Defending Our Beautiful Land: The Church’s Resistance against Mining (2009)

A large-scale mining just above the water source of Aroroy town in Masbate province. This photo was taken in 2009. After ten years, what happened?

A large-scale mining operation was just above the water source of Aroroy town in Masbate province. I took this photo in 2009. After ten years, what happened?

(The following article was published in Impact Asian Magazine for Human Transformation in July 2009)

The protecttion of the environment is not only a technical question;it is also and above all an ethical issue. All have a moral duty to care for the environment, not only for their owngood but also for the good of future generations. (John Paul II)

Rattling the world is the financial crunch which continuously challengesthe economic stability of nations. In the Philippines, despite the world economiccrisis, the government sees a hopeful potential of liberally utilizing mineralresources portrayed as an economic“messiah” with projected investments of $1 billion this year. However, due to an unclear global metal demand, Reuters (2009) reported that the investment target was slashed to only $600 mil-lion considering the total investment of$11.26 million in the first three months of 2009. This is higher than the total actual Southeast Asian nation’s miningsector investment of $577.25 million in2008, in which $600 million is quiteambitious.

But looking deeply into this reced-ing reality far from what was projected, the economic crisis and the lack of globalmetal demand are not the only reasons.If analyzed carefully at the grassroots level, in rural communities where large scale mining is aggressively promoted, the people themselves are learning to resist as they continue to realize the long-term effects of the industry notonly in their lives but also on the livesof surrounding communities. With this sense of social understanding amongcommunities, those people outsidethe applied mining area, realizing that they indeed share in the struggle, start to stand up and take strong position on their basic rights. And to address this resistance, mining companies have been trying to bribe these people with social development programs and threaten them with displacement. But generally, the resistance becomes stronger.

 

CBCP’s consistent stand

Disturbed by the emerging fragilityof the environment and its impacts onthe faithful brought about by ecologi- cal imbalance and human-made abuses, the Catholic Bishops Conference of thePhilippines (CBCP) in 1988 issued a Pastoral Letter on Ecology about “our living world and the deterioration we see all around us”, What is Happeningto Our Beautiful Land?, that “attempts to reflect the cry of our people and the cry of our land” in which the bishops collectively said that at “the root of the problem, we see an exploitative mental-ity, which is at variance with the Gospel of Jesus.” It further declared that “We reap what we sow; the results of our attitude and activities are predictable and deadly” and “our lands, forests andrivers cry out that they are being eroded, denuded and polluted.” Hence, there is an urgency about this issue which callsfor widespread education and immedi- ate action.

The CBCP then asked the govern- ment not to pursue short-term economicgains at the expense of long-term eco-logical damage.

Always considered as the last andonly refuge of the Filipino peoplewhen it comes to moral and politicalsensitivities, the CBCP addressing theconcerns of affected communities afterthe passage of the Mining Act in 1995opposed its implementation.

Consistent to the 1988 statement,another statement was collectivelyagreed by the bishops in 1998. In “A Statement of Concern on the Mining Act of 1995”, the CBCP declared that the government mining policy is offer-ing our lands to foreigners with liberalconditions while our people continueto grow in poverty, and that its imple- mentation “will certainly destroy both environment and people and will lead to national unrest.”

In 2006, CBCP President Angel N. Lagdameo, DD, signed another state-ment reaffirming the collective stand saying that the Mining Act destroys life. It further stressed that “The right tolife of people is inseparable from theirright to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interests of big miningcorporations to prevail over people’sright to these sources” is tantamount “to violating their right to life.”

Again in December 2008, the CBCP issued a new pastoral letter on ecology,20 years after the issuance of “Whatis Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” landmark pastoral letter in 1998.

Signed by Archbishop Lagdameo,the statement called for a moratorium onmining activities. Mining as promoted by the government, “having a poor record of community accountability”, is considered as “uncontrollable plunder”of natural resources with mining com-panies having “systematically engagedin the rape of Mother Earth and left alegacy of impoverished communitiesand environmental despoliation.”

 

Protracted local resistance

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), a na-tional alliance of non-government or-ganizations, people’s organizations, indigenous peoples’ groups, convenedby the Philippine Partnership for the De-velopment of Human Resources in Rural Areas (PhilDHRRA), Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth Phil-ippines (LRC-KsK/FoE Phils.) and Haribon Foundation, has been engaging directly with mining-impacted com-munities through the Social Action Centers (SAC) of ecclesiastical ter-ritories. Through this engagement and partnership, ATM has been working at the grassroots level together with the SAC and various concerned groups, hence getting the whole mining picturein the country.

Known for his unquestionable en- vironmentalism, Dipolog Bishop Jose Manguiran, bishop-in-chargeof the Mindanao DIOPIM (Dio-ceses of Dipolog, Iligan, Ozamis, Pagadian, Ipil and Marawi) Committee on Mining Issues or DCMI, seeks to lib-erate people, especially the indigenous peoples, from the belief that miningpromotes sustainable development.

“Mining destroys the soil, it doesn’t just displace it,” Bishop Manguiran said. “And (this is) the destruction of biodiversity, large animals down to microbes. And geological restitution isalready impossible. Our laws are meantto protect the indigenous people (and the land). But in implementation they only help the foreign corporations,” he continued. Bishop Manguiran would always compare Filipinos who are pro-environment to the biblical David andthe foreign mining companies, and the government to Goliath. “We only have a slingshot to defeat that horrible giant and the battle may be long, but the hand of God is with David,” he explained,“and David always wins”.

DIOPIM has been helping commu-nities in the Zamboanga peninsula and the surrounding dioceses especially with the Subanons’ Apo Manglang Glupa Pusaka (AMGP) through Timuay Jose ‘Boy’Anoy’s struggles against Toronto Ventures Inc. (TVI). TVI has been de-stroying the sacred Mt. Canatuan in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.

Down to Southern part of Mindanao, the charismatic Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbelin South Cotabato, has been a front-liner in the anti-mining advocacy in the SOCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Saranggani and General Santos).

On Earth Day 2009, Bishop Guti-errez, with SAC Director Fr. Roming Catedral, led a large protest against what they call ‘unholy trinity’. He de- nounced the three industries that wouldput his flock into uncontrollable risks and disasters: Sagittarius Mining Inc. (SMI) large-scale mining in Tampa-kan, Conal Holdings Corporation andAlsons, Inc. coal-fired power plant inMaasim, and Sultan Mining and Energy Development Corp (SMED) coal mining in Lake Sebu.

“It’s alright to pray and launch education campaigns. But this time, we need to take up bigger actions and let our national leaders know that we are really opposing this, for the sake of ourselves and our future generations,”he declared.

On the presence of SMI, BishopGutierrez stressed that it “would affectour peace and order situation. Any im-moral activity breeds social ills. Mining operations in the hinterlands of Tampa-kan would destroy the environment and result into human rights abuses.”

When asked about the developmentand assistance of SMI to tribal commu-nities, Bishop Gutierrez would always regard it as “inducements” to permit mining operations. For him, if someone takes “advantage of the ignorance andpoverty of the people, that is one formof human rights abuse.”

With Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios M. Pueblos, Bishop Gutierrez had been to the United Kingdom’s House of Commons to challenge the Members ofParliament to end British investment indestructive mining.

Backed by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the two bishops managed to present the real situation of mining industry in the Philippines speaking in behalf of their flocks urging the Parlia-ment to “stop destructive mining in our country.” They also stressed that “it’s a lie to say that poor people are beinghelped by it” and “the small islands inthe Philippine archipelago can easilybe destroyed.”

Bishop Pueblos has been deeplyconcerned with militarization, ecological threats and displacement of indigenous peoples as results of the increasing mining ventures in his dio-cese especially in Agusan del Norte. Speaking over Church run Radio Veritas, he said, “It’s a lie to say mining savespeople for there would be no more land to till and it will alter the climate in their area.”

Recently, Bishop Nereo Odchimarof the Diocese of Tandag expressed his disappointment on the governmentdespite the issuance of Proclamation1747, declaring the portion of the pub-lic domain of Alamyo, Buyaan, Paniki Rivers and Sipangpang Falls situated inthe Municipalities of Carascal, Cantilanand Madrid, Province of Surigao del Sur and in the Municipalities of Jabonga, Santiago and Cabadbaran, Province of Agusan del Norte as critical watershedforest reserves.

During an Earth Day event in Su-rigao del Sur, the bishop said that he “felt betrayed upon learning that theDepartment of Environment and NaturalResources (DENR) had already issuedEnvironmental Compliance Certificates(ECCs) to Marcventures Mining and Development Corporation (MMDC) and Carac-an Development Corporation(CDC) two months prior to government assurance through a dialogue with Sec. Lito Atienza, that it would look deeplyinto the watershed proclamation vis-à-vis mining.

Meanwhile, deeply etched in the memories of the faithful of the Arch-diocese of Cagayan de Oro was the devastation brought by flooding in January 2009 which affected more than30,000 individuals.

Consistent with his stand, Arch- bishop Antonio Ledesma has renewed the call for environmental conserva-tion pointing out that flush mining has silted the river of Iponan; and logging upstream has brought devastation not only in the interior of Cagayan de Orobut also in the downstream areas inBukidnon and Lanao del Sur.

“Fourteen years of the implemen-tation of the Mining Act of 1995 had brought about the physical and economic dislocation of many indigenous peoplesand other upland rural communities,as well as aggravated the already dire situation of our environment by handingover our lands and mineral resources for corporate exploitation. All these, in exchange for a grossly disadvantageous amount from mining revenues,” he said as he criticized the mining policy beingimplemented.

The situation of mining in Mindan-ao has been haunting rural communities. Lumads and Bangsamoro communities have joined hands in opposing miningcompanies, opposition that led to thekilling of Eliezer ‘Boy’ Billanes, a layleader, who opposed the activities ofSMI and other companies in SOCSK-SARGEN. Bishop Gutierrez hailed Boy as a “prophet, a voice of God.” “He was killed because of his advocacy against mining…he’s a protector of the integrityof creation.”

In the Diocese of Mati, Sr. StellaMatutina, OSB, had been illegally de- tained by the military due to her efforts to educate the people on the ill-effectsof mining. The Military tagged her as Communist member, hence, the explicit condemnation of the Sisters As-sociation of Mindanao (SAMIN) sayingthat “amidst this state of oppression, we remain steadfast to fulfill the mission of the Church which is to assert thedignity and rights of the people and the integrity of Creation. We carry this task to care for the environment as a matter of common and universal duty.”

The presence of People’s Recovery,Empowerment Development Assistance(PREDA) founded by Columban mis-sionary Fr. Shay Cullen, SSC, in Iba diocese has been vital in protecting the indigenous rights of the Aeta com- munity especially in Sitio Maporac inCabangan town. With Maporac Aeta Association (MAO) led by Tribal ChiefSalvador Dimain, PREDA partnerswith PMPI and ATM to address issues regarding Ancestral Domain claims vis a vis mining.

In Marinduque, people are still suf-fering the aftermath of the Marinduque mining disaster caused by Marcopper’s floodings of some 1.6 million cubic meters of tailings many years ago. Boac Bishop Rey Evangelista lamented the government’s inaction to remedy thesituation.

“After 27 years of Marcopper’s operation, Marinduque remains a 4thclass province,” he said.

Asked about the accountability ofMarcopper in an interview over RadioVeritas, Bishop Evangelista said that he has “grown tired of meeting government officials on our plight and nothing goodhas happened.”

Despite the disappointments, resi-dents of Marinduque recently flocked to Mogpog River and put sandbags along the banks to reduce the risk of floodings.

“After long years of neglect by higher officials of the country who lend deaf ears to our cries for the miningcompany’s cleanup of the Boac andMogpog rivers, we decided to mobi-lize the people to clean the Mogpog River ourselves,” said Myke Magalang, executive director of the MarinduqueCouncil for Environmental Concerns(MACEC), which initiated the sandbag-ging activity.

Due to the opposition of the peopleof Bagamanoc to magnetite mining of Shun Fong Transport Co. in the coastal towns of Bagamanoc and Panganibanin the Diocese of Virac in Catanduanes province, Bishop Manolo delos Santosand the clergy are now at the forefront of the anti-mining advocacy. Together with the I-Care Bagamanoc organiza- tion, the Diocese of Virac Social ActionFoundation, Inc. (DVSAFI) formed a technical working group versus min-ing to address the emerging threat not only of magnetite mining but also of the possible massive consequence of the Department of Energy’s coal miningto be operated by Monte Oro Resourcesand Energy, Inc.

DVSAFI Executive Director Rev. Fr. Laudemer Jose Gapaz said that “mining has been a big problem forthe Philippines as its social effect has been disastrous and the industry has not proven to be economically beneficialdespite claims by its backers, adding that only one percent of the gross rev-enues go to the coffers of the national government, not to the area of mining operation. This has resulted in economic exploitation, injustice, and ecological degradation.”

Because of the threat of large-scale open-pit mining by Filminera Mining Corp. (FMC) backed by Australian- based Central Gold Asia Ltd., theDiocese of Masbate formed the multi-sectoral Task Force Aroroy in which Bishop Joel Baylon was chosen asChairman. In a statement, the diocese stressed that “that we are stewards ofGod’s creation and are accountable to Him who created everything in our world to be good.”

With the Association of ConcernedResidents of Aroroy (ACRA), the Evan-gelical Churches, through Fr. Leo Casasof the Diocese of Masbate Social Ac-tion Foundation Inc. (DMSAFI) and various peoples’ organizations, seriesof protests have been held in front ofthe mining area. Worth mentioning is the priest-in-charge of a quasi-parish, Fr. Edgar Mamforte, who has been re-ceiving threats and was even harassed by the armed security of the miningcompany.

Alarmed by the opposition of thepeople and the reality of mining devasta- tions in Albay province and possible ef-fects in Bicol Region, a letter-statementwas issued by the Bicol bishops and sentto His Holiness Benedict XVI, sayingthat their opposition have “have fallen on deaf ears,” and “since it is also a most important human responsibility, theChurch is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and throughethical formation, her own specificcontribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achievingthem politically.”

In the Apostolic Vicariates of Cala-pan in Oriental Mindoro and San Jose inOccidental Mindoro, a series of protests have been conducted to oppose IntexResources’ public scopings and hearings. Recently, five thousand people were mobilized in the town of Pola with Calapan’s clergy and seminarians fromSt.AugustineSeminary,thousandsin Victoria and another five thousand in Mamburao where Bishop AntonioPalang joined the protestors together with his clergy in staging a walk out from the public hearing venue.

In his latest statement, Most Rev.Warlito Cajandig said that “consideringthe situation of our country, it is impos- sible to have the so-called responsiblemining because of the prevailing culture of corruption in the government—manyare abusive of their powers, and manycan also be bribed. Even the on-going mining in Palawan that is being tauntedas beneficial to the people does not reallypursue the well being of the people, as reported to me by my friends—priests coming from the area.”

In the island of Mindoro, the Churchis joined by various anti-mining orga-nizations such as Alyansa Laban sa Mina (ALAMIN) and Kaagapay. Both provinces have been expressing their opposition to the unjust and irrespon-sible processes undergone by Intex andthe DENR.

In Sibuyan Island, under the Diocese of Romblon, the clergy with Bishop Jose Corazon Talaoc, are very supportive to the position of the ma-jority of the island-people. The anti- mining advocacy is being maintained through the Basic Ecclesial Com-munities (BEC) in coordination with Sibuyanons Against Mining/Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environ-ment Inc. (SAM/Sibuyan ISLE). Some 85 church-workers, teachers, farmers, among others, are still facing grave coercion charges filed by the employees of Sibuyan Nickel Properties Develop-ment Corp. (SNPDC) because of their participation in a rally in which Hon.Armin Rios-Marin, president of a Par- ish Pastoral Council, was murdered bySNPDC’s security guard.

Most Rev. Ramon Villena of theDiocese of Bayombong, where various human rights violations have been documented and brought to the attention of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), commented on OceanaGold’s human rights abuses and injustices in Didipio, Kasibu, “The company is doing an overkill on this. It is now wieldingits octopus hands and power in order to overwhelm and oppress the people, anddisregard their human rights.”

“These human rights violations are indicative of the fact, a sign that what we have been telling all along that mining is very destructive and many more destruction will follow if we allow it,” he added.

Just like Bishop Villena who was declaredbyNuevaVizcayaprovinceas persona non grata ten years ago because of his strong position against illegalities, Fr. Emiliano Ibera, OFM, parish priest of Quezon town, through a resolutionof the said town was declared the same and was petitioned to be ousted fromthe parish recently. This was due to his position against illegal logging and large-scale mining. But Bishop Villenacalled the resolution “rubbish.”

Fr. Ibera, true to his calling as a Franciscan, said, “I knew it was com-ing but I just shrugged it off, my workmandates me to advocate social issues,and as God’s servant, I will continue to do it in accordance with the teachingsof the Church.”

Nueva Vizcaya hosts a number of mining companies such as OceanaGold, Rolayco, and FCF Minerals/MTL Phils., among others.

Going up to the North, the Archdio-cese of Tuguegarao clergy, through Aux- iliary Bishop Ricardo Baccay, issued astatement of concern on the emerging threat of mining especially on the shores of Northern part of Cagayan province particularly in Buguey, Aparri and Lallo towns. Bishop Baccay said that the priests are in solid mind and heartin concluding that the larger socio-economic and environmental costs ofmining operations far outweigh the people’s economic benefits.

The statement further said that the mining operations will endangerthe river’s ecosystems, cause deple- tion of resources, result to the destruc- tion of sources of livelihood and willseriously threaten the people’s healthand environmental safety.

It has been known recently thatthe shores in the Archdiocese ofTuguegarao from Sta. Ana, Cagayan to the Ilocos Region down to the coastlines of Zambales are being applied for by mining companies to extract magnetite.

Fr. Manny Catral, SAC Direc-tor of the Archdiocese of Tugue-garao, said that the SACs of the Ilocos Region had already expressed their concern not only on magnetite mining but also the emergence of large-scale mining operations andexplorations.

These are just some of the mas- sive protests of the people within the Church across the Philippines in thefirst half of 2009, not mentioning some areas such as those being led by CBCP President and Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, Taytay Bishop Ed-gardo Juanich, and Palawan Bishop Pedro Arigo, among others.

 

An urgent Mission

Indeed, the words of John Paul II echoes through the Church’s concern on ecological issues: “We are quickly learning how vital it is to respect the ecology of nature, if we are not tocause serious harm to the world futuregenerations will receive from us. More urgent still, though more difficult, is the need to learn to respect the ecology ofthe human world, by which I mean the truth of the human person and the social implications of this.”

This certainly nullifies the allega-tion of some economists and pro-mining advocates that the Church is just a use-less noisy gong. No, not useless. TheChurch is the voice of the voiceless. Is it not true that the last resort of thepeople to help them seek justice and refuge are always the men and womenwithin the Church?

In this time of injustice brought about by the aggressive promotion of mining in the Philippines, various people’s organizations and non-gov-ernment organizations are all working together with the Church and other religions to bring back the integrity of creation. Leading the anti-mining campaigns are the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA), Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples (ECIP), the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP) with its Mis-sion Partners (MP) and the Philippine Misereor Partnership (PMP), amongothers.

The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM),consistent to the call of the CBCP,aims to put a stop to large-scale min-ing in the Philippines and the imple-mentation of the fiscal regime.

If the government claims that the mining industry is the “messiah” of our ailing economy, then it is not true, for the real Messiah is Jesus Christ Himself. To save the economy is to follow the egalitarian character of Christ that is brought about by Hisunconditional love.

John Paul the II further says that “When man disobeys God andrefuses to submit to his rule, naturerebels against him and no longer rec-ognizes him as its ‘master’, for he has tarnished the divine image in himself. The claim to ownership and use of created things remains still valid, butafter sin its exercise becomes difficultand full of suffering.” (Solicitudo Rei Socialis, S. 30)

Indeed, “development which is merely economic is incapable ofsetting man free; on the contrary, it will end by enslaving him further.” (Solicitudo Rei Socialis, S. 46).