Killed for defending people’s right to a healthy environment
Gloria Capitan rose to become a community leader starting from her genuine concern for the health and future of her grandchildren and all the children residing in Barangay Lucanin, Marivelez, Bataan. Gloria became an environment activist with social and political consciousness. She actively defended, upheld and promoted the people’s environmental and health rights alongside political and other democratic rights.
She could have become a local Erin Brockovich but her life was cut short by an assassin. On July 1, 2016 at around 8 PM, just over 24 hours after the inauguration of President Duterte, Gloria Capitan was dastardly killed. She was 57 years old. She is the first, non-criminal and non-drug-related victim of extra-judicial killing under the new administration.
Gloria Capitan devoted the last year and months of her life to arduous struggle against open coal stockpiles and use of coal as energy source. She was fully alive grandmother of 18 children when she led the filing of complaint-petition of Barangay Lucanin residents against the open coal stockpile in their community.
They submitted the petition to the office the Barangay Chairperson of Lucanin. They filed the same petition with the Office of the Municipal Mayor of Marivelez and local office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). That was in March 2015.
The petitioners, organized as Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Lucanin (SNML) with Gloria Capitan as president, were seeking the closure of the open coal storage/stockpile operated by the Limay Bulk Handling Terminal, Inc.
The coal stockpile is located inside the Seafront Shipyard and Port Terminal Services Corporation (SFSPTSC) which apparently owns Limay Bulk Handling. The petitioners blame the coal dust from the stockpile for the alarming increase in number of residents afflicted with skin diseases and upper respiratory ailments.
That March 2015 petition was actually the renewal of the struggle against the coal stockpile, which was initiated in 2014 by the Samahang Magdaragat (SM). But the fight was abandoned. SM became passive and eventually faded. It is common knowledge that some of the leaders of SM succumbed to intimidation and bribery by the owner of the stockpile and shipyard.
Even as the Municipal Mayor, the Municipal Health Office and the DENR were initially responding positively to the renewed petition, the owners of Seafront Shipyard and Limay Bulk and Handling Terminal, were reacting more viciously than before. As the impact of the open coal stockpile grew in proportion, the unity and resolve of the residents, organized as SNML, further strengthened in the face of consistent attempts to intimidate and bribe them.
The struggle intensified and sharpened. The residents represented by SNML and Gloria Capitan on one side and Seafront led by its vice-president for operations, Carlo Ignacio who is a son of co-owner Virgilio Ignacio, were in face to face confrontation in the conference and dialogues that were called by government, from the level of barangay, to municipal, up to Regional Office of DENR in response to the complaint-petition.
The issue and the struggle have legal ramifications but these did not limit nor tie down the residents. They were determined to bring their cause before the general public and draw wider support from the people. The SNML joined the Coal-Free Bataan Movement and took up also the fight against use of coal as source of energy.
On the other hand, Seafront was going-around the resolutions and the measures it promised to implement to control coal dust and go by the maximum level of coal storage capacity of the shipyard. Instead, Seafront has been more actively combining intimidation, deception and bribery to force the residents to withdraw their demand. It is using its wealth and political connections to silence the just struggle of the residents and force them to compromise their health and environment.
At one instance, on July 25, 1015, the Barangay chairperson, who is an ally of Mr. Ignacio, convened a forum to discuss the pollution caused by the open coal storage. Gloria Capitan and two other leaders of SNML were allowed to talk in the forum. But the forum was turned into an occasion for Mr. Carlo Ignacio and his accomplice, a former DENR employee, to talk about alleged economic benefits that Barangay Lucanin would gain from increased operation of the shipyard turned coal yard.
They tried to deceive the people that the economic gains outweigh the complaints filed by the petitioners. The former DENR employee had the gall to say that the issues of pollution and health risks were unfounded.
Intimidations and threats far outweighed bribery and deception in Seafront’s dealing with Gloria Capitan and other leaders of SNML. The first hint of threat, “your place is being watched,” the Seafront’s representative told Capitan during the technical conference called by DENR Region 3 on May 25, 2015. The technical conference was in response to the complaint-petition filed earlier by SNML.
Gloria Capitan and the SNML pursued the fight. They also explained to more people in other barangays the risks posed by open coal stockpiles and by the use of coal as energy source. On the other hand their adversary continued to buy the support and services of the barangay. On January 15, 2016, the Barangay Council of Lucanin issued a certificate of clearance in favor of Seafront Shipyard and Port Terminal Services Corp.
SNML, assisted by human rights groups, filed a complaint with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Region 3 and office of the Ombudsman against officials of the barangay and municipal government of Mariveles for their continued disregard of the people’s complaint and problems regarding the operation of the coal stockpile.
But their adversary would not fight squarely. He must have bided time for the opportune moment to deliver a crushing if not a fatal blow on Gloria Capitan and SNML.
We, in Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (Kilusan), condemn in strongest terms, the dastardly killing of Gloria Capitan, who was also a local leader of Kilusan in Bataan. Her death benefits no one but those who are adverse to her stance for a cleaner and healthier environment for her family and community. We also believe that the perpetrator was emboldened by the wave of EJKs even before June 30, 2016.
Justice to Gloria Capitan and the residents of Lucanin, Mariveles!
Justice to the Filipino People!
Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya
July 8, 2016
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