Welcome to the Philippines! This was how I began my presentation in the 2015 Action Network Human Rights Philippines (AMP) Conference in Berlin, Germany. As if I am really inviting the participants, about a hundred of them, to visit our beautiful country. On the screen, in front and seemingly confronting them, were images of the natural wonders of the Philippines – our verdant forest, pristine beaches, and unique spots. They were smiling, but just for a few seconds.
Because immediately after, I showed them striking photographs of some mining-affected communities in the country; dry, barren, and dead. Not even enough to demonstrate the adverse impact of mining, I showed again another set of pictures depicting human rights violations and conflicts. Suddenly, the look in the eyes of the audience looked tighter; some grew a bit bigger – all eyes on me, driving me to the core of my presentation: stories of repression in mining-affected communities in the Philippines.
The Philippine is a very rich country! So I began the hard part of the presentation, outlining our mega diverse ecosystem and ecological services and the wealth of mineral deposits all over country, us being among the most mineralized countries in the world in terms of gold, copper, chromite and nickel.
I saw curiosity in the eyes of the audience, like they were asking, what went wrong? at the least in the mining industry. I attempted to give answers. That, despite the influx of mining operations in the country, with a mammoth of aspiring new projects in the pipe line, poverty remains a daily reality. Well, may be, as shown by many literatures, the contribution of mining in Philippine economy in the past decades in terms of Gross Domestic Product is so scarce. In fact, some highly-mined areas have not demonstrated significant increase in their local economy.
And then, there’s the issue of human rights violations. To make a point, I noted the 2014 publication, How Many More of Global Witness saying straightforwardly that in 2014, 15 land and environmental activists were killed in the Philippines, 9 of which are related to mining.
Killings and violent attacks to community members and advocates is just one thing, human rights violations comes in many forms and actions. So I presented data that are very close to PMPI, the cases in our Sites of Struggles (SoS). So I enumerated almost lamented that all of our sites with indigenous communities have reported issues related to the violation of their rights where the Indigenous People’s Rights Act of 1997 was not faithfully implemented. Like, their decision not to allow mining in their communities is not being honoured by the respective government agencies.
Among others, I also noted the following (as of June 2015): that 7 out of 10 SoS have actual reports on the impact of mining in the people’s source of water; that all of the SoS have noted threats on their livelihood (mostly fishing and farming) while 6 have actual incidences of land grabbing or encroachment in their farm lands; that 4 out of 6 SoS with fishing communities have observed decline on their fish catch relating to the impact of mining in their coastline; that 8 out of 10 SoS have reported cases of harassments towards the community leaders; 4 SoS have criminal cases filed against activists and members of the People’s Organization (criminalization of HR defenders); and that 3 out of 10 SoS have reported cases of killings and violent assault committed against anti-mining advocates.
Then I had to pause… even I had to gasps to absorb the sad realities I just mentioned. At this point, the audience looked a bit more down, some were weary and teary-eyed. I smiled first to console myself and the audience that there is still a strong force in our communities – our people – even struggling, is doing their best to depend their rights.
On the latter part of my presentation, I showed again natural wonders of the Philippines – our verdant forest, pristine beaches, and unique spots. And then they smiled again.
Thanks again to AMP for organizing the conference, PMPI with the other Filipino organizations who participated and presented in the forum had the great opportunity to discuss some realities in the Philippines, sadly though, most are demonstrations of the volatility and hostility at some point of a (partial) democracy that Philippine society has now – far from the society that was conceived during the People Power Revolution in 1985.