Philippine campaigning nun arrested, harassed, by armyPublished by MAC on 2009-03-03
Although the company being investigated in this instance was Omega Gold, Sister Stella has also been strongly campaigning against BHP Billiton's activities at the Hallmark Project in near-by Pujada Bay.
She spoke out at the recent launch of the Working Group on Mining in the Philippines report on the dangers for activists working on the mining issue in the region.
This was starkly illustrated by the murder of her co-worker in Panalipdan, Dodong Sarmiento, just before Christmas last year.
Froilan Gallardo, MindaNews
20th February 2009
DAVAO CITY -- A Benedictine nun has accused soldiers of detaining her and three environmental activists in the town of Cateel, Davao Oriental province on Feb. 16.
Sr. Stella Matutina said during the eight hours that they were briefly detained, soldiers of the Army 67th Infantry Battalion poked their guns at them, apparently mistaking them for communist guerillas.
"Mamma Mia! I thought that would be the end of us. Their Armalite rifles are so big," the nun told reporters during a press conference initiated by the Sisters Association in Mindanao (SAMIN).
Matutina, who is also the treasurer of the pro-environment non-governmental organization Panalipdan, said the soldiers did not allow her and her companions to leave the two-story barangay hall of Taytayan where they were allegedly arrested.
Wenceslao Mapa, Panalipdan Davao Oriental chairperson and one of the nun's companions, said soldiers limited their movements and even sent sentries to accompany them when they go to the toilets.
"We were really very traumatized by the incident. I heard stories about these but this is the first time I experienced this," said Matutina, who spent 18 years in Europe .
Aside from Mapa, the nun's companions were identified as Maria Fe Matibo and Gil Sentinales, all officers of Panalipdan.
The four arrived in Barangay Taytayan, a small rice farming community in the town of Cateel, last Feb. 16, to investigate reported illegal mining activities and conduct information drive on the environment.
Matutina said they went to Taytayan after local officials led by Barangay Chair Deonecito Mamangkas and council member Sotero Gros invited them to investigate the recent flash floods that hit the village early January.
She said they slept in the Taytayan barangay hall after a hectic day of meeting with residents.
Matutina said they were sound asleep on the second floor of the hall when five to eight soldiers came around 3 a.m. breaking down doors as they barged inside the building.
"I raised my hand and asked them who they were," Matutina narrated. She said she noticed that the soldiers did not have nameplates and some were wearing ski masks.
Matutina said the armed men ignored her questions and instead asked for their identity cards. She said she gave her driver's license.
When she realized they were soldiers, Matutina said she told the soldiers that they could not arrest them because they did not have a warrant of arrest.
"I told them this is already arbitrary detention," Matutina said. But the soldiers ignored them and instead detained them at the barangay hall.
She said the soldiers also ransacked the office of the barangay poring at every document they could find.
Later in the morning, Fr. Boy Escobar, principal of Maryknoll High School of Santo Tomas, Davao del Norte, interceded after he was asked by the Mati diocese to negotiate for the release of Sister Matutina and her companions.
Matutina told reporters the soldiers wanted to take their picture before they would be released. The four refused.
They then travelled to Mati after they were released.
Army officials have a different version of the incident.
Maj. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Armed Forces' Eastern Command which has jurisdiction over Davao Oriental, said the nun was never arrested by the soldiers.
"We just asked the nun some questions, we did not arrest her. We released her to the parish priest of Cateel after we confirmed she was indeed a nun," Cabangbang said in a phone interview.
He said the soldiers received intelligence information that a meeting attended by communist rebels had taken place in the barangay hall and decided to investigate.
The officer insisted that the meeting was still going on but those who attended ran away when they saw the soldiers arriving at the barangay hall.
Cabangbang said Sister Matutina was all alone when the soldiers came. He said he did not receive any information that Sister Matutina had companions.
"Sister Matutina was not wearing a nun's habit, so the soldiers did not recognize her as a nun. She was alone, she did not have companions," Cabangbang said.
He said the soldiers had no recourse but briefly detain her until they could check her identity.
He denied that the soldiers harassed and arrested the nun.
"She was interrogated because she was in civilian clothes. The soldiers received an information about the meeting," the Army officer said.
Cabangbang said they urged Sister Matutina to press criminal charges against the soldiers if she felt her human rights were violated.
"We also wanted to know what really happened. Why Sister Matutina was not wearing her nun's habit because it was obvious that she was there not because she had a job," he said.
Cabangbang said the presence of the nun in the rebel-infested town of Cateel is highly suspect since even the parish priest, Father Nestor Marata, was reportedly dismayed when Sister Matutina did not coordinate with him when they went to barangay Taytayan.
"I hope the nun would only tell the truth. Our soldiers had restrained themselves when they went to the barangay hall. They did not fire their weapons on anyone," he said.
Sister Matutina, who hails from Pangantukan town in Bukidnon, said the martyrdom of Fr. Nery Lito Satur, who was killed in the '90s, was in her mind when she looked up at the barrels of the soldiers' rifles.
Satur was murdered on October 14, 1991 by armed men allegedly in cahoots with illegal loggers who got angry against the illegal logging campaign waged by the slain priest in the province of Bukidnon .
"I was always inspired by the sacrifice done by Father Satur. I always pray before his small memorial tablet at the altar in our church in Pangantukan," Matutina said.
She said she and Father Satur were town mates and usually see each other at the local school where they studied.
"If I have died that morning in Barangay Taytayan, I knew there are six other townmates who will replace me. They are also nuns of the Order of St. Benedictine [sic]," the nun said.
Matutina said the province of Davao del Norte is endowed with rich natural resources that it would be a pity if only the rich will benefit from it.
She said she was very furious the team leader of the soldiers told her that "nuns like me should stay in the convent praying and should not be in Barangay Taytayan."
"He told me that nuns are just feigning to be religious but later on, they will organize the people to make them turn against the government," Matutina read from her two-page statement during the press conference today.
"Is this how peacebuilders like us should be treated and be accused?" she asked.
Sister Elsa Compuesto, SAMIN secretary-general, condemned the military for detaining Sister Matutina and her companions.
Compuesto said the Army soldiers have sent "a chilling message" that in the rural communities, "the military rules over the people."
"They have committed no crimes; they have committed no acts that make them deserve detention and being suspected as rebels. Sister Stella and her companions were in Taytayan on the invitation of local officials to talk on environmental awareness and protection," Compuesto said.
Lawyer Carlos Zarate, of the Union of People's Lawyers, said they are now studying with Sister Matutina what charges they would file against the soldiers.
On Being Arrested with 3 Others by the 67th Infantry Battalion
BY SR. STELLA MATUTINA, OSB, DEMOCRATIC SPACE
Posted by Bulatlat
21st February 2009
I am Sr. Stella Matutina, a member of Order of St. Benedict (OSB) assigned in Dawan Parish, Mati, Davao Oriental.
This year will be my second year of staying here in the Philippines . Previously, I was assigned abroad, in Europe , particularly, for 18 years, doing religious formation for foreign missions.
Reaching out to communities especially to poor ones is part of our congregation's mission; we believe it is a way of exemplifying the real meaning of being a Christian, of being a follower of Christ.
My stint in Davao Oriental showed me the beauty and the abundance of the province with natural resources and mineral- rich lands. These resources are best to be utilized and benefited by the people themselves, for the development of their communities.
In my current assignment, I am mainly a trainer on sustainable agriculture. We want to promote sustainable agriculture as an alternative to mining. Large-scale mining as practiced by big mining corporations in the name of profit and greed is detrimental to our environment and people.
I am assigned in a socio-pastoral community in Mati where community-building activities are being conducted to help the people with their livelihood and welfare. We respond to different parish areas who invite us to provide educational trainings about sustainable agriculture.
The creation of Panalipdan, in April last year, was very timely with the intrusion of different mining companies in Davao Oriental. Panalipdan, of which I am an officer, is a multi-sectoral alliance for environmental awareness and protection and at the same time for the defense of our lands from the exploitation of big capitalists.
Since Panalipdan's formation, we documented different mining operations and activities in Davao Oriental. We were able to conduct forums and film showings, and even attended barangay consultations regarding the entry of mining companies.
Our advocacy on anti-mining became well-known in Davao Oriental. In fact, one of our success stories is in Barangay (village) Isidro, Lupon where equipment for mining operations of one company were prevented entry because of the people's resistance.
A week before our forum in Taytayan, we went to Brgy. Surop, Governor Generoso to document and interview one person, whose brother, a miner of Sinophil Mining Corporation in Governor Generoso, died during a mining-related activity.
The forum in Brgy. Taytayan, Cateel last February 15 is only one of our usual information- drive campaigns about environmental awareness and protection. As their invitation letter indicated, Barangay Taytayan experienced waist-high floods in the month of January which alarmed the residents and posed real danger on their lives.
We arrived in Cateel around 4:30 a.m. Then, at 5 o'clock I went to mass and after the mass, I informed Fr. Nestor Morata, the parish priest there, that I was there because I was invited to give a film showing in Taytayan and I even told him that I wanted to see Aliwagwag falls. He even invited me for coffee which I gently refused because my companions were waiting for me.
After the forum last Feb. 15, my colleagues and I decided to pass the night in the Barangay Hall. At around 3:30 am, while sleeping at the second floor, we heard a noise from the first floor, as if somebody wanted to barge into the door. Before we could manage to rise from our makeshift beds, we could see through the glass door silhouettes of several armed men hurriedly climbing the stairs and running toward us. They held us at gunpoint. I was still lying down when I raised my two hands and asked them what the matter was.
They asked for our names and at the same time reported it over their handheld radio device. They demanded to see the documents and materials we used during the training. We insisted that they give their names but our effort was futile. We peeped through the window and saw several soldiers outside and realized we were surrounded.
Truth to tell, I am furious with the incident. If the military can do such harassment to a nun like me, how much more to ordinary people who cannot defend their rights? I am more angered with what Lieutenant Soriano told me: that nuns like me should stay in the convent praying, and should not be in Brgy. Taytayan, that nuns are just feigning to be religious but later on, they will organize the people to make them turn against the government.
Is this how peace builders like us should be treated and be accused?
When I raised my two hands, I remember I made the same gesture when I accepted my vow as a nun. As a nun, a church worker, a peace builder, as an environmental advocate, my life and those who are into the same profession and advocacy are constantly in danger as we thwart the evils of exploitation, greed, and corruption against our fellowmen.
My passion to serve my fellow human beings brought me to my journey in Cateel. If it is because of my passion to follow Christ that I will die, then let it be.
I may liken my plight to that of a tiny ant facing a big elephant. Actually, this is a story shared to me by a Sister in Africa. An ant may be tiny, and an elephant enormous and its trunk is a mighty weapon. But an ant knows where to hit the weak spot of an elephant. And when many ants bite an elephant, this huge beast will fall from the pain, and die. I may be a tiny ant in this journey, but together with other ants, we can face whatever adversary and overcome them.
But I am not afraid, and I pose this as a challenge: that we should not all be afraid. In the Bible, 1 Peter 5:8, the word of God says, "Stay sober and alert. Your opponent the Devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him be solid in your faith."
Mining Act anniversary - Panalipdan, nun to lodge complaints at CHR today
Panalipdan SMR PRESS RELEASE
3 March 2009
Timed for the anniversary of the signing of the Mining Act of 1995, environmental rights group PANALIPDAN - Davao Oriental will be formally lodging its complaints at the Commission on Human Rights Region XI today amidst heavy criticisms and blatant denial from the military that they harassed the environmental advocates who were on an environmental protection mission in Brgy. Taytayan Cateel, Davao Oriental last February 16, 2008. Environmental advocates included Sr. Stella Matutina, OSB.
After further consultations with human rights lawyers, the victims will lodge complaints of illegal detention, harassment, grave threats and intimidation against Lt. Ron Soriao, and twenty other elements of the 67th Infantry Battalion who was then under the command of a certain Captain Mai.
"The signing of the Mining Act of 1995 meant the dislocation and the appalling human rights violations of Lumads, peasants and advocates over the last 14 years. The government's chief implementor: the AFP, and in the case of Southern Mindanao and Socscargen, the 10th ID, has sown terror and grave abuse against civilians. Sr. Stella Matutina and Panalipdan advocates are only the latest victims of the military's intimidation in the face of continued backing of large-scale mining in the region" said Francis Morales, spokesperson of PANALIPDAN-Southern Mindanao.
The environmental rights group posed a challenge to environmental activists amidst what it calls heightening persecution against those who oppose mining and other projects.
"As environmental defenders have become targets of the military's attacks while the military tightens its military and logistical support for foreign and big local investors' mining, logging, dam, mono-crop plantations and other so-called development programs embodied in the framework of the Investment Defense Force (IDF) created by Mrs. Arroyo herself, we must remain vigilant and continue to fight for our national patrimony" Morales said.
The IDF was formally announced by President Arroyo on February 2007 in Tagum City, Davao Del Norte as a means to protect vital investments in the countryside, most especially mining.
Call to Scrap the Mining Law
The group also reiterated the call to scrap the Mining Act of 1995 calling it a bane on the Filipino people's lives.
The Mining Law which marks its 14th year of being signed into law today has been met with tough resistance by local communities, environmental groups and even the church.
PANALIPDAN - SMR noted that under the Arroyo administration, mining plunder has worsened.
"Arroyo has fully realized the total sell-out of our country's resources to mining plunderers as she increased her mining priority projects from 23 to 62 in 2007, of which ten are fully operational to date. This is tantamount to the destruction and plunder of more than 60,000 hectares of our lands and the minerals underneath." Morales decried.
Morales said local struggles against mining have been erupting. He cited the case of Chinese-funded mining operations in Banay-banay, and Lupon in Davao Oriental which are being opposed by the local communities for fear that the mining operations will destroy the Sumlog Watershed and hectarage of Banay-banay rice fields.
Support from other groups
PANALIPDAN - SMR along with other rights groups has tapped the support of national and international environmental and human groups for support on the case.
The Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human rights said in its statement, "It is unfortunate that just when entire communities, institutions and individuals all over the world are searching for and working on solutions to environmental problems like global climate change that threaten our very survival as a nation and as a planet, the Philippine military, steeped in paranoia and shortsightedness, once again raises the 'terrorist' or 'communist' spectre to justify detaining Sr. Matutina and company. In this case, officials of the 67th Infantry Battalion alluded to "fake nuns organizing people against the government" and going as far as to say, a nun's place is in the convent."
It said further, "We are aware of the backdrop on which this overzealous defense of the government by the military is being played.. Mindanao, like the rest of the Philippines, has been and continues to be sold one hundred per cent to foreign big business, foremost of which are mining and logging interests. With their local partners, among them political and military bigwigs, and the Presidential family, these profit leeches reap the bonanza of the plunder of the national patrimony and could not care less about the pollution of the Philippine lands and rivers, and the deprivation of the peoples' right to life and their resources."
Gabriela Partylist Representative Luzviminda Ilagan also filed a House Resolution seeking for an immediate investigation and punishment against the 67th IB.