PHILIPPINES: A blind eye to human rights violations
PHILIPPINES: A blind eye to human rights violations
By Mark A. Cadiz
In an effort to raise awareness about the negative impact of mining exploration on indigenous communities throughout the world, the International Coalition of Human Rights Phillipines-Canada (ICHRP) led a public meeting in Toronto Saturday, Dec. 13 addressing their concerns.
Days after the world acknowledged the importance of human rights for all peoples and nations, concerned parties representing communities in Guatemala, El Salvador and the Philippines joined forces to highlight the human rights violations that continue to plague these countries.
“In many of the indigenous communities, they’re resisting foreign mining explorations because it means eventually the loss of their land, the loss of their resources and the loss of their lives,” Bern Jagunos, a human rights advocate and ICHRP committee member said.
In response to the increased mining activities in the Philippines, more recently on the island of Mindanao which holds more than half of the country’s mineral wealth, the Benigno Aquino III administration has responded in classic military style deploying soldiers in areas of foreign interest.
In the Philippine Mining Act and in the Indigenous Rights Act it’s mandatory for companies with permits to explore and operate in areas to consult and get consent from local communities. Unfortunately this is not often the case as the government paves the way for mining exploration by force.
“The military are not just intimidating the community, they are also actively harassing and going after the community leaders and environmental advocates who are educating the people. They scare them, harass them, even kill them,” Jagunos said.
Mindanao has experienced a surge in mining exploration and it’s in these early stages where local communities are most vulnerable falling victim to abductions and killings.
“I’ve seen the escalation of mining activities in the Philippines, and as a Filipino-Canadian, we have a responsibility to respond to the injustices and educate other Canadians who might not know what is happening overseas,” Connie Sorio program coordinator of Asia-Pacific Partnerships from Kairos Canada said.
Sorio one of the headline speakers at the event was in the Philippines this past August as part of a Kairos Canada Learning Tour visiting communities directly affected by TVI Resource Development (TVIRD) a Filipino-Canadian venture affiliated with Calgary based TVI Pacific Inc.
In the Zamboanga peninsula of Mindanao, 51 per cent of the total land area has been allocated to mining.
“For example, in one of the provinces we visited of the Zamboanga peninsula, TVI Resource Development is actively mining within a 5,000 hectare area, and within that area alone there were nearly 100 extrajudicial killings,” Sorio said, based on testimonies from members of the local community.
Up to now, Benigno Aquino III administration has done nothing about the alleged killings.
In a 2013 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-profit organization based in New York, since Aquino III took office in June 2010, there have been at least 114 cases of extrajudicial killings on environmental and anti-mining activists.
To add to HRW’s findings, an independent study by Karapatan, a Filipino organization promoting the protection of human rights in the Philippines, claims that from June 2010 to June 2014 there were 204 extrajudicial killings, 21 forced disappearances, 99 cases of torture and 39,800 of forced evacuation.
While the people’s movement against foreign mining companies is strong in the country, it is confronted with brutality by the Philippine government, Sorio added.
Even with these troubling reports TVIRD has had a positive effect on local economies they have been operating in; creating jobs and giving priority to locals in host communities with salaries and benefits exceeding regional counterparts according to its website. It has also been credited by some local organizations and indigenous chiefs for practicing responsible mining and operating with a respectful environmental code.
Closer to home in El Salvador and Guatemala, similar conditions and situations of resistance are happening which involve Canadian companies.
“The struggles are similar around the world, it’s the same struggle in El Salvador and in many ways we need to forge links, that’s how we combat such a daunting challenge,” Rene Guerra Salazar from SalvAide, a Canadian non-profit organization representing El Salvador, said.
Human rights organizations such as ICHRP are counting on these international links to be the instigator for better mining regulations, especially in the Third World countries.
Jagunos says they have been trying to educate the public and actively advocating the Canadian government to do more in countries like the Philippines, but they are seeing very little progress as there has been an increase in abductions.
According to Jagunos almost 799 extrajudicial killings have happened since 2006 as a result of foreign mining exploration and operations.
During the event, workshops were held that revolved around understanding the regulation of Canadian mining abroad, youth networking for mining justice and building awareness about tools for advocacy.
Other organizations involved at the event were St. Luke’s United Church, Kairos, Students Against Migrant Exploitation and UFCW Canada.