MAC: Mines and Communities

Senator's Reproach Over Columban's Rejection At Airport Pleases Confreres

Published by MAC on 2007-01-12
Source: Indian Catholic

Senator's reproach over Columban's rejection at airport pleases confreres

Indian Catholic

12th January 2007

QUEZON CITY, Philippines (UCAN) -- Philippine Columbans welcomed a senator's criticism of the government's blacklisting of a British confrere.

Father Frank Nally was held overnight at Ninoy Aquino International Airport after arriving there on Jan. 5. Officials then put him back on a plane to Hong Kong, Australian Father Brian Gore, regional director of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban in the Philippines, told UCA News.

According to Father Gore, an immigration official said Father Nally was "blacklisted," but no explanation was provided as to the cause. Father Gore said Father Nally campaigns for sustainable development and served nine years as a missioner in the Philippines, mostly in Mindanao.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. filed a protest with the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation over the incident. In a Jan. 8 statement sent to UCA News, he denounced the bureau's treatment as "fascistic" and "without reason."

In his view, refusing entry to the priest after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo invited foreign critics to look into alleged human rights violations showed clearly the government's "insincerity" and "double-talk." "Are we now under martial law?" the senator asked in his statement.

Father Gore said the Columban community expects no formal explanation but is pleased that the Senate opposition leader filed a protest on Father Nally's behalf. He denied allegations Father Nally planned to demonstrate at the summit of Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders, being held Jan. 10-15 in Cebu, 565 kilometers southeast of Manila.

Father Gore told UCA News that Father Nally came to the Philippines last year with Clare Short, a member of the British Parliament, to visit mining areas, where they heard residents complain about being moved off their lands. Indigenous people said the legal obligation to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before mining projects could proceed was ignored.

Short led a delegation on a 10-day fact-finding trip in July to investigate the impact of foreign mining companies on the Philippine environment and local communities. The delegation included Clive Wicks of the World Conservation Union, Cathal Doyle of the Irish Centre for Human Rights and Carino Antequisa of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, the official development and relief agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

It also investigated charges of corruption involving local officials in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur province, where Father Nally worked in the 1990s.

The group met openly with government officials, mining operators and local people, and "did nothing clandestine," Father Gore maintained. "They told everyone there would be a report issued, and the government and mining industry would be free to respond." He said that when Father Nally was refused entry, he was coming to Manila to attend the Jan. 25 launch of the report, which is to be released simultaneously in London.

"Blacklisting" his confrere is "counterproductive," the Australian priest added, since Father Nally, now in London, can embarrass Arroyo and her government by citing their rejection as an example of lack of freedom.

"The opponents of mining will get great mileage out of this: showing the government is not open to criticism on mining and maybe, more importantly, on the issue of corruption," Father Gore added.

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