Flatten 'em hills
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.