Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
Updated: September 18, 2014 11:16 PM GMT
Divine Word Father Simon Suban Tuka (wearing white robe) and indigenous people hold a sit-in protest last week to prevent a company from placing heavy equipment on communal land (Photo: VIVAT International-Indonesia)
In spite of an apparent escalation by police, priests vowed this week to continue fighting on behalf of indigenous farmers locked in an ongoing land dispute in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara.
The community has been battling local authorities since 2009, when a mining permit was issued without consultation to PT Aditya Bumi Pertambangan.
East Manggarai district head Yosef Tote signed off on a manganese-mining license covering 2,222 hectares of land in Satar Punda village; ten hectares of which encroached on the village’s communal land, or ulayat.
“We have made several efforts, including visiting the district head’s office to talk about the issue with him. However, he never wants to talk with us,” Father Simon Suban Tukan, coordinator of the Divine Word’s Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) church, told ucanews.com.
Last Saturday, the priest led dozens of indigenous people -- mostly farmers -- in a protest in the district capital. The group was attempting to halt the company from placing heavy equipment on their communal land. Though peaceful, said Father Simon, police were deployed to violent effect.
“I was dragged by two policemen until I fell down. I was almost unconscious. Luckily, some people took me to a nearby clinic,” he recalled. “I am with them because they are weak before the local authorities and businessmen [who are] getting support from security personnel. I choose to fight together with [the people].”
In July 2012, local residents and PT Aditya Bumi Pertambangan signed an agreement allowing the company to build roads to access mining sites in Waso and Satar Teu hamlets. These roads used the outer parts of the indigenous people’s communal land.
“Instead of building roads, [however] the company has been conducting mining activities since May this year,” Father Simon said.
Since January, Father Simon and community members have increased their activism. After a January protest of hundreds through the district capital yielded no improvement, in June, indigenous people placed barriers on their communal land to prevent the company from conducting mining activities. In retaliation, police arrested 21 people including two teenagers. They were released after an investigation.
In August, another two indigenous people were released from jail after spending three months in jail.
Bishop Hubertus Leteng of Ruteng, the capital of Manggarai district, said that he was concerned by the apparent uptick in police harassment.
“We, the Catholic Church, reject the violent acts and intimidation faced by indigenous people and Father Simon as well,” said Bishop Hubertus.
The Catholic Church, he said, rejected mining activities that create conflict with indigenous people.
“It must not be conducted,” the prelate said. “The environment is the Garden of Eden, which is beautiful, fertile and safe. It promises us a life. God has provided us with the environment. Thus, we must take care of it and protect it for the sake of our future.”
Father Paulus Rahmat of VIVAT International-Indonesia, an NGO that focuses on social justice and the environment, said that the authorities being deployed to the area were far from neutral.
“In fact, they side with the company. They see indigenous people as enemies,” he said.
VIVAT International-Indonesia and an umbrella group of NGOs known as National Solidarity for People in NTT have urged the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to conduct an investigation over the latest incident.
The commission visited Tumbak hamlet this week, and called for a temporary halt to mining activities.
“We have met with the police head, local authorities and indigenous people. We have also called on the local police to conduct an investigation over the latest incident,” Maneger Nasution from Komnas HAM told ucanews.com.
“No matter what, the right of indigenous people must be respected,” he said.
However, head of the Manggarai District Police, Tony Binsar Marpaung, denied that any aggressive action by the authorities had taken place.
“There’s no such violent act. That’s not true. According to my personnel, Father Simon was weak when he was there. No policeman dragged him,” he told ucanews.com.
The company, meanwhile, has accused the Church of inciting protests.
“We see that the Catholic Church, through JPIC, provoked indigenous people. Indigenous people themselves understand that we have legality,” said Ferianto Santoso, the company’s manager. “The JPIC has their own agenda.”
However, indigenous community members interviewed by ucanews.com dismissed such claims.
Rikard Hama, a tribal member from Tumbak hamlet, said that the most important outcome is that the company immediately remove its equipment from their communal land.
“We still wait for local authorities to come here so that the issue can be resolved as soon as possible,” he said.
According to Edo Rahman from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, the Flores case is far from unique.
“Based on the data from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, there are more than 10 thousands mining permits but only few have no conflicts. Mainly, the issue is about land grabbing,” he said.
….As we enter the first months of 2022, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.