Thursday, November 6, 2008

IBP seeks dialogue with LGUs over ‘harassment’ in 2 towns

Monday, November 03, 2008
IBP seeks dialogue with LGUs over ‘harassment’ in 2 towns

THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) Cebu Chapter wants a dialogue with local government officials regarding the alleged harassment in the southern towns in relation to the exploratory drilling by Australia’s Nor-Asian Energy Ltd.

Sibonga and Argao fishermen have protested against Nor-Asian’s exploration for oil and gas deposits in Bohol Strait, which also includes the municipal waters of Sibonga and Argao.

Fishermen reported that members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police were “harassing” them for their protest actions.

“We are peace-loving citizens in Cebu who are also officers of the court, mandated by our oath to promote the administration of justice and to protect human rights, especially of those who have no voice in governance. We are committed to protect them,” lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos said in a draft letter about the abuses allegedly inflicted on the fishers.

The letter will be signed by officers of the IBP-Cebu City Chapter headed by its president Noel Adlawan. Ramos is one of the group’s directors.

The letter will be sent to Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, Vice Gov. Gregorio Sanchez, Sibonga Mayor Lionel Bacaltos and Argao Mayor Edsel Galeos.

The letter is also addressed to Department of Energy 7 Director Antonio Labios, Lt. Gen. Pedro Insierto of the AFP Central Command, Commodore Rolando Dizon of the Coast Guard and Commission on Human Rights 7 Director Alejandro Alonzo.

The subject of the letter read: “Harassment of residents in Argao and Sibonga.”

In a protest action last week, Fisherfolks Development Center (Fidec) executive director Vince Cinches claimed that the police and military threatened the protesters with arrest when they were only airing their grievances.

Victor Lapaz, chairman of the Panaghugpong sa Gagmayng Mangingisda sa Sugbo (Pamana-Sugbo), related last week that armed men in civilian clothing confiscated placards and streamers while uniformed policemen from the Cebu Provincial Police Office and soldiers from the 78th Infantry Battalion looked on.

The IBP-Cebu Chapter is alarmed by such reports.

According to the letter, last Oct. 16, military men with long firearms searched members of a band during a fluvial activity that the fishermen organized as a protest.

There were also reports, the IBP said, that the Coast Guard ordered the fishermen off the fishing grounds.

“Recently, men in civilian clothing arrived in vans and started asking people in the community about the whereabouts of leaders of the people’s organizations in the area,” the IBP Cebu Chapter also noted.

IBP also mentioned the government’s constitutional mandate to preserve traditional fishing grounds for the subsistence of small-town fisherfolk.

Argao and Sibonga fishermen, just like those in Toledo, Pinamungajan and Aloguinsan last year, claimed that the drilling will reduce their catch.

The IBP also criticized Nor-Asian’s lack of resolutions from the different local government units to conduct the exploration.

IBP-Cebu noted the “seeming lack of appreciation by the local chief executives of the crucial role they play in environmental and human rights protection and in the enforcement of fisheries laws.”

The lawyers said they want a discussion with all stakeholders to protect the fishers from the loss of livelihood and against further harassment, as they claimed. (JGA)

For Bisaya stories from Cebu. Click here.

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