Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez will ask Armed Forces of Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Lieutenant General Ricardo Visaya to issue an order disallowing soldiers from being used as guard by mining companies.
Speaking at a press conference at the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) after the morning session of the Mindanao Environment Summit on Thursday, Lopez said she wants Visaya to issue the order after the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the AFP, the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) on Monday (August 8) for the protection of the environment.
She said there have been complaints from Indigenous Peoples (IPs) that soldiers are being used by mining companies as bodyguard for their operations.
“When we sign the MOA on Monday, I will ask General Visaya to make a statement addressing that concern because that is a very key concern, the use of military to protect business interests as opposed to protecting the people,” she said.
“We have a new administration and this administration is committed to the public good,” she added.
Lopez said she had already called Visaya and told him to stop the militarization in the mining sites. She said Visaya agreed with her.
Lopez also said she asked Visaya to change the image of the soldiers by tapping them to help protect the environment. “In fact, I texted him the other day and asked him why don’t the soldiers just go into agriculture so that they can help the farmers,” she said.
Lopez, however, clarified that the soldiers are only performing their duties when they protect mining firms because these companies are allowed to conduct their operations under Republic Act No. 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.
She said the time has come to “shift” the notion about mining companies. “They are causing suffering to the environment so the soldiers should not be used to protect them,” she said.
AdDU president Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ lauded Lopez’s move to coordinate with government security forces to protect the environment.
“I’m very happy to hear that you are going to come into an agreement with the military because of the problem we’ve had here in Mindanao,” he told Lopez during the forum.
He said mining companies are able to intrude into the ancestral domains of the indigenous people because soldiers are protecting these firms.
He said this becomes a point of conflict between the military and the New People’s Army (NPA) which he said is “protecting the people.”
And when the NPA protects the people, the IPs get hurt in the crossfire, he said.
“The key problem here is really the mines,” Tabora said.