Forum at University of Ottawa: The ‘Mining Mess’ in the Philippines

Community News & Features Mar 9, 2018 at 4:36 pm
Nicole Sudiacal of Anakbayan Ottawa

Nicole Sudiacal of Anakbayan Ottawa

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

Nicole Sudiacal’s grandfather worked in the gold mines for a quarter century.

It’s a story she has never forgotten.

“He would tell us about the effects of the mines being crushed. He would see people die,” said Sudiacal, a member of Filipino youth group Anakbayan.

Despite being a second-generation Filipino-Canadian, the “mining mess” in the Philippines hammers home for her.

Sudiacal spoke at the University of Ottawa on Tuesday, March 6 in a panel co-organized by Anakbayan-Ottawa and Filipino Students Association of Ottawa.

Mining watchdog

Anthropologist Catherine Coumans goes to the Philippines every year. From her last trip in September, Coumans shares how OceanaGold, a Canadian mining company that operates in Didipio, a village about 270 kilometres north of the Philippine capital of Manila, has had serious resistance from indigenous peoples.

“It was a very long struggle to stop a mine from going ahead because the people essentially had seen enough of mining in other areas to know ‘This is not going to be good for us. It’s going to contaminate our water. It’s going to affect our ancestral lands. It’s going to affect our food security. It’s going to affect our human rights and our personal security’…They had good reasons to oppose this,” said Coumans.

Working with MiningWatch Canada, she is solely responsible for covering the entire Asia-Pacific region. The group’s raison d’etre is to be a watchdog in the extractive sector, drawing attention to human rights violations and environmental abuses perpetrated by Canadian companies.

Since Coumans first visited the archipelago more than 20 years ago, she had been confronted with mining companies offloading costs on people and the environment nearly on a daily basis. Two approaches her group had been involved in are in places where harm can be prevented and how people can get remedy for harm done, like that in Marinduque–”the poster-child of mining disaster in the Philippines.”

“If anybody wants to know what 30 years of mining gets you, go look at Marinduque,” said Coumans.

In 2005, MiningWatch sought legal mechanisms to file the cases of abuse by Canadian mining companies, Coumans said. The groups brought indigenous Subanen from Mindanao, in the Philippines, to get their stories out before the media and a parliamentary committee as they pleaded for relief from their suffering from the operations of another Canadian mining company TVI Pacific.

“The report that came out from the committee did ask the government of Canada to investigate the activities of TVI Pacific,” Coumans continued.
Out of those problems that arose, a broader perspective of creating an independent government office, to be named the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, took place, as a result of consensus recommendation from industry and civil society.
New development
In January 2018, Canada’s International Trade Minister announced the new ombudsperson to keep tabs of Canadian companies’ overseas operations.

“No one’s been hired yet, the hiring is about to start. They are working on the description right now. But the office has been created and the commitment around the creation,” said Coumans.

“This is possibly the first time that the Canadian government has explicitly, publicly acknowledged its international human rights obligations in relation to overseas Canadian corporations.”