An open letter of the communities affected by mining operations,
received in Rome by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
On July 17-19, 2015 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (PCJP), in collaboration with the Latin American network Churches and Mining, organized a meeting in Rome with representatives of communities affected by mining activities titled “In union with God, we hear a cry”.
There were participants from 18 countries in the world: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Mozambique, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India and the Philippines.
This meeting was highly anticipated by our communities, which are increasingly organizing to be able to denounce grave human rights violations, environmental, contamination, community divisions, uprooting from territories, sicknesses, loss of culture, prostitution, alcoholism and drug addiction, loss of their own economy, and the ties to organized crime that are generated by the mining industry. The communities are also organizing to establish common strategies of resistance and alternatives.
“The objective of this meeting is to acknowledge your human dignity”, affirmed Cardinal Turkson, President of the PCJP. Pope Francis has defined it “the immense dignity of the poor” (Laudato Sí – LS 158).
The Catholic Church is increasingly confronting the gravity of the impacts of mining, the profound wounds to the heart of the earth and the communities, which are a symptom of the “one complex crisis that is both social and environmental” (LS 139).
In his letter to the meeting participants, Pope Francis described the context of the mining conflicts with great insight and empathy: “You wished to gather here (...) to echo the cry of the many people, families and communities who suffer directly and indirectly as a result of the consequences, too often negative, of mining activities. A cry for lost land; a cry for the extraction of wealth from land that paradoxically does not produce wealth for the local populations who remain poor; a cry of pain in reaction to violence, threats and corruption; a cry of indignation and for help for the violations of human rights, blatantly or discreetly trampled with regard to the health of populations, working conditions, and at times the slavery and human trafficking that feeds the tragic phenomenon of prostitution; a cry of sadness and impotence for the contamination of the water, the air and the land; a cry of incomprehension for the absence for inclusive processes or support from the civil, local and national authorities, which have the fundamental duty to promote the common good.”
Cardinal Turkson concluded the event expressing to the communities: “We are aware of your isolation, through human rights violations, persecution, and an imbalance of power.”
Through this meeting, the suffering of the communities received valuable visibility and dissemination into the global public opinion.
Reflecting on the Social Doctrine of the Church, we participants arrived at the conclusion that the Church cannot simply be a neutral mediator between the communities and the companies. “Where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (LS 158).
In this sense, we reiterate the importance of guaranteeing areas that are free from mining (No-go zones). These are regions of special ecologic protection, communities in small territories that would be destroyed by giant mining projects, sacred spaces where the history of a people and its culture are celebrated, areas of particular natural beauty, or places where communities that have already been displaced are settled, among others.
Cardinal Turkson guaranteed us that this meeting represented another stage in the long-standing commitment of the Pontifical Council: “It is not only the Vatican that hears the cry of the victims. The bishops do too. We will animate the local bishops to remain closer to the affected communities.”
We thank the Catholic Church for hearing the cry of those affected by mining and we wish to continue walking in hope “so that the Kingdom of justice, peace, love, and beauty may come.” Rome, July 28, 2015
Signed the communities that participated in the meeting, In union with God we hear a plea.
The Philippine Misereor Partnership Incorporated (PMPI) expressed deep disappointment on President Benigno Aquino’s scarce remarks on the environment during his last State of the Nation’s Address on July 27.
“It seems that the president, in mentioning the long list of achievements on various areas of governance and social reforms, has forgotten his responsibility to take the lead in protecting the Philippine’s rich biodiversity and natural resources,” said Sr. Cres Lucero, PMPI’s co-conveners and a member of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.
Emphasizing on PNoy's gratefulness to church and various religious leaders, Lucero asked the President to listen to the spirit of Pope Francis' call to hear the cry of the poor and the cry of mother earth.
"In these times that we need the most the support from all sectors to promote the care for our common home; when disasters caused by natural hazards and human activities occur left and right, we expected his encouragement in line with the Pope's vision to take action to protect our environment," Lucero added.
Lucero insists that it is a must for the President to use the remaining days of his office to push for projects that would protect the environment: the ones that will respond to the challenges of climate change and to safeguard our communities from disasters specially due to destructive mining activities.
Reforms in the mining industry
Yolanda Esguerra, PMPI national coordinator also noted that PNoy has been inconsistent in terms of pushing reforms in the mining industry that has been linked to several major environmental destructions and controversies.
“After the release of the Executive Order 79 in 2012, up to this time, what we have are categories for No-Go Zones for mining but still no specific area or province has been declared as such in a policy or legal paper even at least in the part of the President,” explained Esguerra.
Esguerra added that there is still time to add “luntian at makakalikasan” to “matuwid na daan.”
Last June, the House of Representatives have approved eight bills declaring eight areas in the country as mining-free zones. But the said policies are still far from enactment especially without the approval from the Senate.
Ed Garingan, PMPI project officer for the anti-mining campaign, also mentioned that reforms in the mining sectors should not focus on fiscal regime.
“Economic reforms are just beside the point,” Garingan said. “What the country really needs is ecological rehabilitation and conservation, and this is almost impossible with the Philippine Mining Act and the poor implementation of our current environmental policies.”
A call from the mining-affected community
Elizabeth Mangol, executive secretary of Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (MACEC) urged the president to verify his SONA on the ground by visiting mining-affected communities and see for himself how it damaged our important ecosystems in the island and how it caused a lot of suffering to people.
“We appeal to the President to give priority in ensuring that small islands ecosystem like Marinduque is protected from the environmentally destructive activities of mining companies,” Manggols said. “Not to mention the violation of human by these companies in the conduct of their operations.”
In time for the meeting of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace held on Jul. 17-29, 2015 in Rome, Italy, the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Incorporated (PMPI) submitted a paper on the issue of mining-related human rights violations in Manicani, an island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar among areas hardest hit and where Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 first landed.
“We seized this opportunity to raise the very disturbing issue of destruction of environment and human rights violations in Manicani,” PMPI National Coordinator and the network’s representative in the meeting Yolanda Esguerra said.
According to Esguerra, the meeting is intended to hear the experiences of mining-affected communities from different parts of the world and reflect on the future action of the church and the communities it serves in the context of destructive mining activities worldwide.
“The gathering is aptly themed: In union with God we hear a plea. We are happy that the Vatican has initiated this event to listen to the cries and hopes of the communities whose rights are wantonly being violated by mining companies,” she added.
In the paper she submitted, Esguerra highlighted the experience of Manicani Island specifically the violence related to the December 2014 and June 2015 incidents involving a mining company, which is a subsidiary of Nickel Asia.
On both incidents, barges of Hinatuan Mining Corporation (HMC) rammed through the fishing boats carrying island residents who were protesting against the mining entrance in their community.
Members of the Save Manicani Movement (SAMAMO), including youth advocates barely escaped getting crushed by the vessel.
Dividing the community
Esguerra also lamented how the mining operations divide communities particularly in Manicani islands where a rehabilitation project is being implemented by PMPI and its network members. She said it slows down the effort to rehabilitate the island from the ravage of Super Typhoon Haiyan.
“This is dividing the community,” she said. “There is a discord between those who oppose and those who support the mining operation: family against family, sister versus her brother, an aunt and an uncle versus their nephews and nieces.”
“They [mining operations] destroy the culture of close kinship in communities, displacing people and uprooting them from their culture,” Esguerra said.
Support from Pope
Pope Francis addressed the meeting through a letter sent to Pontifical Council’s President Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, reiterating his urgent appeal for collaboration in the “care of our common home, countering the dramatic consequences of environmental degradation in the life of the poorest and the excluded, advancing towards an integral, inclusive and sustainable development.”
"The entire mining sector is undoubtedly required to effect a radical paradigm change to improve the situation in many countries,” the pope said.
The pontiff joined the mining-affected communities in their call to hear the “cry of the many people, families and communities who suffer directly and indirectly as a result of the consequences, too often negative, of mining activities.”
Fr Joy Gillarme, Social Action Director of the Diocese of Marbel representing the mining-affected communities of B’laan in Tampakan, South Cotabato, one of the seven Sites of Struggles of the PMPI, highlighted the need for the church to continue to be in the side of the affected communities.
When asked if all the efforts of the communities, with the church and other civil society groups result to victories, Fr. Gillarme said, that the imbalance of power between mining corporations and the communities demand that the church be on the side of the affected community. He further added that the question for the church is not so much “Are we successful,’? rather, “Are we faithful?”
Communities and organizations from Asia, Latin America, and Africa, who are campaigning against the destruction brought about by mining activities attended the meeting. An international network of mining affected communities with their partner church groups and non-government organizations is in the drawing boards, as a result of this gathering.
After the unfortunate July 17 incident at the DMCI-owned Semirara coal mining site in Antique, Google Earth screenshots of Semirara Island in Caluya, Antique started spreading online. This led the secretariat of the PMPI to check ten other large-scale mining sites in the Philippines over Google Earth and these are what we saw:
1) Marinduque island
Mining companies involved: Marcopper, Placer Dome, Barrick Gold
Minerals: Gold and Copper
Significance: It is the site of the Marcopper Mining Disaster that happened on March 24, 1996: the worst mining disaster in the history of the Philippines.
2) Padcal, Benguet
Mining companies involved: Philex Mining Corporation
Minerals: Gold and Copper
Significance: On Aug. 1, 2012, a tailings dam of Philex in Padcal spilled about 20 million tons of toxic mine wastes into the tributaries of Agno river. Balog creek also flows to San Roque dam, where many communities depend on.
If Marinduque hosts the worst mining disaster, this one is the biggest.
3) Manicani Island, Eastern Samar
Mining companies involved: Hinatuan Mining Corporation, Nickel Asia Corporation
Significance: Manicani island is one of the first areas ravaged by super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) and is considered as a Protected Area by virtue of the Presidential Proclamation 469.
4) Sta. Cruz, Zambales
Mining companies involved: Eramen Minerals, Benguet Nickel, LNL, Zambales Diversified, DMCI
Significance: All the main large-scale mining companies in Sta. Cruz are suspended by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau for violations of environmental laws and policies.
Just like the islanders of Manicani, people from Zambales protest the destruction of this mining operation to the environment.
5) Toledo City, Cebu
Mining companies involved: Carmen Copper, DMCI, Atlas Consolidated
Minerals: Gold and Copper
6) Cauayan and Sipalay, Negros Oriental
Mining companies involved: Maricalum Mining Corporation
Minerals: Gold and Copper
7) Claver, Surigao del Norte
Mining companies involved: Taganito Mining Corporation, Nickel Asia Corporation
Significance: Taganito is the site of the so-called “red mountain” and "chocolate rivers." A mountain fully deforested by mining and logging operations, and rivers thorougly laden with mine waste. The mining sites in these areas are large enough to contain a whole city.
8) Mt. Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte
Mining companies involved: TVI Resource Development
Minerals: Copper and Zinc
Significance: Mount Canatuan is considered as a sacred place in the culture of the Subanons.
Subanons, an indigenous group whose name literally means river people, lived in the mountain since the 17th century. The mountain is gnawed through by the extraction of minerals.
9) Rapu-Rapu island, Albay
Mining companies involved: Rapu-Rapu Minerals Processing, La Fayette Mining
Minerals: Gold and Copper
Significance: The island is situated in an area in the Bicol Region, which is frequented by rare sea turtles and whale sharks locally known as “butanding.”
10) Homonhon island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar
Mining companies involved: Mt. Sinai Exploration, Cambayas Mining, Emir Mining
Significance: Homonhon island, in historic accounts, is the site of Ferdinand Magellan’s first landing in Asia in March 1521.
After the unfortunate July 17 incident at the DMCI-owned Semirara coal mining site in Antique, Google Earth screenshots of Semirara Island in Caluya, Antique started spreading online. This led the secretariat of the PMPI to check ten other large-scale mining sites in the Philippines over Google Earth. Read more >>
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