BAGUIO CITY – Members of the Beaconsfield Initiative, an exposure mission comprised mostly of Canadian church members, visited the Cordillera Region last week. Focusing on areas where Canadian Mining Companies operate, they found out that there is an ongoing “legal terrorism” victimizing the community people.
Reverend Patricia Lisson, directress of the St. Columbia House in Canada, defined “legal terrorism” as the use of law over the rights of the people. This is being done, she said, to favor the big corporations and investors over the interests of the community.
They had observed that the rights of the communities over the lands visited by the Canadian mission are being set aside to pave way for the entrance of big corporate mining.
“These are matters of disempowering the people”, Lisson said.
The Beaconsfield Initiative is a joint effort of members of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), The Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA), the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA), the Regional Ecumenical Council of the Cordillera (Reccord) and the United Church of Canada (UCC). The trip was between January 2 and 12, 2012.
The said mission has aimed to gauge the impact of mining activities of Canadian large-scale mining companies on the lives of indigenous peoples (IPs) in the Cordillera region. And, also for the Beaconsfield Initiative to establish long-term covenants of church congregations here in the Cordilleras and the ministry sites in Canada.
The group visited mining areas in Mankayan, Benguet, Sallapadan and Tubo in Abra and Cervantes in Ilocos Sur.
According to the group, the Cordillera region is one of the mining hotspots in the country. Of the 63 priority mining projects of President Benigno Aquino III that are located here, six Canadian mining companies are operating in the provinces of Benguet and Abra. These mining companies, the group said, are located in the ancestral domains of the IPs of the Cordillera.
To implement the proposal of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for large-scale mining firms to train Special CAFGU Active Auxiliary (SCAA), which President Aquino approved, the 5th Infantry Division of the AFP has been deployed in the region.
According to Tess Tesalona, member of the mission who came from the Canadian-based Center for Philippine Concerns, the presence of military detachments in the communities are “very disturbing.”
She reported how they saw that public places like the Barangay hall, day care centers, health centers and schools are being used as military camps. These areas they visited are all covered by mining applications.
Tesalona said they were concerned with the illegal detention of two community people in the town of Cervantes, Ilocos Sur. What is also more disturbing, she said, is that the two are mentally challenged.
She also noted the case of James Balao who was abducted by state agents on September 17, 2008. Balao remains missing to this day, despite a court-issued writ of amparo. Balao is a founding member of CPA and staunch human rights defender.
Rev. Marie Claude Manga, a UCC minister in St. Jean-Sur, Richeliu, Canada, noted the presence of fear. She said that fear is driving the people to the mountains where they strive to defend their rights over their ancestral land just like their forefathers did. She said that due to fear of losing everything, they are ready to fight again for their existence against the mining explorations. The question, she said, is why the government is not looking into these problems.
Rev. Dr. Bill Philips said that they will write a report based on their findings and views. This they will use to develop church policy and they will introduce it at the 41st UCC General Council in Ottawa, Canada this year.
He added that they will also submit and present this to the standing committees on Justice and Human Rights and Foreign Affairs and International Developments of the House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament.
“I hope that our government will listen to us and take some actions,” Philips said.
According to Lisson, they will popularize their findings among the people in Canada by holding round-table discussions all over their country and presenting their report. From this, she said, they hope to influence public opinion about the operations of Canadian mining firms here in the Cordillera and various parts of the Philippines. And from there, she added, the Canadian people can put pressure on their government and Canadian mining companies to divest from their mining projects in areas like the Cordillera.