Military to dismantle AK-47-toting guardsmen

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    BOTOLAN, Zambales – A ranking military officer in Central Luzon rebuked the owners of mining firm A3UNA for their alleged coddling of guardsmen armed with high powered guns.

    Col. Gominto Pirino, commanding officer of 701st Brigade based in San Jose, Tarlac, also threatened to send in battle tanks in the area to dismantle and neutralize the reported “AK-47 sporting armed group of A3UNA.” The armed group is reportedly utilized by the said mining outfit to secure its allegedly illegal mining operation that has led to alleged cases of human rights abuse  and conflicts with other mining claimants and landowners particularly in the mountain region of Zambales.

    Pirino made the statements in a peace dialogue with leaders of Aeta tribes, non-government organizations and village officials here.

    “Pending recommendations by Philippine National Police authorities here we will deploy several tanks in order to restore peace and dismantle the army of A3UNA who are said to be behind malfeasance activities in this province,” Pirino said. “We cannot tolerate the existence of another army operating outside the jurisdiction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

    Punto gathered here that various complaints have been lodged by  residents and sectors against the said mining firm for its alleged abuses and harassment activities particularly in the towns of Sta. Cruz, Candelaria, Botolan and Cabangan.

    According to Noel Ferrer, vice-chair of the Provincial Mining and Regulatory Board (PMRB), A3UNA has no permit to operate and while it is the holder of a Mining Production and Sharing Agreement (MPSA) by DENR, the scope of operation dwells on exploration only.

    Upland farmers and residents in Mabanglit, Cabangan and Panan in Botolan also complained they were illegally displaced by A3UNA from their farms and were subjected to harassments by the outfit, Ferred said.

    He observed the guardsmen appeared to be “more lawless now” and their notoriety is mounting as gleaned from various complaints of individuals varying from alleged harassments to illegal discharge of firearms and blockade of village roads, destruction of environment, among others.

    In Sta. Cruz town residents of Guinabon led by village chair Alberto Aquino filed cases of abuse, harassments and illegal occupancy by A3UNA of their community access road when they put up alleged checkpoint and barracks.

    In Palauig town, Hayuma Mining company which is partly owned by a Japanese businessman also complained of road-blocking their area access route.

    In Cabangan town Genaro Blanco, leader of an upland farmers association in Mabanglit village claimed he “could not resist the overwhelming force of said firm when fully armed  company personnel in forceful manner occupied about 100 hectares of their farm-lots.”

    In the neighboring village of Panan in Botolan town residents likewise accused A3UNA of “impeding the river flow causing their irrigation system to dry and effectively stopping their main source of livelihood.”

    The said firm also figured in boundary disputes with other big mining firms in the province notably Benguet Corporation; DMCMCMI; Fil-Asia, the authorities here also revealed.

    And these reports are more disturbing to military now rather than their commitment to eradicate insurgency problem in the area, a participant here confided.

    The peace dialogue was convened in the wake of mounting reports of  “the pressure and abusive character A3UNA” according to Alex Hermoso of the NGO  group PREDA. 

    Meanwhile, A3UNA Project Manager Jaime Lazaro in an earlier interview explained his company is legally operating and it’s only normal that they employ able security guards because they are mandated by law to protect their respective areas of business.

    “We are spending here millions of pesos in our operations and we can honestly say we are paying our share of taxes well to the government,” he said.

    “As for the weapons issue, it’s the role of the security agency to explain because we hired them anyway but the way I look at it Zambales province is a hot-spot area in terms of insurgency problem the reason why we need such protection,” he added.

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