions of the Armed Forces. Pre­vi­ous to this, bombs dropped by gov­ern­ment air­craft in Mal­ib­cong, Abra last March 2017 caused a for­est fire. Last May 2017, a bomb­ing run in Pres­i­dent Roxas, North Cota­bato killed a Moro res­i­dent.

Of course, we all know that when ISIS-af­fil­i­ated ter­ror­ists took over Marawi City also in May 2017, re­duc­ing the once bustling and only Is­lamic city in the coun­try to rub­ble, is what the Armed Forces also did, abid­ing to the edicts of their com­man­der-in-chief to the let­ter. We now wit­ness the com­plete dec­i­ma­tion of Marawi City’s twenty four barangays and the war sees no signs of let up more than a hun­dred days af­ter. The con­stant bomb­ing runs still leave an omi­nous trail of noise and smoke in its wake, spook­ing the res­i­dents of nearby cities of Ili­gan and Ca­gayan de Oro.

The re­ported aerial bom­bard­ments in the moun­tains of Batan­gas City, just a cou­ple of hun­dred kilo­me­ters away from the na­tional cap­i­tal, this week merely con­firms this new gov­ern­ment pol­icy un­der Duterte. More than a hun­dred fam­i­lies in the re­mote barangays of Cumba and Talahib Pan­dayan have evac­u­ated be­cause of these in­dis­crim­i­nate aerial at­tacks and it was re­ported that two peo­ple, one of which was a mi­nor, have died from these bomb­ings. 15 schools from nearby ar­eas also sus­pended op­er­a­tions as a re­sult.

The scorched-earth ap­proach cer­tainly makes the back­hoe and bull­dozer tac­tics of old look puny and seem like child’s play. There is no doubt that Duterte is in­deed the ma­cho man that he projects him­self to be es­pe­cially with his con­stant re­course to the whole arse­nal of the mil­i­tary at his dis­posal.

And it seems that his and his mil­i­tary ad­viser’s weapon of choice are ex­pen­sive mil­i­tary bombs that re­sult in max­i­mum dam­age to prop­erty in­clud­ing hu­man col­lat­eral vic­tims. Is there a fire sale go­ing on for US-made dumb bombs near­ing ex­pi­ra­tion where com­mis­sions or kick­backs for gen­er­als are to be made? There is no stronger ar­gu­ment for the con­tin­u­ing ties be­tween this neo­colony and a former colo­nial mas­ter than the im­ported bombs paid for by tax payer’s money be­ing dropped against a peo­ple its’ gov­ern­ment wants to sub­ju­gate.

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for drop­ping these bombs in the name coun­terin­sur­gency is fur­ther un­masked when it is re­vealed that the area that is sub­ject of the mil­i­tary’s clear­ing op­er­a­tions is ac­tu­ally near the site of open­pit min­ing re­serves al­ready un­der Min­eral Pro­duc­tion Shar­ing Agree­ments (MPSA) ap­plied for by the Aus­tralian-firm Red Moun­tain Min­ing. In a 2016 press re­lease, the com­pany boasts that the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ly­de­struc­tive open-pit mines will pro­duce 128,000 oz in­clud­ing100,000 oz of high grade gold.

Whether these are the same min­ing op­er­a­tions strongly op­posed by the peo­ple of Lobo, Batan­gas in 2015 need to be fur­ther in­ves­ti­gated since it was iden­ti­fied that a Cana­dian min­ing firm MRL-Eger­ton was be­hind the MPSA then. But since this is the same gen­eral area where these for­eign min­ing firms in­tend to op­er­ate, the en­vi­ron­men­tal dan­ger posed by these planned ex­trac­tive en­ter­prises to the Verde Is­land Pas­sage is mon­u­men­tal and alarm­ing. Bi­ol­o­gists and eco­con­ser­va­tion­ists have de­clared the wa­ters off the coast of Batan­gas City, in be­tween Verde Is­land, as the “cen­ter of global shore­fish bio­di­ver­sity”. These ar­eas are also near these planned min­ing sites where the mil­i­tary are cur­rently flush­ing out com­mu­nist rebels through aerial bom­bard­ments.

The or­der of Pres­i­dent Duterte to “flat­ten ‘em hills” ap­par­ently also mean open­ing up of these frag­ile ecosys­tems to cap­i­tal no mat­ter what the cost. We should be grate­ful that some forces are ac­tu­ally de­fend­ing these last vi­tal eco­log­i­cal bas­tions and hold­ing the fort.

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