Filipino leaders raise issue of Canadian mining injustice to MPs, groups in 6 cities
PPCO PRESS CONFERENCE:
By Mila Astorga-Garcia
TORONTO–Philippine Press Club Ontario held a press conference with members of a visiting Philippine delegation of leaders who travelled to a number of Canadian cities, including Ottawa, to bring attention to Canadian legislators and the public about the detrimental impact of mining in the Philippines.
The delegation specifically asked Ottawa to create an Ombudsman position that would ensure that Canadian mining companies be responsible and accountable for their operations that negatively impact on communities, especially those of the Indigenous People, as well as the environment.
The delegation included Bayan Muna Partylist Congressman Carlos Zarate, Bishop Antonio Ablon, Dr. Anie Bautista, Eufemia Campos Cullamat, and Nenita Andrea Condes, the latter two, Indigenous People of Mindanao or Lumad women leaders.
Zarate spoke about why, despite the Philippines having so much richness “especially in mineral resources, the people remain poor; why despite the presence of thriving mining companies, the people in the mining communities are still poor.”
Zarate said the mining companies excavate for minerals, and instead of processing what they extract, “without any processing at all,” they haul off these raw materials to China, Japan and other countries. The mining practices not only harm the environment but result in the “displacement of entire villages, hunger and the killing of leaders” who oppose such destructive mining operations.
“No wonder, the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army) is growing strong,” Zarate said, implying that the growing repression by the military against anti-mining activists have left some with no recourse but to join the armed rebellion. The Congressman said that the ongoing peace talks of which he is part of the government panel, aim to end the armed conflict between the rebels and government forces and address its root causes like poverty and industrial and agricultural backwardness, and lack of social services.
Dr. Anie Bautista talked about how their group had asked the Canadian government to form an Office of Ombudsman for extractive industry that would ensure that Canadian companies would practice responsible mining in the Philippines and elsewhere.
“On the whole, we had a good response,” Bautista said, as they were told Parliament may conduct hearings on this matter. There was however one disappointment, Bautista revealed. The Chair of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights, Liberal MP Michael Levitt, when presented with the issue by the group, had reportedly shown disinterest, as he had stated that the issues presented to him were not really human rights concerns, but trade concerns.
At that point, PPCO President Rose Tijam spoke and addressed Dr. Bautista and the delegation: “I assure you Dr. Bautista that I will pursue (this matter) with Levitt,” who happens to represent the Toronto riding with one of the biggest if not the biggest number of Filipino residents.
Bishop Ablon, like the Congressman, stressed the difficult plight of Indigenous Peoples in light of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 which opened the Philippines to more mining exploitation to the detriment of communities. The law gave a chance for mining companies to have 10 years of tax holiday of only 2% tax, in operations that could last 50 years. It gave mining companies the right to timber, despite the logging ban; to redirect rivers and thus drive people out from communities; 100 foreign ownership superseding the law allowing 60-40 percent foreign-local ownership; and 100 percent repatriation of profits. This law had led to even more evacuations, displacements, demolitions of IP homes and property, and killing of Lumad leaders.
In Western Mindanao, there existed small-scale mining by the local people, but when the Canadian company TVI came, they were declared illegal miners. And that was how intimidation and killings started that targeted those who resist the destruction of their land and communities, he said.
“Canadian people, listen to our story and call on your government (to do something). If you have investments in pensions, “divest because yung per ninyo (the money that you earn), that is blood money.”
Lumad leader Eufemia Campos Cullamat, who lost two relatives, also both Lumad village leaders last September 1, 2015, when they were killed by paramilitary troopers in front of her and other villagers during the wake of her father, had this to say:
“Ang Mining Act of 1995 ay nagiging daan para labagin ang aming karapatan. Sa bundok, masaya, maligaya, masaya kami at walang kinatatakutan pero noong 1995, nagkaroon ng military operation at umpisang pinatay ang mga lider na humahadlang. (The Mining Act of 1995 paved the way for the violation of our rights. In the mountains, we were happy and were not afraid of no one but in 1995 military operations started and they started to kill our leaders who opposed destructive mining.).”
“Noong pinatay si Campos na pinsan ko sa harap naming, wala making nagawa kasi armado sila. Pinatay din ang aming executive director na bagamat hindi lumad ay nag-serbisyo ng labing isang taon kaya 95 porsieynto ng aming kabataan ay marunong magbasa at magsulat. Tinuruan din niya kami ng sustainable agriculture at food security, (When my cousin Campos was killed right before our eyes, we were helpless because they were armed. They also killed our executive director who wasn’t a Lumad but had served for one year that’s why 95 percent of our youth can read and write. He also taught us sustainable agriculture and food security.),” she said.
“Kaya’t katulad ng First Nations naghahanap kami ng hustisya. Kailangan magkaroon ng hustisya, karapatang pantao, pagproktekta ng kalikasan, hindi lang para sa aming katutubo kundi para sa lahat ng tao, (Like the First Nations, we also seek for justice. We need justice, human rights, protection of nature, not only for us indigenous people but for all people.),” she concluded.
PPCO officers, led by Rose Tijam, at the end of the press conference, presented awards of recognition for each member of the Philippine delegation for their resolute campaign for mining justice, human rights and support for peace talks. An award of recognition Nenita Andrea Condez, who joined the group in Toronto from Winnipeg, and for KAIROS, a coalition of Christian churches in Canada which sponsored the delegation’s trip, were also presented by PPCO representatives during a forum on April 4.