The killing of environmental activist

Eliezer "Boy" Billanes

 

Koronadal CityI

 

March 9, 2009    Posted March 31, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

Eliezer 'Boy' Billanes was the spokesperson of the Soccsksargends AGENDA (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City, Davao del Sur -- Alliance for Genuine Development). He was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding armed men on March 9, 2009

The people paid tribute to Boy Billanes, 46, on March 23 at a church ceremony in Koronadal, South Cotabato.
 

His death challenges us to turn grief into fervor; to put an end to the use of state repression and extra-judicial killings; and to join all those who believe in the sacredness of the environment and are ready to risk their life in protecting our common life-support systems. Boy is recognized now as an agent of life and even the perpetrators of his killing may realize that they are agents of death.

 

--- AGENDA Council

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Photos courtesy of SOCCSKSARGENDS - Alliance for Genuine Development, INC.
           
           

 

SOCCSKSARGENDS AGENDA
(SOCCSKSARGENDS - Alliance for Genuine Development), INC.

PRESS RELEASE
March 23, 2009
AGENDA Public Information Desk

THE FACTS & STORY BEHIND THE DEATH OF ELIEZER “BOY” BILLANES

It was a broad day - light at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon of March 09, 2009, when Eliezer “Boy” Billanes was shot dead at the market place of Koronadal City, more or less 50 meters away from the Police Fire Station. Mr. Billanes has usual routine of buying newspaper in that place. He was about to board on his motorcycle after buying a newspaper when the two unidentified gunmen shot him in close range that caused his instantaneous death. The motorcycle used by the assassin was bearing the PLATE NUMBER MJ5432 which later on traced as fake number.
 

Billanes was the latest victim among the nine hundred plus lists of extra judicial killings under the Arroyo regime.

Who is Eliezer “Boy” Billanes?

“I must be cleared that I am not against development, in as long as it is for just development of the people and not an aggression development that only serves the few”. This is the statement that Boy Billanes openly articulated in many fora and conferences.

Boy Billanes, 46 years old, married, with three children, was a persistent advocate of human rights, good governance, peace and environmental protection and just development. As an environmental activist, he consistently stood up against the encroachment of large-scale mining in the Philippines such as the multinational giant Xstrata-SMI and all forms of environmental destructions. He has affiliated himself in the following organizations with great responsibilities such as:
 

1) Chairman - SoCCSKSarGenDS- Alliance for Genuine Development,
(AGENDA) INC.
2) Chairman - Coalition of Anti-Mining Movement (CAMM)
3) Secretary-General and spokesperson of the South Cotabato Peoples Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (SOCPAND),
4) Project Director of Samahan sa mga Magsasaka sa Timog Kutabato (SAMATIKU)
5) Board of Director – Protected Area Management Board, Civil Society Development Organization, (CSDO)

Boy has offered his entire life serving the people through his active leadership and commitment in the democratic mass movement. He was a trustful leader and determined person. He had practically shared his principles and talents educating the people especially the farmers and indigenous communities on social concerns and issues that have affected their lives. He was always opened for media interviews and have articulated the different issues affecting the poor and underprivileged. As spokesperson he voiced the sentiments and stand of his organizations on the present realities, urging government agencies for concrete resolutions of the pressing issues. As a facilitator, he encourages discussions on advocacy strategies and alternatives to unify people in different aspects. Eventually, with his stand and principles he gained much respect and love by the masses but somehow hatred from those who have vested interests.

Who is Boy in his family?

His wife, and family described him as a “man of unity”, a responsible father and husband, a friendly brother, that no single instance has he ever encountered having enemy in the community. He facilitates dialogues whenever there are matters to be settled in the family, organization or community. In meetings, he sets policies for healthy discussions, as he normally states, “we must agree to disagree”, and relationship remains.

Why was Boy Billanes killed?
 

The family and friends of Boy believe that there are no other reasons for his killing aside from his firm stand and consistent advocacies on social issues and concerns.
 

For so many years , Boy had been vocal critic of the multinational mining company Xstrata-SMI operating in the mountains of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and North Cotabato in Mindanao, Philippines. He had couragelously led the opposition against large-scale mining, exposing the environmental calamities and social evils. He exposed the deceitful policies of the government particularly the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 favoring foreign mining companies and especially of Xstrata-SMI in their efforts to gain foothold in the second richest copper-gold deposit of Asia.
 

Since in the 90s, when the Western Mining Corporation (WMC) was awarded a 99,400 hectares mining concession in the quadriboundary, Boy was already active in exposing the environmental hazards of such project. He was very much concerned on the effects of mining on our forests, rivers and lakes and ancestral lands, and on the people who live therein, particularly the lumads who are solely dependent on lands and natural resources for their livelihood. Despite the wealth and power of WMC then, Boy Billanes fearlessly and unstintingly stood with the people in their struggle to defend their lands and their patrimony. WMC had no other recourse but to back out and to transfer their rights to another company which continues the project with a different name.
 

When Xstrata-SMI came in, following a reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision to ban the Mining Act and in consonance with Arroyo’s mining policy, Boy Billanes was there to expose and oppose the schemes of the mining giant. Boy disclosed to his closest friends that in 2004, a certain Raymond Guevarra who identified himself as an agent of the National Security Council (NSC) approached Boy and tried to harass him into signing an agreement to ‘keep quiet’ with his radio broadcast and interviews, but Boy declined.
 

Early this year, an intelligence agent (who did not identify himself) approached him with a cash gift of 300,000 pesos but Boy dismissed the guy with a resounding NO! kadugay na nakon diri, ngaa nga ibaligya man nakon ang akong kawsa?”(No! I’ve been here for so long. Why would I sell my principles?”).
 

In fact, Boy personally lobbied to some Local Government Units & legislators in the province of South Cotabato for the approval of the Provincial Environment Code, with a specific provision to ban large –scale “open pit” mining in South Cotabato. He shared his dismay for the delay of such approval but also hopeful that the provincial government would courageously stand and move for such legislation.
 

Two weeks before he was killed, he got threats and expressed his fears to close friends about the information that soldiers in their barangay who are conducting RSOT singled out his name as one among those in the “hotlists”. He wasn’t at all fazed and firmly stood his ground.
 

On that day before he was killed, he held a three-hour dialogue with the 27th IB who were conducting an RSOT in their barangay along with three Barangay Kagawads – in an effort to clarify his side and even befriend the government troops who were conducting a military operation in the outlying barrios of Koronadal City. His expectation was to be cleared with the military by facing them openly and legally, however in the afternoon he was killed.
 

“I readied my life to serve the people, although I live simply like all of you, but because of imperialist plunder, we are drown into a cycle of death, war and chaos. Like the giant Xstrata-SMI-Indophil, which kills not only the future of our children, but even the culture of our people and the soil of our forefathers. Together with terrorism of the state, development aggression and the worsening economic crisis which affected all of us, these are the reasons why I oppose the enemies of the people..”
 

Was Boy Billanes killing related to the Peace and Security Program in KITACO area with the specific purpose to curtail any opposition to the mining venture?
 

Sometime in 2008, the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Peace and Security Program between the 10th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army and Task Force KITACO was formulated. ( KITACO stands for the local government units of Kiblawan, Tampakan, Columbio which are covered by the mining operations of the Xstrata- Sagittarius Mines Incorporated). The MOA contains the basic agreements between the Task Force KITACO as First Party and the 10th ID, Philippine Army as the second Party. The agreement was about the maintenance of security services and protection of the mining installations and properties of the mining company in KITACO area against unlawful acts of terrorists and other threat groups. Through this agreement Special Citizen Active Auxiliary (SCAA) are being recruited and trained by the Army but funded by the company.
 

During the turnover ceremonies of Maj. Gen Pojas of the 10th ID to Maj. Reynaldo Mapago as a new Commanding Officer, it was explicitly bragged by Mapago to “finish off” the insurgency in his area of responsibility in ten months time, including the democratic mass movement.
 

During the March 04, 2009 dialogue in Tampakan between the military and the Church people, the affected communities raised the issues and concerns about military threats during their operations in the area, targeting the anti-mining advocates. According to the military, those who are against mining are “communists” or NPA supporters, which means anybody who are expressing their opposition to mining operations in the area are considered rebels and can be target of military suspicion and even killing. These statements are clear indications that the 10th ID follows Palparan’s strategy which marked him as “berdugo” when many activists were killed in the region where he was assigned. Reliable reports reached us that Palparan is now one of the security consultants of Xstrata-SMI.
 

It is believed that the killing of Boy is a chilling warning to all those who are involved in the opposition to mining. We believed that the killing is part of the extra-judicial killing promoted by high-ranking agents of the government. Their objective is to horrify the mass activists and environmentalists so as to incapacitate or silence the growing anti-mining mass movement of the people.
 

Why Boy Billanes so committed to denounce and oppose the large-scale mining operation of Xstrata-SMI?
 

Because Boy Billanes, along with many experts firmly believe that giant multinational mining company will destroy the livelihood of millions of people in about 19 municipalities of the region. He share the stand of CBCP statement of Jan. 29, 2006 signed by Archbishop Lagdameo which quotes the bible:

“Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell” (Num. 35:34) and which declares: “We believe that the Mining Act destroys life, the right to life of people is inseparable from their rights to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interest of big mining corporations to prevail over peoples’ rights to these sources amounts to violating their right to life. Furthermore, mining threatens peoples’ health and environmental safety through the wanton dumping of wastes and tailings in rivers and seas…..”

Boy believes that Xstrata-SMI will bring irreversible damage to the lumads’ ancestral lands and natural resources. It will destroy the mountains and forests which are the common sources of water, food and livelihood of the people especially the farmers in the whole region. Poisonous chemicals like mercury and cyanide will be used and will contaminate the five major river systems and tributaries in South Central Mindanao. Directly affected would be the Buluan Lake in Maguindanao, Taplan River in South Cotabato, Alip River in Sultan Kudarat, Buayan River in Sarangani and Padada River including the Davao Gulf in Davao del Sur. Thousands of hectares of rice and cornlands will also be contaminated from the chemicals coming from the mines.

As early as last year, in the areas where Xstrata-SMI conducted its mining exploration, land cracks have occurred particularly in Tukay Miasong and Kampo Kilot of Brgy. Danlag, Tampakan municipality. At the height of the rainy season last year, some 20 families of the Sitio were forced to evacuate to a safer place as precaution to a possible landslide.

And yet, Xstrata-SMI has continued to even expand its mining areas now up to Brgy Kimlawis, Davao del Sur where they are putting up a tailings dam, a mill flotation plant, powerhouses, motor pool and offices. They want to start according to their time frame as they have been delayed and obstructed by attacks from the NPA, from armed lumad residents who are against the mines and from disenchanted residents who have been promised so many economic benefits by the company but came home empty handed.

Boy Billanes exposed all these. Based on his studies on the environment plus his exposure to other areas in the Philippines which have been damaged by large-scale mining, he was absolutely convinced that Xstrata-SMI will bring not development but harm and destruction to the people. While it is true that the NPA had been using arms to oppose mining, Boy Billanes has always been advocating peaceful and legal opposition. Unfortunately, Boy was considered an enemy by the company and its protector, the AFP, while he stood as friend of the environment and the people.►►►
 

     
     
     
     

Through his death, what is Boy’s message for all of us?

His death challenges us to turn grief into fervor; to put an end to the use of state repression and extra-judicial killings; and to join all those who believe in the sacredness of the environment and are ready to risk their life in protecting our common life-support systems. Boy is recognized now as an agent of life and even the perpetrators of his killing may realize that they are agents of death. These are the messages that Boy wanted to tell us.

And we salute him. He will be the rallying figure for the continually growing strength of the people’s unity and resistance against all the powers that exploit and oppress us, particularly Xstrata-SMI. In every struggle, in every mass action, every conscientizing seminar and forum, Boy Billanes will be with us. And we will not rest until justice is served and genuine peace reigns in our land. We commit to continue his advocacy for the protection and promotion of human rights, good governance, peace and respect for the sacredness of God’s creation which is the source of life for all of us.

“If many of us would rise against these evil forces, in order for us to live in a free and just society, then I risk my life.” Eleizer “Boy” Billanes


(SGD)

AGENDA Council

           
           

 

JUSTICE AND PEACE DESK
SOCIAL ACTION CENTER
DIOCESE OF MARBEL
CFC Bldg., Cathedral Compound,
Koronadal City, South Cotabato 9506
jp_marbel@yahoo.com

Statement of Condemnation on the Killing of Eliezer “Boy” Billanes

The Diocese of Marbel through the Justice and Peace Desk of the Social Action Center strongly condemn the killing of Eliezer “Boy” Billanes last March 9, 2009 in Koronadal City!

Boy Billanes was the Executive Director of Samahan ng Magsasaka sa Timug Kutabato (SAMATIKU), a member of the board of trustees of Coalition of Social Development Organization of South Cotabato, an active member of the local government development committees of Koronadal and the province of South Cotabato and an active member of various progressive organizations.

Of all his affiliations, Boy Billanes is well known for his stand against any forms of development aggressions especially the presence of the large scale mining company in Tampakan. He has long been a formidable partner of the Social Action Center in its advocacies for environment, human rights, justice and peace.

Recently, the Military has been conducting pulong-pulong in the barangays of Tampakan, tagging anti-mining advocates, including the church, as supporters or as members of the New Peoples Army (NPA). Boy Billanes was one of the many personalities tagged as such and had received numerous threats before his assassination.

The diocese of Marbel does not tolerate any form of repression especially through extrajudicial killings. The right to life is a gift for everybody; no one has the right to take it. The wheel of justice is the proper venue for resolution of any case.
We therefore call on the proper authorities to conduct a thorough and speedy investigation on the killing of Boy Billanes and bring into the bar of justice the ones responsible.

We extend forth our sincerest and deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Boy Billanes. We are willing to extend any help we can to achieve justice for Boy!


Done this 10th of March, 2009, Justice and Peace Desk - Social Action Center, Diocese of Marbel.


(signed)
Sr. Pat Babiera, OND
JP desk Coordinator

Noted by:
(signed)
Dinualdo D. Gutierrez, DD
Bishop of the Diocese of Marbel

 

 

News alert: another anti-mining activist leader in mindanao killed
 

Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment and Defend Patrimony Alliance strongly condemns the killing of Eliezer "Boy" Billanes, an anti-mining activist. He was shot around 4:30PM today March 9, 2009. Mr. Billanes is well-known environmental activist and is the chairman of Socssargends Alliance for Genuine Developmet (Socssargends AGENDA). It is a regional alliance in Far South Mindanao Region which leads the opposition to Tampakan Copperr-Gold project in South Cotabato. Xstrata, one the the biggest mining company in the world, owns and operates the said project.

Mr. Billanes is the 20th anti-mining activist killed under the Arroyo administration. He is also a member of Defend Patrimony, a national multisectoral alliance opposing the mining liberalization policy and large-scale mining projects of the government. He is one of the sixth regional leaders of Defend Patrimony that has been victim of political killings and enforced disapperances because of their anti-mining stance and advocacy. Other members include Romy Sanchez of Save the Abra Movement (STARM), Noli Capulong of Sothern Tagalog Environmental Action Movement (STEAM), Eladio Dasi-an of Defend Patrimony Negros Oriental, Joey Estriber of Multi -sectoral Action Group -Aurora (enforced disapperance) and Fernando Sarmiento of Panalipdan New Bataan.

We believe these killings are part of the "dirty tactics" of the Arroyo government and transnational mining companies to sow fear among mining-affected communities and coerce the growing and widining resistance of the people in the Philippines opposing anti-people and anti-environment large-scale mining projects.

Defend Patrimony Alliance and Kalikasan PNE salutes the greatness and sacrifices made by Eliezer "Boy" Billanes. He is a true defender of the oppressed communities and courageous protector of the environment. We give our dearest sympathies to the comrades, relatives and friends of Mr. Billanes.

His martydom inpires us to resist more and ever relentless to our struggle against the exploitation and transgression of mining TNCs and their supporters in the country.

Justice for Ka Boy Billanes and other victims of political killings!
Long live the martydom of Ka Boy Billanes!
Stop Xstrata Tampakan Copper Project in Mindanao!
No to mining liberalization, Junk Mining Act of 1995!

--
CLEMENTE BAUTISTA
National Coordinator
Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE)
No.26 Matulungin St. Bgy. Central, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines 1100
Tel. No. +63-2-9248756 Fax No. +63-2-9209099
Email: kalikasan.pne@gmail.com
Website: www.kalikasan.org

           
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March 17, 2009

PRESS STATEMENT

MURDER is the Order of the Day for Mining Critics in South Cotabato Under Oplan Bantay Laya

Oplan Bantay Laya, the national internal security policy of the US-Arroyo regime is well at work in South Cotabato and in the quadri-boundaries (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani Province & Davao del Sur) to ensure the success of the mining operations of SMI-Xstrata.

Ugly and patently evil, Oplan Bantay Laya under the US-Arroyo regime has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians who have done nothing but to struggle for their democratic rights.

In the countrysides of South Cotabato, particularly in Tampakan, and in the quadri-boundaries as a whole, the 27th Infantry Battalion continues to stand guard for SMI-Xstrata by conducting regular combat operations to allegedly “curtail insurgency”. What it does in reality is to displace the indigenous peoples, the B’laans, away from its ancestral domain, deprive them of their rights to life and peaceful existence, and in quite a number of instances, murder has become their fate just so SMI-Xstrata, a foreign mining company, can have its way of taking the gold and copper.

Since foreign, large-scale mining has started to operate in the quadri-boundaries, militarization, like a twin has also plagued the provinces covered by the mining application. Not only has mining by SMI-Xstrata disturbed and caused death to the folks in the countrysides, but it has murdered two prominent political figures that oppose it in cities. One was Renato Pacaide, peasant leader in Davao del Sur who was gunned down by motorcycle-riding assailants in March 2, 2007. Now, Boy Billanes has also been killed. Both men share the same passion in their lives – love of country, love of the environment, and vehement opposition to SMI-Xstrata.

The manner of their deaths is strikingly similar – killed by assassins riding in tandem on a motorcycle in broad daylight, even just a few meters away from the PNP station. Both murders still cry out for justice. The military and SMI-Xstrata are the main suspects for their killings.

The murder of Boy Billanes is the latest showcase of the government, military agents and SMI-Xstrata for those who are vocal critics of its operation. A desperate attempt indeed, those who killed Boy Billanes hopes that the people of South Cotabato will now keep quiet, sit in a corner, and close their eyes as SMI-Xstrata plunders their natural resources and deprive them of a future. Should anyone stand up again and take the place of Boy, they will again resort to murder. That’s the best trick they have in their bag – killing. They will only kill, kill, and kill.

As long as Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes and the local government unit of South Cotabato, the business sector, and those who have yet to make up their minds on the effects of foreign, large-scale mining just stand by and hold on to the illusion that SMI-Xstrata spells development, we can expect more human rights violations, even murder, to be committed against the people of South Cotabato. The good governor even refuses to create a task force to investigate the killing of Boy Billanes.###
 

Download Fact Sheet

 

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NEWS REPORTS ON THE KILLING OF BOY BILLANES

 

■   Mindanews : Slain anti-mining activist given hero's burial http://www.mindanews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6119&Itemid=50


■  
Soccsksargends-Agenda on the facts and story behind the death of Eliezer "Boy" Billanes
http://www.mindanews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6136&Itemid=95

■   Koronadal Bishop wants probe on killing of anti-mining leader
http://www.mindanews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6062&Itemid=160

 

     
     
           
     
     
     

 

Tuesday, 31 March 2009
 

Slain anti-mining activist given hero's burial PDF Print E-mail
 

MindaNews
Monday, 23 March 2009 23:19
 

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/23 March) – Emilia broke down during the requiem mass and wept hard as the body of her husband, slain anti-mining activist Eliezer S. Billanes, was about to be lowered into his final resting place in Barangay San Jose here on Monday.

She called her husband a “good man.” In a “luksang parangal” (tribute) organized by local militant groups for him last Saturday night at his home in Barangay Mabini, she said “my husband even had no personal enemies. But he was very vocal against mining.”

Bishop Dinualdo D. Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel was more straightforward. “He was killed because of his advocacy against mining…he was a protector of the integrity of creation,” he said in his homily.

Bishop Gutierrez, who concelebrated the funeral mass with six other priests, described the activist as a “prophet, a voice of God.”

Some 3,000 people marched along as Billanes’ body, which was placed inside a white coffin and carried aboard a yellow dump truck, was paraded around the city.

The hearse caused traffic along the public market, the same place where Billanes was shot dead in broad daylight last March 9. He was 46. He left behind three children, the youngest of whom is four years old.

“No to Open Pit Mining” and “Justice for Boy Billanes” were among the messages written in red on placards that expressed opposition to the operations of mining firm Sagittarius Mines Inc., which is controlled by Xstrata Copper.


 

 

Soccsksargends Agenda, which stands for South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos City, Davao del Sur -- Alliance for Genuine Development, has been strongly opposing the presence of the mining firm in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Bishop Gutierrez, himself a local leading figure against SMI’s operations, lashed at the local military for claiming that anti-mining advocates are members or supporters of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Lt. Col. Joshua Santiago, commander of the 27th Infantry Battalion, denied accusations by some local militants that they were behind the slaying of Mr. Billanes.
 

The official said the local military leadership “does not consider anti-mining advocates as supporters of the communist movement.”

He said the military was misunderstood when a junior officer, whom he did not name, was quoted as saying in a dialogue that anti-mining advocates are communist members or supporters.

“We feel bad that we are considered to be behind the death of Billanes. We have no reason to harm him,” he said.

Investigations conducted by the police are ongoing, but Billanes’ wife noted there have been no updates on the case.

The National Bureau of Investigation has also conducted a parallel investigation, it was learned.

Meanwhile, Mark Williams, Sagittarius general manager, has issued a statement denying the company’s supposed role in the killing of Billanes.

“SMI wishes to confirm that the company has no connection to the death of Mr. Billanes. Any allegations linking SMI to this incident are totally untrue and without any basis,”Williams said.

He said Xstrata Plc, the parent of Xstrata Copper, is committed to the highest levels of ethical performance at every managed operation “and is committed to uphold human rights, support free enterprise and operates with maximum transparency commercially possible, prohibiting
any form of political donation, with a zero tolerance policy of fraud, bribery or corruption.” (MindaNews)

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