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PHILIPPINES: Left Extremists Continue to &#39Punish&#39 Big Business

Brad Miller

TAMPAKAN, Mindanao, Mar 13 2008 (IPS) - In the New Year&#39s tradition of frightening off evil spirits with fireworks and noise, the communist New People&#39s Army (NPA) ushered in 2008 by attacking the base camp of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) in the village of Tablu, in South Cotabato province.

A military chopper keeps vigil over Davao City Credit: Brad Miller

A military chopper keeps vigil over Davao City Credit: Brad Miller

The insurgents torched six company buildings and fired rifle grenades at a nearby military detachment before fleeing. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) sent reinforcements the next day to scour the surrounding mountains for rebels and deter another raid.

Despite the NPA&#39s diminished number of armed fighters since its zenith years of the mid-1980s, the Communist insurgents remain a significant threat to companies doing business in the Philippines. The last four months have seen increased rebel activity in Mindanao, with operations directed not only at military targets but also at companies that either refuse to pay ‘revolutionary taxes’ or are seen to be exploitative of workers and the surrounding community.

In a written statement issued by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the multinational SMI, majority-owned by Swiss, British and Australian interests, was being ‘punished’ by the NPA for ‘land grabbing, plunder and environmental destruction in response to a longstanding demand of the people to put a stop to the firm&#39s operations in the area,’ and that it was in accordance with their general directive ‘’to carry out offensive operations against big foreign mining firms that the (President Gloria-Macapagal) Arroyo regime brings into the country to plunder Philippine natural resources’’.

In mid-November 2007, a group of 150 NPA also ‘punished’ the owners of two banana plantations in Compostela Valley, confiscating the firearms of company guards and killing a village councilman attempting to protect Dizon Farms, a grower for Del Monte.

More recently, an NPA ‘Sparrow Unit’ liquidated businessman Vicente Ferrazini in downtown Davao City on Feb. 2. Ferrazini, whose family owns the Merco pastry and ice cream franchise, was meted out the death sentence for allowing the AFP to set up camp on his family farm in Catigan.

Though the NPA later called Ferrazini&#39s killing a flawed decision by a low-level unit, Maj Medel Aguilar of the AFP&#39s 5th Civil Relations Group says that the NPA&#39s punitive policies are really based on economics-that the punishment is only handed out if the badly-needed "taxes" are not handed over.

In the military&#39s view, the CPP and NPA want to bring down the country&#39s economy, since "if there is no poverty, the insurgency would be irrelevant," says Aguilar. According to the major, the AFP&#39s job is to protect free enterprise as mandated by the President’s policy of foreign investment and resource development, because "if there are insurgents, investors will not set up their businesses here" unless, as Virgilio Leyretana, chair of the Mindanao Economic Development Council comments, "you are engaged in the business of armaments, hospital supplies, funeral parlours.’’

Leyretana says Ferrazini&#39s killing has made the financial community apprehensive. "When a businessman gets killed, there is no denying it affects business and prospective investors."

Security problems can also come from the "inside", as noted by Lt Col Ricardo Santiago, whose 27th Infantry Battalion operates in Tampakan and also Polomolok, base to the Dole food company’s massive pineapple plantations. Santiago says Dole has been infiltrated by the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno labour union, which the AFP claims is a Communist front organisation. To combat labour organising the battalion has been conducting what Santiago calls "information drives on a regular basis among all labourers of Dole.’’

Historically, corporations have employed security agencies, vigilante squads, private armies, and elite military units to protect their investments. As their guardians have aided in land acquisition and strike breaking, the NPA has been given another reason to demonise and castigate big business.

The security arrangements being provided for companies are becoming more formalised. "The Philippine government, through the Minerals Development Council (MDC) has convened on several occasions to discuss possible security protocols to prevent further attacks," says SMI spokesman Roy Antonio. The resulting protocols have included the formation of Special Civilian Active Auxiliary (SCAA), militia units that are trained by the AFP and deployed to businesses requesting protection. SCAA units are stationed at a number of banana plantations and at TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc., a Canadian gold mine in Zamboanga del Norte.

In February, the President declared that her government is creating "investment defence forces", which will be under the control of the office of the president and will serve as a "protective shield" of weapons and personnel for mining operations, power infrastructure and other facilities vulnerable to the NPA.

Despite the destruction suffered on Jan. 1, SMI is committed to pursuing its mining operation in Tampakan, and is upgrading its defences by hiring Catena Security, part of Group Four Securicor. Catena will reportedly employ approximately 100 indigenous B&#39laan from the area as guards, a move that critics feel will further divide the tribal community, especially after reports have surfaced that some local residents of Tampakan participated in the NPA assault.

Relly Leysa, acting vice-mayor of Tampakan, says that some local leaders want to further increase security by recruiting 60-80 CVO (civilian volunteer organisation) militiamen per barangay (barrio). Since the barangays do not have the budget, Leysa believes that SMI will finance the CVOs and use them as company watchmen under the guise of community protection. CVOs are not legally permitted to carry firearms, but in two separate raids in Compostela Valley, NPA rebels seized rifles, shotguns and an M-79 grenade launcher from CVO detachments.

The CPP states that "as people intensify their struggle to assert national patrimony against the rapacity of foreign monopoly capitalists, the NPA will carry out more and more punitive actions…"

Still, foreign and domestic companies continue financing and developing large plantations, agro-forestry projects and mining operations in Mindanao and elsewhere in the Philippines. Even under the threat of the insurgency, it appears it is "business as usual" for the corporate world. Unfortunately for big business, the same holds true for the NPA.

 
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