by PAUL CHRISTIAN YANG-ED
This is the 4th in a 4-part analysis of mining in the Philippines today. Read also the first three:
Part 1: Fool’s gold under Duterte
MANILA — Charter Change (Cha-Cha), Martial Law in Mindanao, relentless attacks on dissenters and the poor– these are just some of the measures showing us the Duterte regime is dead set on unleashing more neoliberal schemes to further open up the Philippines’ natural resources to rape and plunder. Meanwhile, to quell resistance to mineral resources plunder, government armed forces institute arrests, killings, and harassment. For the past two and a half years of the Duterte regime, here are how we, environmental defenders, have confronted the assault on our life, land, and waters.
In October 2016, various national minorities across the country launched a historic alliance called ‘Sandugo.’ In Filipino it refers to a blood compact ritual. The alliance combines various Moro and indigenous people’s groups and communities struggling for self-determination and battling national oppression as well as encroachment into their ancestral lands.
Thousands of national minorities from Luzon to Mindanao travelled and held a massive lakbayan (people’s caravan). They converged in the heart of Metro Manila and launched Sandugo. They raised in the capital the issues of worsening plunder, land grabs, and militarization of their ancestral lands instigated by foreign states and corporate interests. Since then they have launched two Lakbayan caravans and camp-ins.
The first Lakbayan was held amid the new Duterte administration’s promises of change, but contradictions within and among factions in his regime were also already snagging his promises.
A year later, when the national minorities held the Lakbayan 2017, the Duterte regime had declared Martial Law in Mindanao. Vicious attacks against national minorities were increasingly happening everywhere. The Duterte regime had also begun reversing some of the policy reforms on mining initiated by then Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.
On September 17 last year, a protest action was staged during the international conference of the Chamber of Mines Philippines (CoMP) in Sofitel, Manila. More than 600 indigenous and Moro people successfully entered the conference venue and temporarily disrupted the miners’ meeting.
Mine closure order protests
The standoff between then DENR Sec. Lopez and the large-scale mining lobby led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines culminated in the runup to the 22nd anniversary of the Mining Act of 1995 on March 3, 2017. The mining lobby poured millions of pesos in a propaganda offensive to derail the confirmation of Lopez as environment secretary. They got her rejected by May 3, 2017.
Many especially the mine-affected communities saw the lobby against Lopez’s confirmation as an effort to undermine the order to close and suspend various mining projects that have violated environmental regulations and people’s rights. Communities mobilized to express support for the secretary and her historic mines crackdown.
In Mindoro province, 5,000 people came out in a broad rally that expressed support for Lopez and her crackdown on large-scale mines. Indigenous leaders from the provincial network KALAS Mina highlighted the need to build on the closure of mines and cancellation of mining agreements.
In the CARAGA region, various peace rallies were attended by at least 9,000 people. Calling for the resumption of peace talks between the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, they linked large-scale mining to the militarization directed against various indigenous and peasant communities.
People’s Mining Bill
The Makabayan Bloc of progressive party-list legislators in the House of Representatives re-filed an updated version of House Bill 2715 or the People’s Mining Bill (PMB) as the 17th Congress began. Originally filed during the 15th Congress in 2011, the bill sought to reorient the country’s national mining policy, as inscribed in the Mining Act of 1995, away from its framework of mining liberalization and deregulation and instead towards ensuring needs-based utilization, environmental safety, people’s rights, and national industrialization.
The PMB improves provisions on the proposed multi-sectoral minerals councils (MSMC) to refine its powers, structure, and functions. It stipulates more stringent environmental regulations, including provisions on ensuring a rigorous environmental impact assessment and requiring environmental insurance and a calamity and human rights protection fund.
The leadership of the House, however, removed the committee chairs who voted against the passage of the anti-poor Death Penalty Bill. Those removed included Rep. Carlos Zarate and two other Makabayan Bloc representatives. They were the leading congressional sponsors of the People’s Mining Bill. Nevertheless, the progressive legislators vowed to continue working with the people’s movements in advancing the PMB and other pro-people, pro-environment legislation.
The bill has yet to undergo a hearing by the House Natural Resources committee.
At the eve of the 45th anniversary of the Martial Law proclamation, environmental advocates came together to form the Environmental Advocates against Repression and Tyranny in defense of Human Rights (EARTH) Coalition. It supports the broader movement against the creeping tyranny of the Duterte regime.
The coalition aims to expose and oppose human rights violations and tyranny under the Duterte regime, especially on environmental defenders. It mobilized dozens of fellow environmental advocates in the mass mobilizations of September 21, the anniversary of the Martial Law proclamation, and on December 10, International Human Rights Day.
A year later, this month in fact, they gathered together for the First National Environmental Defenders’ Conference. They held dialogues with legislators and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and rallied against the continuing attacks against environmental defenders by armed state forces.
Struggling for just and lasting peace
Peace talks between the national government and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA-National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) seek to redress long-standing economic and social injustices that have fueled present armed resistance. At the commencement of his term, President Duterte announced his intention to resume the long-stalled peace negotiations and has demonstrated a level of sincerity in pursuing peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDFP until militarist elements within his own government derailed the peace talks.
The Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER), the ‘heart’ of the peace negotiations, recognizes that mere cessation of hostilities does not mean that the grave injustices suffered by the majority of the Filipino people throughout the past century has been resolved. The CASER draft of the NDFP, the only draft made available to the public, contained provisions on genuine land reform, national industrialization, environmental protection and rehabilitation, and people’s social and economic rights.
The NDFP proposal contained specific regulations on mining, including the nationalization of foreign and comprador big mines, strict prohibition of reckless open-pit mining operation in ecologically-critical areas, greater state support and regulation for small-scale mines, stoppage of farmland conversion to mining and other land use, compensation for mining-affected communities, and reorientation towards developing local industry and modernizing agriculture.
Substantial progress has been made before militaristic elements within the Duterte regime sabotaged the peace process. The Duterte regime then declared an ‘all-out war’ targeting rural communities, leading to a spark of extrajudicial killings and other rights violations and the eventual cancellation of peace talks.
Worse, in November 2017, Duterte released Proclamations (numbered 360 and 374) terminating the peace talks with NDFP and declaring the CPP-NPA as “terrorist organizations.” The proclamations also dangerously broaden the scope of who can be declared as terrorist fronts or sympathizers.
Several NDFP peace consultants have been arrested on trumped-up charges and have been included by the Department of Justice in a list of more than 600 people it wants the courts to declare as “terrorists” under the provisions of the Human Security Act.
The people’s armed defense of their lands and national patrimony has been a recourse that must be recognized and respected in the context of deep-seated historic injustices and brutal suppression. The revolutionary armed movement in the Philippines led by the CPP-NPA-NDFP has maintained a strong opposition to destructive large-scale mining operations.
In its 48th anniversary statement released two years ago (December 26, 2016), the CPP directed its revolutionary mass movements to wage “anti-imperialist struggles against big plantations and mining companies.”
In response, various NPA commands in the country carried out punitive actions against mining and quarrying corporations. The Chadli Molintas Command of the NPA in the Ilocos-Cordillera region launched a punitive action against Philex Mining Corporation in February 2017. Philex figured in the largest mine spill in Philippine history in terms of volume in tailings leak in 2012. Two Philex dump trucks loaded with copper concentrates were torched by the NPA unit as a warning.
The actions and pronouncements of various NPA units underscore the reality of social injustice and underdevelopment as the root cause of armed conflict in the countryside.
Peace and rights advocates continue to urge both parties to return to the table towards forging a genuine peace agreement that will address the social, economic, and environmental injustices long suffered by the masses.