Philippine green groups today cautioned the Environment Secretary against supporting larger deployments of military and police personnel to protect the operations of foreign mining firms such as Xstrata in South Cotabato, warning that this would give rise to even more conflict and human rights violations against mining-affected communities.
In a statement, Clemente Bautista Jr., National Coordinator of Kalikasan Peoples’ Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE), challenged current Environment Secretary Lito Atienza to reverse his earlier position favoring more military and police presence in communities to be affected by Australian mining giant Xstrata and its mining operations in Tampakan, South Cotabato in Mindanao.
“We’re disappointed that the Environment Secretary favors militarization over peace talks and community consent as a solution to the mining woes in Tampakan. Mining-affected communities, are increasingly vulnerable to human and civil rights violations by state and private armed security forces.. Mr. Atienza should not make a practice of encouraging troops to protect mining firms that should not be there in the first place, especially those which lack the consent of the communities to be affected by their operations,” the environmental activist said.
Indigenous peoples in Tampakan are up in protest over Xstrata’s mining operations because it will encroach on their ancestral alnds and devastate critical watershed areas, Bautista said.
“Tampakan in South Cotabato could be the next Surigao del Sur,” Bautista warned. Since November 1, massive and mining-related military operations in the hinterland villages of Surigao Del Sur have displaced more than 1,500 Manobo lumads and 12 lumad communities. Educational activities in the area have grinded to a halt.
The military operations were reportedly intended to protect mining explorations and Chinese-owned mining corporations around the AndapValley Complex, the second largest coal deposit in the country, Bautista said. Lumad and peasant communities from the the municipalities of Tago, Cagwait, Marihatag, San Agustin, Lianga and San Miguel, as well as Church groups, non-government organizations, and civic sectors are actively opposing the mining operations.
Bautista said that increasing presence of military detachments and police checkpoints was also observed in other mining-affected areas nationwide, including Lafayette in Rapu-Rapu island, Albay, Filminera in Masbate island, Marcopper in Marinduque island, TVI in Zamboanga del Norte, NMRDC in Mt. Diwalwal, Rio Tuba in Palawan, Crew Minerals in Mindoro Oriental, Climax Arimco/Oxiana in Nueva Vizcaya, Abra, Batangas, and Zambales.
“Mr. Atienza should also be aware that the rise of human rights violations in mining-affected areas inundated by military troops was previously affirmed by the Philippine Catholic Church hierarchy and independent observers from the United Nations and the Parliament of the United Kingdom,” Bautista noted.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the official organization of the Filipino Catholic episcopacy, in its second official statement on Mining Concerns issused 29 January 2006, stated that an “increasing number of mining affected communities, Christians and non-Christians alike, are subjected to human rights violations and economic deprivations”, he said.
In July 2006, British parliamentarian Clare Short of House of Commons and former UK Secretary of State for Overseas Development, visited the Philippines and led a fact-finding team (FFT) to assess reports of corruption, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation associated with planned and current mining operations and noted that “mining in these conflict areas has led to significant increases in militarization and an associated escalation of human rights abuses.”
In a country visit to the Philippines in 2003, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen observed that “militarization of indigenous areas is a grave human rights problem”, Bautista added.
Of the 886 victims of extrajudicial killings documented by human rights organization KARAPATAN from January 2001 to July 2007, Kalikasan PNE identified 17 victims as being active or leading the campaign against mining projects in their respective communities. The victims include human rights lawyer Gil Gojol and Rei Mon Guran, Spokesperson of the League of Filipino Students chapter in Bicol, who were killed by unidentified gunmen in Sorsogon on December 12 and July 31 2006, respectively. Both victims were active in the campaign against the government’s flagship mining project of Australian-owned Lafayette Mining in Rapu-Rapu island in Albay.
Xstrata, one of the world’s largest mining companies, assumed control over the Tampakan mine project in March 2007 through its local affiliate Sagittarius Mines. The Tampakan mine is currently Xstrata’s largest portfolio project to date. ###
Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) is a Philippine-based network of non-government organizations (NGOs), grassroots organizations, and environmental advocates.
For more information, please contact:
Mr. Clemente Bautista Jr., National Coordinator, Kalikasan PNE
Phone: +63922.844.9787; Fax : 924-8756
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.kalikasan.org