Community leaders, green champions unite in the push for a rational PH mining policy
Community leaders from the mining sites of struggles (SOS) of Alyansa Tigil Mina and Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc, and green champions former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, Jr and Akbayan Partylist nominee Percival Cendana, united in the call for a pro-environment and pro-people government and a rational mining policy during a virtual public forum this morning.
Baguilat, a known champion of green bills as a member of the House of Representatives from 2010-2019 and an indigenous people stalwart, strongly agreed with the community representatives’ stories and calls. He said: “the Duterte administration has stealthily used the pandemic to justify mining in the communities, declaring it as an essential industry for economic recovery. The realities on the ground, however, point to the contrary as people suffered more during the lockdowns. Duterte is no different from previous pro-mining leaders, and this situation should change. At his first SONA in 2016, I thought he would really do something about the mining situation in the country, unfortunately we were wrong.”
Six community leaders from five mining host provinces, Nueva Vizcaya, Masbate, Leyte, Easterm Samar, and South Cotabato, criticized the Duterte administration for quietly allowing mining in the communities, many of which are illegal and violative of environmental standards, while failing to competently handle the Covid-19 pandemic that has severely affected mining communities.
Myrna Duyan of Bileg Dagiti Babbae narrated that their community barricade in Didipio, in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya, was violently dispersed last April 2020 by around 100 police personnel. She explained that the barricade was meant to stop the company from further operating since the mining permit of OceanaGold Philippines Inc (OGPI) expired in June 2019, but they were met by police forces three times their number to assist the entry of OGPI’s fuel tanker.
“Indigenous women, like myself, who were at the forefront of the barricades suffered physical injuries, and psychological and emotional trauma,” Duyan said. “The police are supposed to protect the people, why then were they taking the side of the mining company?” A few months after the violent encounter, OGPI’s permit was secretly renewed despite the resistance of the communities and amidst the Covid pandemic.
Malou Verano of Masbate said in MacArthur (Leyte) and Aroroy (Masbate), communities that were known to oppose mining activities and had a conflict with the local government units were deliberately not given assistance at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March-April 2020. “How are we to live through the pandemic without government assistance? And, are we supposed to consume only contaminated food and water?” said Verano as she pointed that mining has sullied the waters in their community.
Gaeng Somo-oc from Manicani Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar added that “while struggling to survive, we became victims of red-tagging. Increased militarization resulted in several human rights violations,” he said. “Also, while we observe quarantine rules and restrict our movement, mining operations were being freely undertaken as the government prioritizes the industry over our concerns.”
Meanwhile, Jesus Cabias Jr. of MacArthur in Leyte lambasted the Duterte administration for “being deceitful” as he confessed to being a supporter of Duterte at the start of his presidency. He lamented that in the end, Duterte went against his tough talk against mining companies and abandoned the plight of the communities. “When it comes to politics, we should not allow ourselves to be deceived by empty promises. We will only be used by politicians,” he said.
Carmi Nacapagao from Homonhon Island added that “the government simply circumvents the laws to renew or extend mining permits despite community resistance”.
Continued mining operations, sanctioned and tolerated by the Duterte administration, are seen by the community leaders as a grave betrayal of Duterte’s promise in the 2016 election to protect the environment from destructive mining. Thus, they are calling for better leadership especially as the May 2022 elections are coming. The community leaders also vowed to persist in their continued struggle against mining.
Teoderico Fadrigo, Jr. of the South Cotabato Irrigators Agricultural Federation, Inc. which has been vocal against Tampakan mining said: “We have struggled for decades against mining and we will continue undaunted until a just and rational mining policy that protects communities and the environment is in place.”
Akbayan Partylist nominee Percival Cendana recognized the concerns raised by community representatives from the different mining areas and committed to continue working with them. He said: “Akbayan has long been working in many communities all over the country and we will continue to fight this struggle with you, from inside and outside the halls of Congress. It is critical that we ensure an enabling environment for our communities as well as enjoy democracy and human rights. Let’s continue fighting for our future!”
“I promise you, you have champions in us,” said Baguilat as he underscored the need to bring into the national discourse nature and the environment, not just mining. “The national elections should be an opportunity to talk about nature, the environment and climate change. We should also continue to change mindsets and make our mining laws less about extraction and destruction of our natural resources but towards genuine sustainable development,” Baguilat concluded.
The public forum is part of ATM’s Mining Hell Week, where a series of activities and actions are organized to highlight issues surrounding mining and the situation at the SOS from October 25 to 29 with the theme: #NeverForget EO 130 AT MGA DEKADANG MAPANIRANG PAGMIMINA; MAKATAO AT MAKAKALIKASANG PAMAMAHALA NG MINERALES NG BANSA, IPAGLABAN!
For more information, please contact:
Rhoda Viajar - 09178250346