By CARLOS H. CONDE
“This entire case makes us ask for whom is national development for. Does it serve national development to throw away the cultural identity of our indigenous brothers and sisters? The policies that allow corporations to mine or harvest our country’s natural resources should be regulated for the sake of the indigenous peoples and even those who do not belong to indigenous groups. We should say a firm ‘no’ to giving blanket authority to any agency to allow mining firms to operate without seeing first what is best for communities, for residents, for the environment.”
These were the words of Jose Manuel Mamauag, a courageous human-rights advocate who is a commissioner of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. Mamauag made this comment on the day the commission came out with its findings that an Australian mining company, OceanaGold, has been violating the human rights of indigenous peoples in its mining project in Nueva Vizcaya province in the north. The commission, according to reports, will seek the withdrawal of the mining rights that the government had given to OceanaGold.
Among the allegations leveled against the company were the forcible and illegal demolition of 187 houses in Didipio town, which is populated mainly by the Ifugao tribe; the harassment of residents using the police as allegedly the company’s “security guards” and the contamination of the water system.
The CHR began investigating the allegations sometime ago, after environment, tribal and human-rights groups complaine about the abuses. Last year, then CHR chairperson Leila de Lima, who is now the secretary of justice, visited the communities affected by the mining project and heard the complaints of the tribal folk.
On Tuesday, Mamauag said the CHR’s findings and the commission’s subsequent revelation of these should serve as a “wake-up call” to mining companies.
If only these abusive mining companies would care to listen.