N. Vizcaya village chief in mining row shot dead
CAMP SATURNINO DUMLAO, Nueva Vizcaya, Philippines–The chief of a remote upland village in Kasibu town was gunned down Thursday evening, police officials said Friday.
Superintendent Domingo Lucas, acting provincial police director, said Paulino Baguilat, 52, village chief of Didipio, was shot and killed by still unidentified suspects while on his way home to the village center at around 7 p.m.
Baguilat sustained at least four gunshot wounds of still unknown caliber–three to his chest and one to the head, the police official said.
“We cannot yet determine what type of firearm was used because we have not found empty shells at the crime scene,” said Lucas, who led the scene-of-the-crime investigation on Friday afternoon.
Neighbors, who rushed to the scene after hearing gunshots, found Baguilat’s body sprawled on the grassy part of the downhill trail, about 70 meters from his house, Lucas said.
“It is clear that the suspects really wanted him dead. From our initial findings, it seemed that the assassins waited for him,” he added.
The police official said they are still convincing witnesses, including family members, to shed light on the killing, amid a widespread feeling of fear and shock among villagers.
Since 1994, Didipio, a village of about 2,000 residents, has been deeply divided due to the large-scale mining project being proposed in the area by Australian firm OceanaGold Philippines Inc.
Police officials, however, declined to link Baguilat’s killing to the ongoing mining controversy in Didipio.
After failing in his re-election bid in 2002, the slain village chief worked as a community relations officer of the firm, then staged a comeback and won again in October 2007.
Baguilat was popular among pro-mining residents in Didipio for openly supporting the mining project, but also faced strong criticism from many of his constituents, including majority members of the village council.
A number of residents were disgruntled over Baguilat’s supposed inaction on the alleged violations committed by the Australian firm, including their ejection from their lands, according to Peter Duyapat,
former village councilor.
Since December last year, residents there have continued to fight the demolition by the company of houses within the 425-hectare area in Didipio, site of the project’s proposed production area.
According to an investigation conducted by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples last month, at least 21 persons complained that their houses were demolished without receiving compensation from OceanaGold.
The company has torn down the hanging bridge in the sub-village of Bacbacan, and village roads have been bulldozed, but Didipio leaders were helpless, he said.
“Some thought he was more sympathetic to the company that to his constituents. But I still don’t believe such sentiments would lead anyone of them to do such a horrible crime,” said Duyapat, president of the Didipio EarthSavers Multi-Purpose Association, Inc. (Desama), a people’s organization opposed to the mines.
Since his election in October last year, Baguilat has reportedly refused to recognize duly elected village council members who were openly opposing OceanaGold’s operations.
Instead, he supposedly helped the company create the “Interim Barangay Development Council Association”, a pseudo-council through which the company has supposedly been channeling its funding assistance for village projects.