Philippine church leaders join movement against big mining firms

Philippine church leaders join movement against big mining firms

Leaders from Philippine Roman Catholic and Protestant groups have joined non-government and indigenous peoples’ organisations in a renewed campaign against big mining firms.

“The campaign against large-scale mining is also a campaign against greed,” the Rev. Eduardo Solang, a retired priest of the Episcopal Church of the Philippines, told ENInews on December 14.

Solang was among 150 delegates to a December 13-15 mining and human rights summit convened in the northern Philippine city of Baguio by the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance and the Ecumenical Bishops Forum.

According to organisers, the summit was aimed “to sum up the economic, social, cultural, environmental and human rights impacts of the ongoing destructive large-scale mining operations in affected communities based on shared experiences”.

During the summit, the Ibon Foundation, an independent research organisation, listed 28 large-scale metallic mines nationwide, mostly owned by transnational firms, engaged in extracting gold, silver, copper, nickel, chromite and zinc.

It also reported 2,358 mines that extract non-metallic elements such as sand, gravel and cement.

While they are not against mining per se, church representatives, non-government organisations, and indigenous peoples favour small-scale mining. “Big-scale mining operations only concentrate the wealth from minerals in a few hands at the expense of a damaged environment, which communities inherit,” said Solang.

Asserting the church’s role in “taking care of God’s creation”, the Rev. Norman Taynan of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines also supported the campaign of indigenous peoples for “smaller, environment-friendly, and community-managed” mining initiatives.

The government’s Environmental Management Bureau estimated in 2008 more than 300,000 small-scale miners, who reportedly include jobless professionals and school dropouts.

But small-scale miners’ organisations have bewailed a lack of government support and government bias for big-scale mining operations. They cite incentives for big-scale mining firms such as tax holidays and full repatriation of profits to their mother companies overseas.

Indigenous communities have also been seeking the help of their church leaders to help defend them from the alleged manipulations of big mining firms in seeking the community’s “free and prior informed consent” before a mining project is allowed, said Sister Minerva Caampued of the Franciscan Apostolic Sisters in Cagayan province.

Some companies allegedly offer “allowances” to local officials and some tribal leaders and “scholarships” for children of some community members. “For us to be effective in helping inform and educate our parishioners against this manipulation, we also must be educated ourselves on the free and prior informed consent process,” said Bishop Vermillion Tagalog of the Philippine Independent Church.

By Maurice Malanes, Ecumenical News International

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