MAC: Mines and Communities

Ucan: Philippine Catholic Bishop Condemns Reported Mining Havoc

Published by MAC on 2007-02-01
Source: UCANews ()

UCAN: Philippine Catholic bishop condemns reported mining havoc

1st February 2007

UCANews (www.ucanews.com) - http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=22898

MANILA, Philippines (UCAN) - A Philippine bishop has condemned the damage done by mining to the environment and indigenous people, as reported recently by an international fact-finding commission.

Auxiliary Bishop Zacharias Jimenez of Butuan, a member of the Philippine bishops' commission for indigenous peoples, provided his comments in a letter read at the Jan. 25 Manila launch of "Mining in the Philippines - Concerns and Conflicts."

The report summarized the findings of a commission led by British Member of Parliament Clare Short, which visited two mining sites in Mindanao in July and August, and interviewed government officials, mining corporations and affected indigenous groups.

In the letter, Bishop Jimenez says experiences around Mindanao, the southern Philippines region to which his diocese belongs, "validate" the commission's findings on the adverse impact mining has on the environment and local communities. During the last three years, he has been to workshops with indigenous peoples in Mindanao and "heard their stories of anguish." The bishop reported feeling the people's "anger against the game" that "power-hungry national and local government officials" have been "playing" in "alliance with greedy corporations."

The fact-finding commission visited a prospective mining site in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur, home to Subanon (riverside dwellers) people, and the closed Philex-Libay mining site on the coast of Sibutad, Zamboanga del Norte.

The group learned that homes of more than 10 million indigenous peoples in the Philippines are located in areas with large mineral deposits. It found 16 of the 24 priority mining projects that the government is promoting to be located on indigenous lands and threatening the local community's survival.

The report cited incidents in which companies violated legal guidelines and "engineered" the required consent of indigenous communities to proposed mining projects. Philippine mining law requires companies to obtain local indigenous people's "free, prior and informed consent" to mining projects.

Bishop Jimenez shared in his letter his own experience of government officials "abusing" and "manipulating" indigenous people, and turning their leaders into "tribal dealers" instead of protecting people's rights. He deplored deception through "empty promises of progress and development."

As a resource for solutions to the mining problem, the Mindanao Church leader proposed the Statement on Mining Issues and Concerns that the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines issued in 2006. In it the bishops called on the government to stop or close down specific mining projects in the country that they deemed harmful.

Bishop Jimenez headed Pagadian diocese in Zamboanga del Sur, also in Mindanao, before he was appointed in 2003 to Butuan Diocese, based 750 kilometers (about 465 miles) southeast of Manila.

In its report, the fact-finding commission said it was impressed by the wealth of natural resources in the Philippines, which it noted is one of the 17 countries in the world with the richest variety of flora and fauna.

The investigating team included representatives from the Society of St. Columban, World Conservation Commission, Irish Center for Human Rights and Philippine Indigenous Peoples Links.

According to the Philippine Mines and Geosciences Bureau, the country ranks third in the world for gold deposits, fourth for copper, fifth for nickel and sixth for chromite.

Haribon and BirdLife International, two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), claim that existing mining permits threaten 18 of the country's 117 important biodiversity areas, while 82 other areas are potentially threatened by revitalized mining.

BirdLife is a global alliance of conservation organizations for the world's birds and people. Its Philippine partner is Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources.

Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).

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