“As the government and mining companies brag of mines safety during their mining conference this week, we reiterate our position against destructive mining and its accompanying militarization and human rights violations.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Some four hundred indigenous peoples (IP) and representatives of mining-affected communities in Benguet, Ilocos and Cagayan regions meet with other IPs and green groups from Manila to conduct protest actions in Baguio City from November 13 to 14. They are marking what they describe as the opposite of Mines Safety Week, which mining industry stakeholders annually conduct around this time. The Mines and Safety Week sponsored by the country’s largest mining companies usually showcases their supposed best safety practices. On the contrary, the protesters dubbed this week as Mines UNSafety Week.
These green groups are meeting in Baguio City in hopes of continuing to “expose the myths of responsible mining and advance the people struggle against mineral plunder.” Various groups such as the “Defend Ilocos” shared the current mining situation in the region. They reported, too, the growing opposition of the communities and other sectors. They also shared their experience at filing a Writ of Kalikasan and opposing magnetite mining in their coastal areas.
“As the government and mining companies brag of mines safety during their mining conference this week, we reiterate our position against destructive mining and its accompanying militarization and human rights violations. We cannot deny the fact that mining is severely degrading our environment and livelihood as seen in the recent Philex mine spills, and has resulted in numerous violations of our rights as indigenous peoples and human rights,” said Santos Mero, Cordillera Peoples Alliance Deputy Secretary General and convenor of Amianan Salakniban Mining and Human Rights Network.
Citing disastrous experiences with mining by many affected communities and mineworkers throughout northern Luzon, Mero said all these are proofs that “there is no such thing as safe and responsible mining.” The government and various mining firms, using children for voice over and great video footages and pictures, have launched ad campaigns praising their mining practices as “responsible mining.” In the recent mining spill of Philex Mines’ largest gold mine in Benguet for example, critics said the company has blamed God or force majeure rather than own up to its historical neglect of its mine tailings ponds.
With the theme “Resist destructive mining! Defend land, life and livelihood!” the Mines UNSafety Week activities kicked-off with a photo exhibit on community struggles against unsafe and destructive mining and the mining situation in northern Luzon, film showing on large-scale mining, and cultural jam from 3-10p.m. on November 13, at the People’s Park in Baguio City.
Aquino govt accountable for mine-related crimes
From Metro Manila, a caravan of other multi-sectoral organizations led by the Defend Patrimony! Alliance traveled up north in time to join the cultural jam. First they held a picket protest early morning Nov 13 at the DENR national office in Quezon City. They demanded justice for gross human rights violations which, they said, often accompany ‘harmful practices of mining companies.’ They also condemned “the glaring negligence of the Aquino government” in the face of these issues.
The green groups marked with liturgical prayers “the killings of anti-mining advocates, the unfair labor practices and environmental destruction by mining companies.”
“We hold the Aquino Government accountable to the environmental, health and livelihood impacts of mining, and human rights abuses. Our right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, to our territories and self-determination, must be respected. We demand for a moratorium on all existing mining operations and applications, and a pull-out of military troops from our communities,” said Mero.
Today, November 14, the gathered green groups and indigenous peoples in Baguio City are set to cap the Mines Unsafety Week with a protest march. In a move they hope could highlight examples of the ‘myth of responsible mining,’ the green groups are set to submit the initial results of an Environmental and Social Investigatory Mission on the Philex Tailings Pond 3 Failure at the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB-CAR).
Philex is a model mining company according to the Mines and Geosciences Board chairman Leo Jasareno. Last August, the mining company had been forced to shut down operations as its lone operational tailings pond started spilling down to Balog River its contents. The said Balog River is now heavily polluted, according to preliminary reports of the groups that conducted an Environmental and Social Investigatory Mission in the area late last month.
Further disasters such as widespread flooding and still unaddressed water toxicity are feared as a result of the minespill. Downriver communities, meanwhile, still grapple with the implications such as loss of livelihood brought upon them by the nearly 21-million metric tons of mining waste spillage. Apart from giving estimates of fines and penalties to be exacted from Philex, amounts which, Philex said. they would contest, the Aquino government appears bent on promoting large-scale mining operations as one of its priority investment areas.
The Aquino government has come out with a new mining policy this year to further push forward mining investments in the country. Reports also disclosed how the Aquino government has agreed this year to provide military security for mining operations, agree to exempt mining firms from coverage of the total log ban, and attempt to revise its own draft implementing rules and regulations for its new mining policy to accommodate the mining firms’ suggestions.