Philippine army says mining firms need militias

MANILA, Oct 10 (Reuters) - The Philippine army said it cannot defend mining projects on troubled Mindanao island against attacks from Maoists given stretched resources, and so has asked private companies to hire military-organised militias to guard their businesses.

Last week, about 200 communist guerrillas attacked three mine projects in Surigao del Norte on the southern island of Mindanao and destroyed an estimated 3 billion pesos ($70 million) of equipment and facilities.

The army has offered to organise, equip, train and supervise three special civilian active auxiliary (SCAA) units to guard the three mines, but the companies will have to pay for them, spokesman Major Eugene Osias said on Monday.

“We have proposed to put up SCAAs inside their companies to strengthen their security as well as guard the perimeter of the project sites,” Osias said.

Nickel Asia Inc. , part-owned by Japan’s Sumitomo Metal Mining Corp , suffered most of the losses when its Taganito mine and one other was attacked. ID:nL3E7L50GA]

Major-General Victor Felix, army commander in the troubled mining region, said the organisation of civilian militias would help augment thinly-spread soldiers in the area.

“With this, we can assure the people and the investors that the recent atrocities will never happen again,” Felix said in a statement, adding the civilian militia would serve as stay-behind forces while the army focus on fighting rebels.

The cash-strapped military has been promised extra funds by the government, but much of the new equipment has focused on protecting Philippine interests in the contested South China Sea.

In an interview last month, President Benigno Aquino said the military had been long neglected, and did not have adequate capability for internal security needs.

“It’s not really a question of adding to something that was already adequate; we are just trying to meet the needs that are already existing in our country,” he said of the spending.

Osias said the management of Taganito had agreed in principle to fund the training and equipment of militias after senior officials from Nickel Asia Inc met with army commanders and assessed the damage at the two mines.

Mines, plantations, construction and other large businesses are allowed to keep civilian militia units to guard against threats from rebels and other armed groups, Felix said.

But there are also private armies run by local politicians and warlords that are major impediment to security and law enforcement in the Philippines.

The Maguindanao massacre in which 57 people were killed in November 2009 was carried out by a private militia, with the main suspects members of a local political clan.

$1 = 43.5 Philippine Pesos Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing by John Mair and Sugita Katyal