“Only our ranks can define the future of our generation!”
CALINOG, Iloilo – While pro-dam indigenous peoples (IPs) are busy belying accounts that only a “few” numbers of IPs are opposing the Jalaur mega dam in Calinog, Panayanon-Bukidnon tribe yesterday, February 15, proved otherwise.
Eleven barangays gathered and united as one in opposing the Jalaur mega dam through the formation of an anti-dam organization PAMATUK Dam or Paghili-usa sang mga Mangunguma kag Tumandok Batuk Dam (Unity of Farmers and Indigenous Peoples Against Dam).
About a hundred IPs – elders, barangay officials, farmers, farm workers, women, students and professionals – reiterated their call to oppose the mega dam in the fear of losing their lands and livelihood, indigenous culture and tradition, and in protection and preservation of their ancestral domain for the future generation.
Attendee barangays are Agcalaga, Alibunan, Binolusan Pequeno, Cahigon, Caratagan, Carbasana, Garangan, Guinbunyugan, Owak, Simsiman, and Tuyungan.
“I am very happy to see that our strength has never weaken. We are gathered here today to celebrate that we have delayed the project for more than two years already and very positive to put a total stop on this in the coming days,” PAMATUK Dam spokesperson Nestor Castor said.
“It is only us, IPs, who can define the future of our generation. We are nothing when these land, rivers, forests, animals, and burial grounds are lost from us. We will fight to death if it’s necessary,” he added.
Threats, harassment, bribery
Issues of bribery and forced approval to the project, threats, red-tagging and harassment, and unclear signature signing were raised in the open forum.
Romeo Castor narrated his encounters with a person from the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and to a municipal official for his approval of the project.
“Manuel Homena came to me yesterday, February 14, and told me that he can no longer ensure my life’s security if I still continue to oppose the project. He even offered me Php30,000.00 as a signing deal to the contract to stop opposing the project,” he said.
“This is his second time. He first came to me last February 4, and said he is willing to help me with my problem with the NIA. He told me that time he was summoned to me by Gov. Arthur Defensor. But I declined his offer,” he continued.
“It’s not just Homena. Calinog Sangguniang Bayan (SB) Member Renato Casinao came to my house in Simsiman last January 10 around 10:00AM, to settle with me regarding our opposition to the mega dam project and approve of the project.”
“He said the NIA will offer us “special treatment”, give us jobs, and hefty compensation. He also said that we put into writing our demands and that he’ll be in-charge for the notary.”
Castor added that according to Homena, Brgy. Agcalaga has already been deployed with two battalions from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and two companies from Philippine National Police (PNP) and we could be charged with rebellion because of delaying the project.
“So these are what we get in opposing the project. Harassment, bribery and threats to our security. But I will never sell my soul to the devil. I will never betray my fellow IPs whose lives and future are at stake because of this mega dam,” he said.
“I will die fighting for our cause. And if I die, there is no one to be blamed for but the NIA, those persons who have been threatening and harassing me and the government who continues to deny us of our rights and freedom,” he said.
Romeo already got these incidents reported and recorded to local police and prepared sworn affidavits for records and legal purposes in the future.
Unclear signature signing
In Sitio Alawihaw of Barangay Agcalaga, where the 24-meter catch dam will be built, about 20 IPs were gathered last February 6 by Ruth Cely Jamelo, supervising institutional development officer of the NIA and have them signed a paper the IPs are not clearly familiar of.
“They called us and asked us to approve of the project. But we insisted that we don’t want the dam because everything about us, our lands and houses will be gone, and our children will have no future,” Nay Joan Castor said, one of the signatories.
“After our conversation, we were given snacks. The daughter of the barangay captain of Garangan assisted her. There are other people but we cannot identify them. We are only sure of the two of them,” she continued.
“We were then asked to sign a sheet of white paper. I can only remember the words “bigas” (rice) and river. I told the daughter of the captain, who also works with the NIA, that we are against the project. And if this paper is about us approving the project, I will not sign it. And she replied that it’s not that.”
Jalaur River Multipurpose Project Phase II (JRMP2) slogan is Tubig to Bigas: From Jalaur to Pinas. (Water to Rice; From Jalaur River to Philippines)
“Everything was written in English, I cannot understand it. So I just wrote my name on it,” she said.
One signatory said that she signed knowing it was an attendance sheet.
“They told us it was an attendance sheet. We refused to sign but they insisted that we sign because we were given snacks and its only for our attendance,” Erlinda Casiple said.
One barangay official and known anti-dam IP also got threats and was tagged as an NPA (New Peoples Army) supporter.
“Rustom Caballero, a member of the Philippine Army stationing in our barangay (Garangan) and son of Federico Caballero, a staunch pro-dam IP, came to me and asked for my signature to clear my name as an NPA supporter,” barangay kagawad (village councilor) Rosalie Lorico said.
“Three of them, each having his long firearm, cornered me while I was walking home. He (Rustom) told me that if I want my name clarified and removed from the list the battalion has, I should sign to a paper he’s holding the year I started to work with the NPAs,” Lorico continued.
“He added that he knew that I don’t only bring food for them (NPA), but also communicates with them, and I was given certain tasks and active on my obligation.”
“He also said that I should stop joining rallies and mobilizations in the city, my opposition to the government and no longer talk with Lilybeth Gimong.”
Lilybeth has a son, Nelson, who was charged with rebellion together with 31 anti-dam IPs by the Philippine Army. The case has been going on since October last year and waiting for dismissal next month.
Romulo, she said, also tried to get her SIM card to cut all her communications with the NPAs.
“Joining the rallies is about demanding the government of what it has not done for and given us. Those promises and benefits after super typhoon Yolanda hit us and for putting a stop to this mega dam. I am just doing my job as public official and help my constituents with their issues. You can get my number but not my SIM card, that’s for my personal use,” she answered to Caballero.
She walked away and did not sign on the paper.
Students and the future generation
Indigenous youth and student representatives from various schools were also present.
These are Fernandez Perez Memorial National High School in Datagan, Comprehensive National High School in Simsiman, Alcarde-Gustilo Memorial National High School in Alibunan, Carvasana National High School in Carvasana, and the West Visayas State University – Calinog Campus.
“The threats and harassment against us must be stopped for no one is above the law. There is no law if they are no people. And we are the people, therefore we are the law,” Ma. Florentina Castor said, a 3rd year Bachelor of Elementary Education student of WVSU-Calinog Campus.
“We are the future. And we want it to be brighter for us. I may be in school but I promise I will go back to the land my parents and ancestors fought and lived for,” she continued.
The newly born organization was supported by members of the alliance group Jalaur River for the People Movement (JRPM) – TUMANDUK IP organization, Dagsaw Panay and Guimaras IP network, Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR), BAYAN Panay, farmers group PAMANGGAS, Oikos Ecological Movement, and the cultural group AMBON.
“We congratulate the IPs for having this PAMATUK Dam as a sign that our struggle against the mega dam is not over. We are here to support you all the way to victory of the IPs, the Ilonggos, and the entire Filipino people,” JRPM secretariat head and BAYAN Panay chairperson Hope Hervilla said./