MAC: Mines and Communities

Philippines: Congressional investigation of poor mining practice

Published by MAC on 2014-04-21
Source: GMA News, Business Mirror, PDI, Al Jazeera

With Easter ended, and Earth Day looming, campaign groups have been lobbying hard to remind the public of the cost of mining in the Philippines.

As a result, the Congressional Committee on Ecology is set to investigate the reported environmental problems involving mining projects in the Philippines. The issue of company non-compliance with environmental laws is to the fore, and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) is advocating for firms to be punished for their wrongdoings.

To back such claims Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III has called for a ban on open-pit mining.

Meanwhile, Communist insurgents continue to attack mining firms, in the most recent cases attacks against Apex, St. Augustine's and Alston mines in Southern and Eastern Mindanao. This has led to an increase in militarisation in the relevant areas. A mayor was shot dead in Gonzaga, Cagayan province, in a killing being linked to his support for allegedly illegal black sand mining.

A recent report by Global Witness has placed the Philippines as the deadliest Asian country for environment activists, focussing very much on anti-mining activists (see: Surge in deaths of environmental activists over past decade, report finds), and various Philippine-reports have focussed on this.

Anti-mining alliance urges DENR to order closure of erring mining firms

GMA News

13 April 2014

In its bid to prevent future mining disasters in the Philippines, an alliance of mining-affected communities and their support groups on Sunday urged the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau to order closure of several mining operations in the county found violating environmental laws.

Barely nine days before the observance of Earth Day, slated every April 22, the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) also urged the DENR and the MGB to punish mining firms that have committed human rights abuses.

"We have to stem the tide of mining disasters such as the Marcopper toxic mine tragedy in Marinduque in 1996, and Philex's Padcal mine spill in 2012. The government should immediately shut down those mining companies who [were] found culpable of violations of environmental laws," said Jaybee Garganera, ATM National Coordinator, in a statement sent to GMA News Online on Sunday.

Garganera also cited the recently-issued environment protection cases against two Chinese mining companies Liaoning Fenghua Group Philippines Mining Company Inc. and Bohai Top International Mining Corp. for operating without the necessary mineral processing permits in Camarines Norte province.

The ATM insisted that a performance review of all existing mining operations must be done pursuant to EO79.

"The performance review can be the basis for the indictment of erring mining companies. This has been the basis of the environmental protection cases filed against the two Chinese mining companies," Garganera said.

ATM's statement also quoted Garganera as saying: "Mining in the country has taken severe toll on access to water, health, and the development of agricultural activity and brought about drastic change in the environment."

"With climate change already upon us, mining disasters are most likely to happen with a flawed mining law and inadequate regulatory environment. Geo-hazard areas should be declared ‘no-go zones' to mining. This should be immediately acted upon by MGB," he added.

An earlier report on Philippine Star news site said MGB Region V ordered Bohai Top International Mining Corp. to dismantle its mineral processing plant in the village of Napaod in Labo town on Feb. 10, adding that authorities seized several heavy equipment and apprehended several Chinese nationals.

On April 22, various environmental groups, including ATM will participate in the celebration of Earth Day by holding public actions in different parts of the country.

As of June 2013, the MGB adjudication board has recorded dozens of pending cases.

House probe on compliance of mining firms with environmental laws sought

Written by Jovee Marie N. de la Cruz

Business Mirror

14 April 2014

The House Committee on Ecology is set to investigate the reported environmental problems involving foreign and local mining companies in the Philippines.

The panel, through House Resolution 950, filed by Liberal Party Rep. Mel Sarmiento of Western Samar, is also expected to include in its probe the reported unabated black-sand mining in Luzon.

The resolution also called on the concerned government agencies to strictly implement the environmental laws and monitor the activities of foreign and local mining companies.

"Despite extravagant showcases of responsible mining operations, mining companies have violated the country's environmental laws," Sarmiento's resolution said.

House Resolution 950 added that the mining disasters occurred in the country in 1996, 1999, 2005 and 2012, saying a total of 1.5 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailing from Marcopper Mining Corp. were disgorged into the Maculapnit and Boac rivers in Marinduque on March 24, 1996.

"In August 1999 the Atlas Mining Development Corp. discharged 5.7 million cubic meters of acidic wastewater into the Sapangkau River in Toledo City, Cebu," the resolution noted.

It also said the Lafayette Inc. spilled mine tailings with cyanide, which caused fish kills, paralyzing the livelihood of poor fishermen in Rapu-Rapu, Albay, and some fishing villages in Sorsogon.

According to the resolution, some 20 million metric tons of sediment from the tailing pond of Philex Mining Corp. in Tuba, Benguet, flowed into water channels in August 2012.

"After months of recurring leakages, the Philex mine spills had become the biggest mining disaster in the Philippines in terms of volume," it said.

Sarmiento also noted the urgent need for the government to address the prevalent problems resulting from noncompliance of mining companies with environmental laws in all stages of their operations.

Solon wants probe on errant mining companies

Bicol Today

14 April 2014

MANILA (PNA) - A lawmaker has filed a measure seeking a congressional inquiry into the recurring environmental problems involving foreign and local mining companies in the country.

Rep. Mel Sarmiento (1st District, Western Samar) authored House Resolution 950, which urges the House Committee on Ecology to include in its probe the unabated black sand mining in Luzon.

Sarmiento also called on the concerned government agencies to strictly implement the environmental laws and monitor the activities of foreign and local mining companies.

"Despite extravagant showcases of responsible mining operations, mining companies have violated the country's environmental laws," Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento said mining disasters occurred in the country in 1996, 1999, 2005 and 2012.

He noted that a total of 1.5 million cubic meters of toxic mine tailing from Marcopper Mining Corp. were disgorged into the Maculapnit and Boac Rivers in Marinduque on March 24, 1996.

In August 1999, the Atlas Mining Development Corp. discharged 5.7 million cubic meters of acidic wastewater into the Sapangkau River in Toledo City, Cebu.

The Lafayette Inc. spilled mine tailings with cyanide, which caused fish kills, paralyzing the livelihood of poor fishermen in Rapu-rapu, Albay and some fishing villages in Sorsogon.

Some 20 million metric tons of sediment from the tailing pond of Philex Mining Corp. in Tuba, Benguet flowed into water channels in August 2012.

"After months of recurring leakages, the Philex mine spills had become the biggest mining disaster in the Philippines in terms of volume," Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento stressed the urgent need for the government to address the prevalent problems resulting from non-compliance of mining companies with environmental laws in all stages of their operations. (PNA)

Still no rehab plan set for abandoned mine site in Rapu-Rapu, Albay

Written by Manly M. Ugalde

Business Mirror

3 April 2014

LEGAZPI CITY - Almost a year after a South Korean-Malaysian mining firm abandoned its gold-and-copper mining operation in the island town of Rapu-Rapu in Albay, the mining operators still have not submitted their rehabilitation plans to the Philippine government in compliance with Republic Act (RA) 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995.

This developed even as a former Rapu-Rapu councilman and a former official of the Rapu-Rapu Minerals Inc. (RRMI) and Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project (RRPP) backed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Albay chapter sued the mining firms in January for P116 million in damages. The case also implicated five top officials of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), headed by Secretary Ramon J.P. Paje, to order RRMI-RRPP to pursue their obligations to their host community.

Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Regional Technical Director Theodore Rommel Pestano said until now, the Rapu-Rapu mining operators have yet to submit the Final Mine Rehabilitation Decommissioning Plan (FMRDP), which would serve as a guide on how to rehabilitate mined-out areas after the mining operators ceased operation in August last year.

The first FMRDP proposed by RRMI in 2010 with a $4-million fund had been rejected by the DENR secretary as insufficient, while the revised second FMRDP submitted in August last year with a proposed upgraded budget to $8 million had also been rejected for "miserably failing to meet the projected rehabilitation performance based on the DENR's Administrative Order 2005-07 which would address rehabilitation and include strategies to address a long-term stability, sustainability and time frames for the assessment of rehabilitation activities, said the MGB official.

Former RRMI Vice President Cecilia A. Calleja assailed the delay on their filed cases against RRMI-RRPP, saying until now the Regional Trial Court has not scheduled any hearing yet nor issued the sought Ex-Parte Temporary Environmental Protection Order and Ex-Parte Preliminary Attachment over properties of the mining firms.

She expressed fear that the delay may one day find the host town left behind without the rehabilitation as experienced by other mined provinces leaving the environment of the host communities damaged and ruined with no choice but for the host communities to clean up the mess left behind.

Albay Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda said in an e-mail that as chief executive of the province that the DENR never informed him of its plan or action taken regarding the closure of the Rapu-Rapu mining site and the proposed rehabilitation plans.

Salceda was reacting to a published report that two groups in Albay including his political adviser former Guinobatan Mayor Christopher Flores was among the cause of the delay in the rehabilitation of the Rapu-Rapu mined-site as the two groups reportedly are fighting over the rehabilitation control involving P700 million.

A known environmentalist who led protest rallies while a congressman during the early days of the Rapu-Rapu mining operation in 2005, Salceda warned that the FMRDP should conform with the standard set by the province.

The operation was started and operated by the Australian-owned Lafayette Mining.

During the first year of Lafayette's mining operation, a mine-tailing spill occurred tseparately on October 11, and 31, 2005, when a high content of cyanide was discovered resulting in the fishkill that cost the livelihood of small fishermen in Albay and nearby Sorsogon province. Consumers in the two provinces refrained from buying fish for food for almost a month.

The toxic mine-tailing disaster forced then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to create the Bastes Commission to investigate the minetailing spill, headed by Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes. The commission had recommended the closure of the Rapu-Rapu mining site which Malacañang ignored, however, with a minor sanction from MGB, which merely suspended the operation of the Lafayette Mining Co. for a few months, forcing the Australian investors later to sell out to the South Korean-Malaysian investors.

The documents said the Rapu-Rapu mining was started in 2005 for an eight-year operations to end in 2013 involving gold, copper, silver and zinc. It said, however, that the present funds in the FMRDP is only P158 million, very much behind the P700 million estimated for the full rehabilitation of the site.

In August 22, 2013, Paje reportedly visited Albay where he rejected for the second time the FMRDP presented by RRMI-RRPI as allegedly grossly insufficient and labeled it as tantamount to abandonment of the 180-hectare mined-site and open pit.

Paje has strongly recommended the conversion of the Rapu-Rapu mine site as an ecotourism project instead of restoring it as the original agricultural land.

The decommissioning of the Rapu-Rapu mine operation took effect on August 30, 2013, reportedly with an income of P65 billion generated during its seven-year operation that ended in 2012.

Stop open-pit mining; it does not solve poverty, it perpetuates it -- Pimentel

Senate Press Release

3 April 2014

Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III today urged local government units to disallow "open-pit mining" that have turned precious farmlands into a moonscape.

"We cannot allow the unabated destruction of our land and water resources due to open-pit mining. It is deplorable and it must not continue," Pimentel said, amid the latest warnings that the costs of inaction on climate change will be "catastrophic."

He deplored the continued small-scale operations using high-pressure water pumps and backhoes to excavate vast tracts of farmlands in a hunt for gold.

One gold-rich mining town reported to have experienced the destruction of several hectares of farmlands is the town of Barobo in Surigao del Sur. One small-scale mining operation, said to be just 200 meters from the highway, allegedly has a temporary permit from the province's governor.

A miner could get about 100 grams of gold per day, the report said following the recent resumption of the mining operations financed reportedly by Taiwanese investors.

Pimentel, who has championed environmental protection and preservation, said LGUs should be more aware of the impacts of the destruction of the environment and climate change.

"Unabated mining does not solve poverty, it perpetuates it. It benefits a few but the destruction it causes affects entire communities, not just in this generation but those in the future as well," he said.

He urged local government leaders to go for long-term solutions rather than short cuts, and to adjust their development plans to the requirements of environmental preservation and climate change mitigation.

Some impacts of environmental degradation, he said, include "higher risk of flooding and changes to crop yields and water availability."

Pimentel said most of the time it is the foreign investors who raked in enormous profits from the illegal mining operations, leaving the crumbs to Filipinos they employed to dig up the mining sites.

Environmental advocates call for new mining law in Easter appeal

GMA Network

20 April 2014

Invoking the spirit of renewal that Easter brings, environmental and church groups reiterated their appeal to President Benigno Aquino III to protect the lives of people in communities affected by giant mining operations in the Philippines.

In reaction to President Aquino's Easter message, Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina, said this "Easter Sunday is a good occasion to remember the mining disasters that have affected the lives of mining communities that are continuously ignored and whose rights are violated with impunity."

He also appealed to the President to order a "stop to operations of large-scale mining operations and the immediate passage of the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB)."

Together with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the ATM, an alliance of mining-affected communities and their supporters, also calls for a moratorium on the issuance of new mining permits.

In his Easter message, Aquino had called on all Filipinos to "sacrifice for others."

"Lubusin natin ang mga pagkakataong ito... Nasa kamay po natin ang susi ng ganap na pag-asenso. Tiyak pong sa ating malasakit sa isa't isa at sa patnubay ng Panginoon, mararating natin ang katuparan ng ating mga panalangin at mithiin," he said.

Also, he said that under his watch, the nation has risen from rampant graft and poverty, with people's trust restored in the government.

But Garganera said protecting the environment, especially from destructive mining operations, "is an expression of self-sacrifice for our poor brethren in mining-affected communities."

He said, "there is no end in sight to mining disasters with the current policy in mining industry under the Mining Act of 1995.

Back in 1998, the CBCP issued a letter on the environment, "What Is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?" In this letter, the CBCP lamented the assault on the environment by the large-scale mining firms, said Garganera.

The testimonies of mining of affected communities of Marinduque and Compostela Valley paint a picture of the gravity of environmental degradation and human rights violations brought by the large scale mining in these areas, he added.

These conditions impair communities' rights to adequate housing, safe water and to an environment that does not harm their well-being. The past nineteen years since the Mining Act of 1995 enacted, it is very disheartening to witness the worsening rural poverty and continuing disaffection of affected communities on mining, Garganera said

On April 22, various environmental groups, including ATM will participate in the celebration of Earth Day by holding public action in different parts of the country. - Jerbert Briola /LBG, GMA News

Philippine rebels storm another mining firm in daring attack

By Mindanao Examiner

10 April 2014

DAVAO CITY (Mindanao Examiner) - Communist insurgents stormed a mining firm on Thursday and torched several equipment in the southern Philippine province of Compostela Valley, the military said.

It said troops were dispatched to hunt down the raiders - the New People's Army - which have been fighting for a separate state [sic] in the largely Catholic country.

There were no reports of casualties, but the daring raid on Apex Mining Company only showed the determination of the rebel group to put a stop to large scale mining operations in the mineral-rich region, particularly in areas where indigenous communities thrive.

Tribesmen have longed complained against the intrusion of huge mining firms into their ancestral domain and sought help from the rebels to stop the destruction of their lands and exploitation of their natural resources.

Army Captain Alberto Caber, a spokesman for the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the raid occurred in the town of Maco where the mining firm operates. He said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz III, the regional military chief, has ordered troops to help police secure the town and at the same time pursue the attackers.

"General Cruz has ordered troops to assist the police in its law enforcement operations. He said all legal business establishments should be protected from NPA attacks, deception and extortion," Caber said.

He said the rebels have been extorting money from mining firms and even civilians to raise money for terror attacks in the region.

The NPA earlier warned mining firms to stop its operations in Mindanao or face assault. Just recently, rebel forces also swooped down on Philippine Alstron Mining Company on the village of Tamamarkay in Agusan del Norte's Tubay town and they burned several trucks and other heavy equipment. The rebels also ransacked the firm's arsenal after overpowering the guards without firing any shot.

Among their other targets are Russell Mines and Minerals, Extrata, and Philco in southern Mindanao; Dolefil, Del Monte and Sumifru plantations in northern Mindanao; TVI Resource Development Philippines in western Mindanao whose operations inside the ancestral domain of indigenous Subanen and Moro tribes are being opposed by villagers.

NPA and Moro rebels had previously attacked TVI Resources in Zamboanga province. TVI Resource Development Philippines has recently ended its gold mining operation in Mount Canatuan in Zamboanga del Norte's Siocon town after several years of operations and now has a gold-silver project in the town of Bayog in Zamboanga del Sur province and a nickel plant in Agusan del Norte province, also a known stronghold of the communist rebel group.

Jorge Madlos, a regional rebel spokesman, said military operations in Mindanao have escalated and have become more extensive with the aim to thwart the ever growing and widespread people's protest against destructive mining operations. (Mindanao Examiner)

Apex Mining, St. Augustine Mines grossly violated revolutionary policies on environment

By Daniel Ibarra

Spokesperson, Comval-Davao Gulf Subregional Command, NPA Southern Mindanao

12 April 2014

Earlier today (12 April) at 9:00 am, the New People's Army discharged command-detonated explosives against the reinforcing troops belonging to the 9th Infantry Battalion, Armed Forces of the Philippines, at Masara Apex Tenement Complex. This latest NPA offensive was a follow-up to an earlier successful tactical offensive when Red fighters under the New People's Army 6th Pulang Bagani Company, and the Guerrilla Front 27 Operations Command and Guerrilla Front 2 Operations Command imposed punitive sanction against the US-owned St. Augustine Gold and Copper Ltd., and Malaysia-owned Apex mining, two biggest foreign mining firms in Southern Mindanao on 7 and 10 April, respectively. The companies grossly and repeatedly violated regulations of the People's Democratic Government with regards to environmental protection, workers' welfare and people's livelihood.

Destroyed at five Apex mining tunnels in Masara, Maco town, Compostela Valley, were the following: Level 840 -- two units truck, two units drifter, two units loader, and one unit mixer machine; Maligaya tunnel -- two units drifter, one unit shortcrate machine hornet; Barabadan tunnel -- one unit truck, one unit loader; Level 400 -- one unit Toyota Fortuner, one unit pick-up truck; Motor pool -- one unit pick-up truck, one unit underground loader, one unit boom truck and one unit selfloading.

Destroyed at the St. Augustine mines in Pantukan town were several portable drills.

The NPA sanction against the Apex Mining -- co-owned by the country's fourth richest Filipino and among the biggest campaign contributors to GPH Pres. Benigno Aquino, Enrique Razon -- was imposed due to the following specific violations:

Maco Vice Mayor Voltaire Rimando is wrong in saying that the NPA sanction against Apex would force the firm's closure and lead to the dislocation of hundreds of workers and residents. His concern for Apex workers is sham and inconsistent with his previous hands-off stance for victims of human rights abuses, militarization and environmental disaster. In truth, he is anxious that any sanction against the Apex would adversely result to a potential loss of his one percent dole-out and kickback that is channeled through opportunist tribal leaders of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples. Even then, if Apex ceases its mining operations and withdraw from the area, the poor miners and their families would be in a better condition to freely maximize the natural resources on their own, without exploitation and oppression.

With regards to St. Augustine mining in Pantukan town, it wantonly violated revolutionary policies when they operated outside of their tenements, and due to setting up of military outposts, conducting regular seizure and check-up of things brought in and out by small-scale miners, controlling of movement of civilians, and aggressive psychological warfare against tribal leaders through dole-out projects.

The people's army is ever resolute in pursuing environmental protection in the light of the US-Aquino regime's wanton destruction and plunder of our natural resources. It is steadfast to train its guns against the people's biggest enemy, evade entrapment and master self-preservation while inflicting body and head blows amid relentless brigade-sized combat operations of the fascist AFP.

Military deploys troops to secure Chinese mining firm in Agusan


7 April 2014

MANILA, Philippines - Soldiers have been deployed in southern Philippines to secure a Chinese mining firm which was raided by members of the leftist rebel group New People's Army ( NPA) on Saturday, a military official said today.

Maj. Gen. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Philippine Army's 4th Infantry Division, said 120 officers and men are now stationed at the Alston Mining Co. in Tubay town, Agusan del Norte province.

"Soldiers will not serve as security guards (of the company). What they will provide is more of area security," said Visaya.

He also said the Chinese firm is looking at employing militiamen to secure the company against NPA guerrillas who demand "revolutionary tax" from mining firms in southern Philippines.

Some 100 heavily-armed NPA guerrillas swooped down on Alston Mining at around 1:15 a.m., Saturday. The leftist rebels burned several office buildings and torched four dump trucks and a back hoe.

The rebels also took six shotguns from the guards before fleeing.

Filipino eco-warriors fight losing battle

Deadly attacks on anti-mining activists in the Philippines part of a global trend, according to new report.

Ted Regencia

Al Jazeera

16 April 2014

As his family's first-born son, Jordan Manda was groomed as the future chieftain of their Subanen tribe in the mountains of southern Philippines.

His father Lucencio Manda is the current chief of their clan. Jordan, 11, excelled in school, ranking in the top five of his class while helping his parents look after their farmland. In late 2012, the fifth-grader was hitching a ride to school on his father's motorbike when a bullet pierced his back and killed him.

The elder Manda survived the ambush. He said they were attacked because he had opposed mining in their resource-rich ancestral land. Manda said he had received death threats for years and in 2002, his cousin and former tribal leader, Giovanni Umbang, was also killed. He, too, had vocally opposed mining exploration. The two murder cases remain unsolved. Local activists told Al Jazeera the presence of large-scale mining was to blame for the outbreak of violence in the Subanen community.

Deadly attacks in the Philippines reflect a "rapidly worsening" global trend occurring against a backdrop of "extreme global inequality", according to a new report released on Tuesday.

London-based Global Witness, an international NGO that documents the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict, said between 2002 and 2013 at least 908 environment and land defenders were killed worldwide. Brazil ranked as the most dangerous with 448 cases, followed by Honduras with 109, and the Philippines with 67 deaths.

"More and more ordinary people are finding themselves on the front line of the battle to defend their environment from corporate or state abuse and unsustainable exploitation," the report said. "And it has never been more deadly."

The bloodiest year for land defenders and environmental activists was 2012 with 147 deaths globally. In the past four years, an average of two activists have been killed each week.

Bribery and intimidation

Indigenous people have been particularly hard-hit, partly because of a lack of legal protections, the report said. Even where laws exist, they are disregarded by powerful economic interests. "Often, the first they know about the deal that goes against their interests is when the bulldozers arrive in their farms and forests," reads the report.

That is also true among the Subanens of Mindanao, said Daniel Arias, of the anti-mining group Alyansa Tigil Mina. He said multinational mining companies come into communities with bribes or armed private security companies to intimidate the locals.

"Subanens have been living peacefully in their communities for centuries," Arias told Al Jazeera. "All of a sudden, mining companies come in and create trouble. So the logical conclusion is that mining breeds conflict."

Leonita Cabando, who heads the anti-mining coalition Social Action Center, told Al Jazeera that mining companies have also employed different strategies to divide the loyalties of tribal leaders.

'Military involvement'

In the Philippines, the government has often been accused of militarising the conflict and siding with the interests of big business over indigenous groups such as the Subanens, said Hirohito Cadion, a journalist in the Zamboanga Peninsula. Cadion said he had been threatened for reporting alleged abuses against indigenous people. He told Al Jazeera that former military officials had been hired to provide security for mining companies, and that some local government officials joined in harassing indigenous people.

In one incident cited in the report, Philippine soldiers shot and killed Juvy Capion, the pregnant wife of B'laan tribal leader Daguil Capion in Tampakan town in Mindanao. Also killed in the attack were the couple's two sons, seven-year-old John Mark and a 15-year-old named Jordan.

The Philippine military said the deaths were part of a legitimate operation. Human rights advocates, however, said there was no armed encounter and called the incident a "massacre". Juvy and her husband Daguil had been blocking the gold and copper mine operated by Sagittarius Mining Inc (SMI), in which Swiss-based Glencore-Xstrata owns a majority stake. Daguil, the chieftain, had declared a "tribal war" and took up arms against the project, making him a target of the military, with a $7,000 bounty on his head.

Asked for comment about the alleged complicity of Sagittarius Mining in the deaths, Manolo Labor, the company spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the SMI was "never a party to the investigation".

"This particular issue was covered by an investigation, first by a military tribunal and second by the commission on human rights," Labor said. "According to the military, they had a valid arrest warrant for a certain individual, and that was covered by a military order."

'Total impunity'

A vast majority of perpetrators "appear to enjoy total impunity for their crimes", according to the Global Witness report.

Of the 67 confirmed killings in the Philippines, only two suspects have been jailed. Conflicts over mining accounted for 42 of the murders.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific Director, said in a statement to Al Jazeera that impunity for murder "is a critical human rights concern" in the Philippines.

"Effective investigations and prosecution for crimes involving human rights violations are rare in the Philippines," he said. "This is actually a systemic problem in the country's criminal justice system as a whole."

Frederick Ian S Capin, a lawyer for the Philippines' Human Rights Commission, told Al Jazeera that many of the cases reported were difficult to verify, because of the remote locations of the villages. Over the past two years, his office reported finding at least six abuse cases.

"Security and safety of going in and out of the places of the incident are a challenge," Capin said. He added that trying to get witnesses to talk is even more difficult because many fear for their lives.

Criminal prosecution

The report said countries such as Brazil and the Philippines "must take immediate steps" to investigate the deaths, and prosecute the killers. "There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis that this dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people who are protecting rights to land and a healthy environment," the report said.

Amnesty International director Rupert Abbott told Al Jazeera that it was not enough for countries such as the Philippines to investigate the problem, they needed also to bring those responsible to court and punish them, while providing reparations to family members of the victims.

"All of us need to keep [up] the pressure and need to keep on repeating ourselves until the government makes a commitment," he said.

Meanwhile, Jordan Manda's father vowed to continue to seek justice for his late son. He stood for election as a town council member in May 2013 - and won. "It is very painful and I thirst for justice," he was quoted as saying after his son's death. "I vow to continue my struggle in order not to make my son's death in vain."

Philippines deadliest Asian country for environment activists - report

Philippine Daily Inquirer

15 April 2014

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is the deadliest Asian country for environment and land defenders, a report from a London-based group said.

Global Witness, a group that seeks to shed light on the links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses, said the Philippines is the third in the world with the highest number of killed environmental and land defenders, at 67 deaths since 2002.

The deadliest country is Brazil with a whopping 448 deaths while second is Honduras with 109 deaths, the report read.

"Parts of Asia also account for significant numbers of killings of defenders. A contributing factor could be that, like South America, some Asian countries have strong social movements and awareness of rights, with good civil society monitoring of environmental and land issues," the report read.

"The Philippines is the worst-hit country in Asia with 67 known killings, the majority over mining conflicts," the report added.

The report said of the 67 activists killed, 41 were opposing mining or extractive operations.

The report also said the violence stems from opposition to land-grabbing and deforestation.

Of the 67 deaths, only two were imprisoned, the report said. "The vast majority appear to enjoy total impunity for their crimes," it added.

The report also said that there is evidence that the "killings were at the behest of private sector interests or political actors."

"(S)tate forces are suspected of being behind the killings. Key state institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, are weak and the military and police are known to commit human rights violations with little accountability," the group said.

The group said 14 killings were attributed to armed forces, three to local government officials and two to the police.

The study cited the most famous environmentalist killing in the country - Dr. Gerry Ortega , a well-known environmentalist and vocal critic of illegal logging, who was shot dead in Palawan last January 2011.

Tagged as mastermind are former Palawan governor Joel Reyes and his brother, former Coron mayor Mario Reyes, who both went into hiding after a regional trial court issued arrest warrants in March 2012. The appellate court cleared the former governor of the charges in October 2013, but the Reyes brothers have remained at large since.

The report also cited the "harrowing case" of Juvy Capion, who with her two young sons, was allegedly shot dead by members of the 27th Infantry Battalion in South Cotabato. The report quoted a fact-finding mission that said soldiers "peppered" Capion's house with machine gun fire before bringing outside their bodies and leaving them outside to rot.

Juvy, an indigenous anti-mining activist, was the wife of Daguil Capion, a leader of the B'laans indigenous peoples in the province. Juvy's husband Daguil, a member of the communist armed group the New People's Army, has taken up arms against the Tampakan Gold Copper project, which has been condemned as it lies close to an active volcano, the report said.

In an Associated Press report, Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., who heads the Philippine military's human rights office, said a military probe showed the three died in crossfire as troops clashed with suspected outlaws.

"We don't tolerate or condone human rights violations and we hope Global Witness can work with us to pinpoint any soldier or officer involved in those killings," Tutaan said.

The Global Witness report also cited the case of couple Manuela and Expedito Albarrillo who were found dead in Mindoro Oriental on April 8, 2002, the report said, adding that eight armed men used force to remove the couple from their hut. Both were active in opposing mining operations in the province.

There is also the case of indigenous leader Jimmy Liguyon, who was shot dead in front of his family on March 5, 2012 in Pampanga. The report said Liguyon, who was also a barangay (village) chief, may have been killed for not signing a signing a certificate of ancestral domain to grant mining rights for an area of 52,000 hectares inhabited by the Matigsalog tribe in San Fernando.

Also, Romeo Sanchez, leader of the Save the Abra River Movement (STARM), was shot dead in Bagiuo City, Benguet, on March 9, 2005, the report said. Sanchez was a campaigner against mining in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions. - with The Associated Press

Mining rights behind many wrongs, including murder

Asean is rife with violence against activists who stand up for those illegally removed from their homes and land in the quest to plunder natural resources

Bangkok Post

20 April 2014

Juvy Capion didn't see her killer. Nor did her two young sons.

Instead, the Capion family's killers attacked with terrifying efficacy, spraying their home in the Philippines' southern Mindanao region with bullets, fatally pinning them inside.

Capion's only crime, according to activists, was that she and her husband, members of the B'laan indigenous community, spoke out against a mining development encroaching on their community.

Killings such as this highlight what Global Witness - a group that tracks the intersection of human rights and natural resources - says is part of a pattern of activists who have been slain for defending their land rights and the environment in the face of relentless corporate pressure; it has claimed at least 908 lives worldwide since 2002 and shows no sign of abating.

"Governments are failing to protect their citizens and people that ultimately they should be celebrating as heroes," Global Witness senior campaigner Oliver Courtney said. "This is about violence and intimidation and everything else that stops environmental activists from doing their work that puts them under threat."

Land-intensive industries including mining and logging are behind much of this push, using secretive deals to pluck vast tracts of land away from often indigenous and rural communities that have reaped their natural rewards for generations. It is an alarmingly common story in Southeast Asia, activists say.

"The people who live on the land, who often have relied on it for generations, need to be consulted about what is happening before a deal is done, and if their consent isn't gotten, the deal shouldn't go through," Mr Courtney said. "That doesn't appear to be happening in a vast number of cases."

In Thailand, Global Witness reported 16 murders related to land or environmental activism since 2002. These include several activists in northern Thailand confronting deforestation caused by illegal logging, as well as land-rights campaigners across the country and Phuket journalist Wisut "Ae" Tangwittayaporn, who was shot by unknown assailants in 2012.

Most recently, Prajob Nao-Opas, a campaigner against toxic waste dumping, was murdered in February last year. In a departure from the norm, three suspects have been arrested. As head of his village, Prajob had battled to save his central Thailand community from the illegal dumping of toxic waste; he filed petitions and led villagers to block trucks carrying the stuff - until a gunman fired four shots into him in broad daylight.

His three alleged killers, including a senior government official, are on trial for murder. The dumping has been halted and villagers are erecting a statue to their slain hero.

Sunai Phasuk, of the US-based Human Rights Watch, told the Associated Press that prosecution of Prajob's suspected killers was a "welcome rarity" in a country where investigations have been characterised by "half-hearted, inconsistent and inefficient police work and an unwillingness to tackle questions of collusion between political influences and interests and these killings of activists".

"The convicted tend to have lowest levels of responsibility, such as the getaway car driver. The level of impunity is glaring," he said.

After Prajob's murder, villagers lived in fear, but in the end decided to sue the illegal dumpers and landfill owners, said the victim's brother, Jon Noawa-opas. "Prajob's death has led us to fight for justice in this town," he said. "We can be disheartened and we were, but we also know that we have to do the right thing for our community."

But an outcome such as in Prajob's case is a rare exception. A Global Witness survey released on Tuesday - the first comprehensive survey of its kind - says only 10 killers of 908 environmental activists slain around the world in the past decade have been convicted.

The rising deaths, along with non-lethal violence, are attributed to intensifying competition for shrinking resources in a global economy and abetted by authorities and security forces in some countries connected to powerful individuals, companies and others behind the killings.

Three times as many people died in 2012 than the 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week, according to Global Witness. Deaths in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented to date.

In the Philippines, mining companies are afforded liberal rights over land they acquire, resulting in an unwanted side effect that has plagued many farming communities.

"The result is land grabbing, even if there's still no mining operations," Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the Philippines-based Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, said. "The usual experience is that mining companies will get into their lands, and they will be forcefully displaced in their communities. In some communities where there are mining operations, they lose their livelihoods."

Yet all too often the people who push back find themselves facing the barrel of a gun or vanishing in the night. The Capions were among at least 67 activists killed in the Philippines, Global Witness reported.

Mr Courtney notes that the true number of activists killed globally is likely higher than what Global Witness reported, given the remoteness and secrecy obscuring many of these disputes.

In the Capion case, the Filipino government claims the soldiers accused by eyewitnesses of opening fire in the small village that October day in 2012 were part of a broader military operation, despite witnesses suggesting the soldiers targeted the family specifically, leaving behind Juvy's wounded, four-year-old daughter and a traumatised 11-year-old relative.

Little has come in the way of justice for the Capions. The killers, like so many people who have brazenly murdered activists across Southeast Asia who are struggling to defend their land and livelihoods, remain unpunished.

A group of army officers and soldiers alleged to have participated in the killings briefly faced indictment last year. Activists say that government pressure, and not a lack of evidence as the prosecutor claimed, was the real reason their charges were dropped.

"If you will look at it in context there's a lot of similar incidents that happened in the past. People were killed by the military, saying that these were rebels, or were caught in the crossfire," Mr Bautista said. "There's a sense of impunity in the Philippines, particularly on issues of killings of environmental activists. Most of the suspects are elements of the armed forces of the Philippines, or Philippines national police."

The fact that army soldiers often double as private security guards for the mining sector is emblematic, activists say, of how deep the ties run between the government and private development.

That no progress has been made on the Capion massacre doesn't surprise researchers at Global Witness.

"In the vast majority of cases very little is known about who the perpetrator was, so there just isn't any information," Mr Courtney said, noting that the absence of prosecution has a chilling effect on dissent.

The situation in Cambodia is not much better. Hun Sen's long-standing government ranks among the most corrupt in the world, Mr Courtney said, and its relentless pursuit of land in collusion with corporate interests only worsens the situation.

"There has been a policy of selling off peoples' lands, particularly to rubber companies, without consent, and often using state forces to forcibly evict people from their land," Mr Courtney said. "So it remains one of the big, dominant issues in Cambodia, and it's yet to be resolved."

Global Witness reported 13 land-related killings in the country between 2005 and 2012, including the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old girl by military police dispersing a protest.

Two other villagers were injured in the same incident, protesting against eviction from their land by an agribusiness company. The gunmen remain unknown.

Although Global Witness was unable to report directly on the situation in Myanmar, 107 alleged killings were reported by other NGOs between 2002 and 2009 related to resistance against a 290km oil pipeline stretching from Kanbauk to Myaing Kalay in the country's southeast.

Environmental activists in the rapidly liberalising country continue to face a wide array of hardships.

"There are plenty of cases across Myanmar where they are being harassed, intimidated and thrown in prisons for protesting against unlawful land grabs by the government, government cronies and the military," said Saw Greh Moo, a programme officer with the Salween Institute for Public Policy.

Myanmar's remote fringes, inhabited mostly by minority groups, are particularly vulnerable, Saw Greh Moo said, as companies affiliated with the former military junta cast their nets across mostly undeveloped swathes of land.

Several reports, like those published by the Karen Human Rights Group, paint a recurring picture. Developers or military officials swoop in to grab land for lucrative rubber plantations, consolidating fields once used to grow rice or the pungent dogfruit nut, and the land's former tenants are forced to move, set adrift with negligible compensation for their life's work.

Gold and antimony mines are also a growing threat to livelihoods in eastern Kayin State's rugged hillsides, where according to reports cliques of elite businessmen, government officials and ethnic rebel leaders exploit the land with little oversight. Chemicals used in the mining often end up dumped in the region's abundant rivers and streams.

"While only a tiny number of people, especially businessmen and local officials with good connections, benefit from these mining activities, you can see the damage done to entire communities because villagers along these rivers are no longer able to use water from the river," Saw Greh Moo said. "In many cases the environmental consequences of the development projects have outweighed the benefits to the communities."

Activists say responsibility for reckless development, and the relentless violence used to stifle its resistance, doesn't rest solely with the local government that has often aggravated the situation.

For some, like Mr Bautista of the Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment in the Philippines, the course of action should be bolder, and he recommends immediately suspending all contested large-scale mining operations and "radically changing" the country's mining law. Already, Mr Bautista said, several campaigns have met with success, and he looks forward to continuing Kalikasan's legislative push.

Global Witness suggests that stopping the killing and destruction will require an international effort. "Bodies like Asean's human rights commission should really be establishing a mechanism that provides protection for human rights defenders," Mr Courtney said. "Companies also have a big role to play. They should be making sure that they don't have anything to do with the violence that's happening, and they can do that by carrying out checks on their supply chains and not going ahead with any projects unless they've got the consent of the communities and the people who live on the land."

In the Philippines, many people feel they cannot afford to wait. Entire villages have taken matters into their own hands and, after finding efforts to stop development in the courts futile, have started erecting barricades and arming themselves in self-defence.

Capion, three months pregnant at the time of her death, was part of a battle bigger than herself or her family. It's a battle that activists say could determine the fate of entire communities in the face of a global land grab.

"The killings and violence that the Filipino government is using against the people has not lessened the people's resistance. It further angers and fuels the campaigns against disruptive projects. It also strengthens the efforts of the communities to protect their resources and their environment," Mr Bautista said. "That's happening now. The people are being pushed to the wall."

Mayor's assassination linked to black sand mining controversy

By Julliane Love De Jesus

Philippine Daily Inquirer

21 April 2014

MANILA, Philippines-After Gonzaga Mayor Carlito Pentecostes Jr. was gunned down in front of a municipal hall on Monday, his assailants scattered flyers with a cryptic message.

The flyers read in Ilocano: "Hustisya para iti kaaduan, dusaen dagiti utek ti dayuhan a minas iti Cagayan." (Justice for all, punish the brains of illegal mining operations by foreigners in Cagayan.)

More than 50 armed men stormed the town hall grounds and one of the gunmen pumped a bullet into Pentecostes' head, just moments after the mayor led a flag-raising ceremony in Gonzaga, Cagayan province.

Pentecostes died of a lone gunshot wound to the head.

"Awan ti rumamraman; ni mayor lang ti kasapulanmi ditoy (No one should intervene; we only want the mayor)," one of the attackers reportedly said.

Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, Philippine National Police Public Information Office chief, said in a press briefing that politics could be one of the reasons behind the killing.

In October 2012, Pentecostes ordered the arrest of Esperlita Garcia, an anti-mining leader, for posting an allegedly libelous account on Facebook about a mining issue.

The Gonzaga mayor reportedly harassed the activists in an anti-mining demonstration in the town on April 30, 2011.

In a previous Philippine Daily Inquirer report, it said Garcia is president of the Gonzaga Alliance for Environmental Protection and preservation, a people's organization that has been leading the opposition to the magnetite ‎ sand extraction project operated by Chinese firms in Gonzaga.

The companies were allowed by the Cagayan provincial government under Pentecostes to mine magnetite sand or black sand.

Amid reports that the armed men were suspected New People's Army (NPA) members, Sindac said the police have yet to find out if the report were true.

Police are still hunting down the assailants.

NBI to start probe of Caramoan mining

By Nancy C. Carvajal

Philippine Daily Inquirer

9 April 2014

Members of the Camarines Sur provincial government's environment watchdog, tasked with going after illegal mining, have been accused of involvement in illegal mining themselves, which led to the killings of four people, according to a complaint filed in the National Bureau of Investigation.

Two officials of Barangay Gata in Lahuy Island in Caramoan town-Mercy Sueno, Gata barangay captain, and Maximino Breis Jr.-appeared before NBI Director Virgilio Mendez on Tuesday at the NBI headquarters on Taft Avenue to personally file their complaint.

Mendez said he would order an investigation.

The NBI director also said he received a letter from Camarines Sur Gov. Miguel Luis Villafuerte asking him to assign Manila-based agents to investigate the killings of four alleged small-scale miners in the village on March 22, allegedly by members of Sagip Kalikasan Task Force (SKTF) of the provincial government.

"The investigation on the incident is ongoing and, with the two sides cooperating, we hope to have the result of the investigation soon," Mendez told the Inquirer in an interview.

Sueno said in her complaint that the SKTF took over the small-scale mining operations in the village that covered

60 hectares of land believed to be rich in gold deposits.

"They told us to stop because it was illegal, but only for them to take over the operation," Sueno said in the meeting with Mendez.

She said it was the first time the small-scale mining operation in the area was prohibited by the local government.

"We stopped and worked on papers that will make our livelihood legal, but we were disappointed to see the SKTF take over what we have started," Sueno said.

She said village officials reported the illegal operations of the SKTF to authorities, but they were "ignored."

She also said the four small-scale miners who were killed were unarmed and were eating when they were shot.

"One of them had his mouth full of rice when he was shot," Sueno said.

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