Mining is one of the major factors causing violent conflicts and environmental devastation in the Philippines. This is specially true among the Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral domains. Canadian corporations are a major player in the mining industry in this country. Social and environmental activists call on mining corporations, including Canadian companies, to stop the destructive impacts of their business activities in the Philippines. They also call on the government to repeal the current pro-business and anti-people laws that allow the destructive impacts of mining in our country.

Indigenous People shouting against mining and demanding government support for sustainable agriculture | Photo by Bulatlat.Com

Mining and violence in our Land

The Philippines is Asia’s deadliest and third deadliest in the world for environmental defenders, according to 2017 Global Witness Report on Killings of Environmental and Land Defenders. This is happening in the context of the armed-conflict between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) that has been going on since 1971. Right now, there’s impasse in the peace negotiations between the two parties.

Caught in the crossfire are the Lumad, or the Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao, who have been suffering from discrimination, militarization, and displacement

Mining, and its destructive and oppressive expansion, is one of the major factors contributing to the suffering of the Lumad. The education of the Lumad children is being sacrificed to the profit-worshipping advance of corporate greed. The advance of mining companies in Lumad lands is supported by the government and is seen by many to be protected by the military.

The global demand for nickel is directly related to the destruction of our mountains. Ignoring the widespread protest by legitimate tribal leaders across the country, gold investment promotions for the Philippines keep growing, mining operations keep expanding, and in turn, encroaching into Indigenous Peoples’ ancestral domains, and incite violent conflicts.

According to a 2017 report by a Canadian think tank Fraser Institute, the Philippines has one of the world’s worst mining policies.

Canadian mining presence in the Philippines

75% of global mining corporations are based in Canada. The global reputation of Canadian mining companies have been tainted with human rights violations, environmental destruction, and other abuses. This is especially documented in Latin America.

Ten years ago, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) published an assessment of Canadian mining corporations in this country. Part of the report said: “Canadian companies are major players in the global mining industry, and so it’s no surprise that they have more than made their presence felt in the Philippines. Unfortunately, that presence has not always been welcome — at least not by the immediate host communities. Worse, Canadian mining firms have acquired a notorious reputation in the Philippines, and there are indications that this is not about to change anytime soon.”

Early this year, the mining industry declared that it’s a Canadian era for mining in the Philippines.

The PCIJ‘s 10-year old assessment, however, is still true today.

The case of the devastation of Didipio community by an Australian-Canadian mining company, in a 2017 report by Pacific Standard’s Keith Schneider, demonstrate the sufferings experienced by small, powerless communities in the hands of powerful mining companies: “The company earned $275 million in copper and gold sales last year, according to the Philippine Mines and Geosciences Bureau. The company says it employs 1,800 people on 12-hour, 14-day-on, seven-day-off shifts. It houses and feeds its staff in a 566-bed compound within the mine’s fenced boundary. OceanaGold says that 40 percent of its workforce comes from Nueva Vizcaya, the local province. The village of Didipio, in the meantime, looks to have benefited from virtually none of that wealth. A number of residents work at the mine, earning about $1 an hour. But there are no restaurants, no hotels, and just a handful of front porch stores in a collection of shabby wooden homes. ’It hasn’t made life here better,’ Lorenzo Pulido, a Didipio resident and board member of Desama, a mine opposition group here, says through an interpreter. ’Farming is gone. A lot of trees were cut. When the mine closes what will we have here?’”

Despite the mining industry’s claims of applying Canadian mining standards that are supposedly justice-oriented and environmental-friendly in their practices, a 2015 research by Professor Belinda Espiritu of the University of the Philippines, shows otherwise: “It will result to the dislocation… from their ancestral land, and has actually led to human rights violations with the killing of anti-mining indigenous people and activists and the restrictions of access by the indigenous people to the forests and agricultural lands claimed by the mining corporations.”

The claims, according to an environmental research group, were “an attempt to greenwash dirty mining practices.”

Lumad children wading through toxic river caused by irresponsible mining | Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies

“The Philippine Mining Act of 1995,” according to Prof. Espiritu, ”which allows for 100% ownership of mineral ores and land covered in the claimed mining area should be repealed because it is against national sovereignty and against sustainability of the environment, cultural identity, quality of life, and livelihood of the Filipinos that will be most affected by the large-scale mining projects.”

The regions in the Philippines with biggest mining activities are among the poorest.

The 2017 Global Witness explains well why all these environmental violence become possible: “When open land is turned over for mining, soil and freshwater are poisoned, jeopardising the health and the future of nearby communities… It is irresponsible business and investors—hell bent on meeting consumer demand and maximising profit—who, together with corrupt or negligent governments, make this all possible.”

Peacebuilding in conflicted, mineral-rich land

Our understanding of peacebuilding is framed in the Gospel of Peace. We understand peacebuilding as “a comprehensive strategy that encompasses, generates, and sustains the full array of processes, approaches, and stages needed to transform conflict toward more sustainable, peaceful relationships.” (John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies, USIP, Washington, DC, 1997, p.20)

The kind of peace we’re seeking to build is harmony with the Creator (spiritual-ethical transformation), with one’s being (psycho-social transformation), with others (socio-political transformation), and with the creation (economic-ecological transformation).

The central component of peacebuilding is reconciliation. The conflicting parties must be willing to go on a journey from resolution of issues to rebuilding of relationships.

The Gospel of Peace provides for us a set of lenses for creation care. We look at the mining issues in the Philippines from the lenses of the Gospel of Peace. This Gospel energize us in working towards an economic-ecological transformation. Creation, from the perspective of the Gospel of Peace, is seen as an organic-relational world, not merely as a mechanical-utilitarian world.

In a mechanical-utilitarian view of the world, the emphasis is exploitation. If one of the parts of the machine-world is not functioning, the tendency is to replace it. Hence, in the current mechanical-utilitarian view of the world, the natural resources can be exploited for the present, and then later, it can be substituted with technological products and solutions—that is, synthetic materials.

An aerial view of the open pit mining operation of the San Roque Metals Inc (SRMI) on top of a mountain which is just above the Tubay River in the town of Tubay in Agusan del Norte. | Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies

In an organic-relational world, the emphasis is stewardship and loving care of creation. The biblical story of Creation (Gen. 2:7) tells us that “the Lord God formed the mortal (adam) from the dust of the ground (adamah) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (nishmat chayim) and the mortal became a living being (l’nefesh chayah). Such are the imageries used to give us a grasp of the beginning of the human race. We all came from the ground. We were named after the ground. We are one with Creation. We are one humanity! We are all breathed with the same breath of the Creator. That is the story of our Being Alive! When the Creator-God commanded us to replenish (umilu), to subdue (kivshuha), and have dominion over (uredu), the living things on Earth (Gen. 1:28), it has the idea of l’shamrah—to care for, to keep, to watch, and to preserve it (Gen. 2:15). Earth-destruction is listed by the Prophet John as a sin (Rev. 11:18). We are all called by the Creator-God to be stewards of Planet Earth! The followers of Jesus ought to apply the shalom-lifestyle in the stewardship of their resources.

God cares for the whole creation, including the human species. The creation is the world that “God so loved…” (Jn. 3:16). This “world” (kosmos) can mean the sum total of everything here and nowall of humanity, or world-systems. This is also the creation that will ultimately be reconciled with Christ (Col. 1:15-20). All living things are important to God. God relates with the Creation. That is why it is important for the church to see Creation as an organic-relational world. We were created as part of the whole creation. Our shalom—our experience of wholeness—necessarily includes the whole of creation.

Help us to be responsible stewards of our mineral-rich land. I’m proud of Canada because of our longstanding history of justice and peace intervention when invited by other countries. I enjoy my identity here as both a Filipino and a Canadian citizen sent by Mennonite Church Canada as a peacebuilding missionary. I call on my fellow Canadians to help us by holding Canadian mining companies to those same standards to that which we hold other mining companies from other nations. Help me, as a Canadian missionary, to demonstrate to the local community folks here—who have been affected by the unjust and destructive practices of Canada’s extractive sector—that the followers of Jesus in Canada are walking with them in their advocacy towards a justice-oriented and environmentally-friendly mining practices, especially addressing Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines. You can support us through the following steps of action:

  • Pray that Joji and I would be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Peace in the midst of land-based and mineral-based conflicts.
  • Learn more of the practices of the Canadian mining companies around the world from the lenses of the Gospel of Peace.
  • Communicate with the Member of Parliament in your place to legislate, or implement existing legislations, to stop the unjust and destructive practices of Canada’s mining companies inside and outside Canada.

We, in the Philippines, will continue to pray and work for justice and peace among the people and the lands affected by the destructive and unjust mining practices. We are determined to pursue environmental peace despite the setbacks we have experienced in the past. At the beginning of the Duterte administration, a progressive Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was appointed by the President in the person of Gina Lopez. She started to clean-up the DENR and began the process to rid the country of irresponsible mining operations. With much enthusiasm, we supported her and even documented—in this 5-minute video—one of her speeches and direct public confrontation of allegedly corrupt DENR officials when she sponsored a public forum on environmental care in Mindanao. However, her reform initiatives were nipped in the bud when the Commission on Appointment, under pressure from powerful mining lobby, did not confirm her appointment.

Even now, we continue to advocate for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.We will express our voices until our government will preserve our country’s natural resources to genuinely benefit the people—not just some, but all the people.

“Mining companies operating in Canada are subject to relatively strict environmental and social regulations. Government controls and public scrutiny demand that mining firms there be good corporate citizens and manage the impact of their operations. Canadians presumably want the same standards applied to these companies even in overseas projects, and have been known to voice their concerns when Canadian firms misbehave abroad. That is, of course, assuming that such news make the headlines in Canada. Apparently, that is not the case when it comes to Canadian mining firms operating in the Philippines.”  ~ Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

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