MAC: Mines and Communities

Philippine Bishops want Truth Commission vs environmental crimes

Published by MAC on 2010-07-17
Source: GMANews.tv, statement, Reuters (2010-07-13)

The Philippines has a new President. He is the son of the national heroine, 'Cory' Aquino. After the pro-mining policy of previous President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, there are hopes that "Noynoy" (as he is popularly known) will literally bring in a new regime.

He has promised a 'Truth Commission' over his predecessors' corruption, and the Catholic Bishops are asking that this be extended to looking at environmental crimes, most notably previous mining disasters. They are also calling, once again, for the repeal of the 1995 Mining Act.

Bishops want Truth Commission vs environmental crimes

GMANews.TV

12 July 2010

Now that he has formed a Truth Commission for graft and corruption cases, President Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino III may want to form a similar body to deal with environmental crimes.

Catholic bishops made the call as they lamented that many environmental crimes lack closure and many affected communities continue to suffer.

San Fernando Auxiliary Bishop Pablo David noted that for one, no mining company has been prosecuted so far when it comes to mining disasters.

"We are also seeking environmental justice," David said in an article on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

One of the disasters that the prelates hope the government would look into is the "Marcopper mining disaster" in Marinduque, the country's largest mining disaster so far.

The incident involves the Marcopper Mining Corporation which has been carrying out an open-pit copper mining operation in Mt. Tapian, Marinduque since the 1970s.

In August 1995, around 1.6 million cubic meters of tailings (slime, slickens, or residue) leaked from the pit and polluted 27 kilometers of the Makulapnit-Boac river and nearby coastal areas.

Rice fields and vegetable gardens were destroyed while fish, freshwater shrimps, and pigs were killed.

Aside from the Marcopper mining disaster, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes also pushed for the investigation of the mine tailing spillage in Rapu-Rapu Island, Albay.

In October 2005, cyanide and other contaminants from the Australian mining company Lafayette spilled into the sea and around Rapu-rapu Island.

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo said the mining industry in the country has been a "curse" to many people.

"We doubt if there's responsible mining. The current law is not responsive and even its execution is not good," said Pabillo, who also heads the CBCP's National Secretariat for Social Action- Justice and Peace.

"I encourage the DENR to be more protective of our heritage and the human rights of our people," added Pabillo.

The bishops also noted the rising number of affected communities, human rights violations, and economic problems brought about by mining disasters.

On Thursday, Secretary Ramon Paje of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and CBCP officials, led by their president Nereo Odchimar, attended a Bishops-Legislators Forum on the Mineral Management Policy.

According to an article of the Union of Catholic Asian News, Paje said the "Republic Act (R.A.) 7942 (Mining Act of 1995) must be changed."

During the forum, attended by around 50 participants, Paje said the current Philippine mining law favors investment, allowing foreign companies to have a full-ownership of a mining firm in the country.

Paje says the challenge is how to use the country's rich mineral resources while conserving and protecting the environment.

"That is where the challenge lies. How can we utilize the resources while not compromising biodiversity," he says.

He believes the inclusion of "resource valuation" in the current mining law, would be a positive move. "There should be thorough evaluation and completely value biodiversity," he says.

Paje appeals for collaboration to help ensure "responsible mining," adding that mining should not be a source of conflict between government and the Church.

Paje also says the government should respect the decisions of local communities, especially indigenous peoples groups, on whether to allow mining in their areas or not. -VVP, GMANews.TV


Green groups back CBCP's call to prosecute President Arroyo's environmental crimes

Kalikasan PNE Press Release

13 July 2010

Progressive environmental groups have expressed high expectations now that other sectors, particularly the Catholic Church, are urging President Noynoy Aquino to form a body similar to the Truth Commission that will look into the long standing charges regarding the Arroyo administration's cases of environmental plunder and destruction.

"Environmental groups and other sectors have long demanded for Gloria Arroyo her cohorts be prosecuted for their environmental crimes. With the church sector reiterating this call, and with PNoy seemingly taking positive steps to address demands relating to justice, we are optimistic that our calls will be heard," said Frances Quimpo, Executive Director of environmental research and education group Center for Environmental Concerns-Phils.

The groups said in their statement that one of the first things that Mr. Aquino need to do is to prosecute those who are liable for carrying out projects and policies that resulted to the destruction and plunder of the country's natural resources.

"Mrs. Arroyo was the leading environmental offender, as her policies were geared towards the sell-out of our patrimony and her projects have caused widespread poverty in affected communities and destruction of vital ecosystems," stated Ms. Quimpo.

Among the top environmental crimes of Mrs. Arroyo that the groups cited are the liberalization of the mining industry, privatization of energy resources, massive deforestation for corporate production, lack of disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation program, peddling of agricultural lands for biofuel production, and political killings of environmental activists.

"Environmental groups have prepared a document listing the environmental crimes of Arroyo during her nine years in office. We will submit this document to the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and to other groups who are planning to file cases against Arroyo. We are also going to submit the this report to the judicial and other independent bodies as it might be of help by providing more information and strengthen the evidences against former President Gloria Arroyo," said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.

Several particular offenses of Arroyo against the nation's patrimony, sovereignty and right to a healthful ecology, as included in the report are the following:

"We are one with other groups who are upholding the rights of the Filipinos and who are seeking the justice our nation deserves. We are thus urging others to join this crusade and challenge the current administration to serve its mandate and fulfill its promise of bringing about the reforms our nation and environment desperately needs," ended Bautista.

Reference: Clemente Bautista, national coordinator Kalikasan PNE, 09228449787 or 9209099.

KALIKASAN People's Network for the Environment is a network of people's organizations (POs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and environmental advocates. It believes that the struggle for the environment is a struggle of the people, thus all environmental action shall have the interest of the majority at their core.


Philippine bishops ask Aquino to scrap mining law

Reuters

16 July 2010

MANILA - The Catholic Church in the Philippines, a powerful political and social force, has called on new President Benigno Aquino III to scrap a law that allows foreign investors to fully own local mining ventures.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), in letter signed by Bishop Nerio Odchimar and released on Friday, said natural resources should be used for Filipinos.

Aquino, who took office on June 30, has supported the Mining Act, saying foreign investment was essential to develop local industry, create jobs and lift the economy's growth rate. The country's mineral deposits are estimated to be worth $1 trillion.

"We are calling for the abrogation of the Mining Act of 1995 that do not adequately protect the interest of our people and the country's natural resources," Odchimar wrote.

"Furthermore, we call for a review of all anomalous and controversial mining contracts," he said, asking Aquino to make public all existing mining contracts and applications.

The letter was released just over two weeks after the governor of South Cotabato, in her final days in office, banned open-pit mining in the province, putting at risk a $5.2 billion gold-copper prospect operated by Xstrata Plc.

Aquino has said he wanted to find a compromise solution.

"There is a need to develop this (mining industry) in a sustainable manner and allow extractive industries to contribute to poverty alleviation by strengthening the environmental and social components of government interventions in this sector," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

The Church's social and political pronouncements carry a lot of weight in the Philippines, where more than 80 percent of the Philippines' 90 million-plus population is Catholic.

The Church has supported the peaceful overthrow of two presidents, Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001, and influences social policies such as sex education and population planning.

Foreign investment in mining was capped until the 1995 law, which was intended to revive a moribund sector after several accidents in the 1970s that wreaked havoc on the environment.

Global miner BHP Billiton was one of the few foreign firms to enter the sector, but later pulled out from its nickel project partly due to differences with its local partner.

Australia's Lafayette, which owned the first foreign-led mining venture after the 1995 law, sold its stake in a polymetallic project after cyanide spills at its mine triggered a backlash from the Catholic bishops and environmental activists.

More broadly, foreign investment in the Philippines remains hampered by concerns about corruption, governance and security risks from insurgencies.

Foreign direct investment in April was $85 million, down 86 percent from a year earlier, and year-to-date investment was about half of the first four months of 2009, central bank data showed.

(Reporting by Rosemarie Francisco; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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