Ryan Dagur, Ruteng – Legal experts in the Indonesian Church have agreed to help two farmers in East Nusa Tenggara province sue provincial officials, including the governor, for issuing permits allowing the establishment of a limestone quarry and cement factory close to their land.
Father Marthen Jenarut, chairman of Ruteng Diocese's Commission for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), and Valens Dulmin, a lawyer with the Franciscans' JPIC, have joined three other lawyers as legal advisers to the farmers.
Isfridus Sota and Bonevasius Yudent filed a lawsuit against East Manggarai district chief Andreas Agas and governor Viktor Bungtilu Laiskodat in the State Administrative Court in Kupang, the provincial capital, on April 22.
They are protesting against the issuing of permits to two firms, PT Istindo Mitra Manggarai, a quarrying firm, and cement company PT Semen Singa Merah NTT, to set up operations near the village of Lengko Lolok, where they live.
"I joined the team because it is a case of defending people's basic rights and the integrity of the environment and ecosystem," Father Jenarut told UCA News on April 26.
He said the two farmers were speaking for about 10 percent of villagers who have consistently rejected moves to grant permits as they feel that their land rights and livelihoods would be lost.
The presence of the companies could see the farmers lose their rights to their own land
"Their land sits on top of land other farmers have sold to the companies," he said.
"The presence of the companies could see the farmers lose their rights to their own land, livelihoods, natural water sources, the right to enjoy a future and the survival of their family and descendants."
Elias Sumardi Dabur, another lawyer, said the granting of the permits in November last year did not fulfill transparency, participatory and responsibility requirements set out by law.
He said the government and companies ignored the voices of the people who objected to the companies and the claims of one villager who claims to be the owner of land which the firms claims is now theirs.
He emphasized that the two farmers filing suit have never given their consent or given up their land and face it becoming unworkable from an environmental aspect because of the very nature of the firms' activities.
"The lawsuit concerns groundwater basins that have been designated by the national government as areas that must be protected and maintained to maintain the existence of a healthy environment," he said.
Agas and Laiskodat could not be reached for comment
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of protests since the controversy erupted a couple of years ago and which have seen backing by the Church.
Bishop Siprianus Hormat of Ruteng visited a chapel in the area last year and symbolically planted a tree in front of it with a message to protect the environment.
Priests also petitioned MPs in Jakarta in July last year to try and block the permits.