Mining companies modern "Trojans", says Filipino bishop

Denouncing mining companies working in the Philippines as modern-day Trojan horses, Filipino Bishop Zacarias Jimenez has endorsed a major Columban-commissioned report which accuses the country of being "among the worst countries in the world" for various mining practices.

The report entitled Mining in the Philippines - Concerns and Conflicts, published by the Columbans with a number of NGOs working in the region was unveiled at a simultaneous media conference held in Britain's Houses of Parliament and at the Catholic University of Santo Thomas in Manila, the Independent Catholic News reports.

Clare Short, former British Government Minister for Development, who led the fact-finding team of human rights advocates and environment experts who visited the Philippines between July and August 2006 said that she was "shocked by the negative impact of mining in the Philippines".

She accused the Philippines government and the mining companies of failing "to comply with national law and international standards".

Among its key recommendations, the report urged the Philippine government to "demonstrate that it is willing to adhere to its own laws and to international mining best practices and standards by immediately cancelling all current mining application, which will inevitably cause major environmental damage to critical watersheds, ecosystems, agriculture or fisheries and result in social disruption".

It also called for the government to "heed the calls to revoke the Mining Act of 1995 and enact alternative legislation that more effectively protects the interests of the affected local communities, indigenous peoples and the environment".

The report's findings were also backed by Mindanao Senato Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

"I can attest to the veracity of the complaints of the tribal groups in Mindanao who are being oppressed by government policies relating to two extractive industries' "mining and logging," he said.

Fr Frank Nally, a Columban priest, who has long campaigned against corporate logging and mining in the Philippines, was turned away at Manila airport on 6 January when he was entering the country to make the final preparations for the report launch there.

Speaking at the launch, Columban Fr Frank Nally, who was refused entry to the Philippines said that it was one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

"This is God's cathedral", he said. "with a huge number of plants, trees and flower unique to the islands."

The Indigenous people speak over 80 different languages - "they tread very lightly on the earth."

Australian companies cited

The authors of the Columban report met with people who say that they have been affected by the mining operations of several Australian or Australian-owned companies.

These included community leaders from Tampakan, Mindanao where Australian company Saggitarius Mines operates.

The Philippines Sun-Star also quotes local Bishop Bishop Dinualdo Guttierez of the Diocese of Marbel as urging the Filipino public to staunchly oppose the Sagitarrius copper and gold project.

In the past few days, the bishop's appeal was played daily at the diocesan-owned radio station, dxCP.

Guttierez warned of poisoning, livelihood displacement, food insecurity and environmental catastrophe with the firm's looming full blast operations.

Gutierrez stressed that if the environment will be abused, she will later unleashed her wrath to humans with "inconceivable damage."

Other Australian companies cited in the Columban report are Lafayette Mining at Rapu Rapu, Albay province and Pelican Resource in Romblon province.

In September last year, the Filipino bishops released a statement calling on their Australian counterparts for support in protecting the environment and Indigenous people's human rights under pressure from Australian mining companies.

Bishops demand action on political killings

In another story, the Philippines bishops have described a government inquiry into hundreds of killings and disappearances of leftist workers as "unsatisfactory".

In a Sunday statement, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines said that the government should ensure that cheating which marred the 2004 national polls would not be repeated in this year's elections.

"The government and military's response to the shameful extra-judicial killings of unarmed crusaders for justice and equality is most unsatisfactory, their protestations of concern not too convincing," the bishops' statement said.

A rights panel set up by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to investigate the killings of left-wing workers and journalists has finished its inquiry but the findings have yet to be made public.

Local newspapers quoted Catholic Bishop Juan De Dios Pueblos, a member of the rights panel, as saying the commission found that the military, private armies of some politicians and the communist New Peoples' Army and their militant fronts were all involved in the killings.

Human rights group Amnesty International said in August it was gravely concerned that soldiers and police could be involved in the killings. It estimated 51 activists were killed in the first six months of 2006 after 66 were murdered in the whole of 2005.

A local human rights group Karapatan said more than 700 leftists activists, farmers, community organisers and journalists have been killed since Arroyo came to power in 2001.

Major report on destructive mining launched in London and Manila (Independent Catholic News, 25/1/07)
Int'l Experts call for end to negative mining Practices (Philippines Daily Inquirer, 28/1/07)
Church still oppose to mining firm overtures (Sun Star, 29/1/07)
Manila bishops demand government action on killings (AlertNet, 28/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Columbans Australia
Philippines Fact Finding Blog

Mining to blame for typhoon deaths, Filipino priest says (CathNews, 18/12/06)
Filipino bishops seek solidarity from Australian Church (CathNews, 22/9/06)
Priest threatens to take Aussie mine to court (CathNews, 8/9/06)
Fish kill confirmed near Australian mine in Philippines, priest denies sabotage (CathNews, 16/8/06)
Columban confirms Australians' key role in Philippines under-age sex trade (CathNews, 15/9/03)
Columban priest murdered in Philippines (CathNews, 30/1/01)

29 Jan 2007

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