The residents of Barangay Bayto put up a barricade on January 19, 2016 against trucks of mining companies of Benguet Corporation Nickel Mines, Inc,(BNMI), Eramen Minerals, Inc. (EMI), LNL Archipelago Minerals, Inc. and Zambales Diversified Metals Corpo (ZDMCI) hauling nickel ores from the mountains of Sta. Cruz, Zambales. Since then, they were able to successfully stop mining trucks from passing through the roads to bring ores from the mining area to the ports.
However, on March 10, a few days short of marking the 2-month barricade, 500 heavily armed police and military forces were deployed to the area to tear down the barricade. To prevent a bloody confrontation, the residents decided to temporarily dismantle the barricade.
According to the residents, the barricade was put up to break the deafening silence of local and national government and build greater awareness of people’s demand for justice over the worsening impacts about the mining operations in their town, especially when Typhoon Lando hit the town in October 2015. The typhoon caused massive and unprecedented mudflows bringing logs and rocks from the mountain that affected almost all of Sta. Cruz and even nearby towns. Seven lives were claimed at the height of the storm, thousands were displaced from their homes, properties that took years to acquire were washed out, farmlands and fishponds, people’s source of food and income, were covered in thick mud and houses were completely destroyed that the residents of Bayto swore off that such a disaster should never be allowed to happen again.
The barricade started with two people blocking a hauling truck and not letting it pass. This caused a commotion and nearby residents started to flood the streets and refused to let other mining trucks to pass. Since then, the residents dealt with several negotiations from mining representatives who urged the residents to let the trucks pass but the residents stood their ground. They would not be moved from their position, “No to mining in Sta. Cruz!” They persisted to block the trucks instead of risking another Typhoon Lando-like disaster.
There had been several attempts by the police to tear down the barricade. A few residents are now facing charges for obstructing mining operations, and a number has reported physical harassment and injuries done by the police in attempts to break up the community’s resistance. Still, the people resisted. They learned that they need to strengthen their line for a possibly long drawn struggle not only against the mining companies but also from government troops who apparently have chosen to side and serve and protect the mining companies than the community’s right to live free from harm,destruction and risks from mining operations..
Yet, on March 9, news came out that the drivers of the mining companies were preparing to travel and were just waiting for some signal and police escorts. This alerted the residents and they waited all night before the first batch of police mobile carrying almost 30 heavily armed police men came at around 3 am of March 10. The community then found out that policemen from all of the towns of Zambales are to reinforce the first batch. The people who are in charge of the barricade decided to dismantle the tent and secure the materials instead of being confiscated or being destroyed by the police.
At around 5 am, the police from Botolan, Palauig, Iba and other towns came. There were 13 police mobiles, on top of the two 6×6 millitary truck carrying almost all of the forces from other precincts. The employees of the mining companies, security guards and even private armies also came, totaling to around 500 heavily armed personnel, outnumbering the residents who were unprepared for such force at such an early time.
The improvised alarm bell to warn the community was sounded. The residents came out but were oriented not to do anything because the police are just waiting for an excuse to exercise force against the residents.
Past 6 AM, empty mining trucks were allowed to pass to see if anyone would dare to block the trucks and be arrested, but the community did not move and did not give in to the taunting of the police and mining companies.
After the dry run, mining trucks that are loaded with ores and escorted by armed and uniformed personnel passed and the people could not do anything. It seemed like martial law according to the residents. Guards would ask them where they are going and would reprimand them if they are caught talking in groups. There was also incessant picture taking by the police, they would even brazenly go up to residents for a close up. Children did not go to school during that day because they would be accosted by the police. During the night, the police remained and even put up a bright spotlight used by mining corporations during their operations.
On March 11, around 30 heavily armed police men stayed in the area, to guard the passing mining trucks. Each truck is escorted by uniformed military men with long firearms.
When the police were asked what they are doing in the area, they said they are maintaining a COMELEC checkpoint. Deputy Chief Inspector Ferrer said that they are keeping the peace and order and the picture taking is just for community relations.
All this time, the governor, mayor and barangay captain has been mum during the whole barricade until they ordered their armed forces to side with the mining companies. However, when asked, they could not produce a mission order and most of his men even removed their nameplates. The residents challenged that if was a simple COMELEC checkpoint then why are the mining companies lending their spotlights, generators and even sending their employees to guard with the police.
The people of Bayto, may not have the governor, mayor and some barangay captains, the police and military on their side. But they have the support of the ordinary citizens of Sta Cruz and the rest of Zambales, including, nongovernment and peoples organisations around the country, the parish of Sta. Cruz, the Diocese of Zambales,enlightened local, regional and national political officials who continue to express solidarity and condemn the continuing repression of human rights of the people in the municipality. They vow to persevere in the struggle for justice and overcome the challenges!