Groups say anti-mining stance “possible, if not probable cause” of priest’s slay

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/19 October) – His anti-mining advocacy and  active defense of indigenous peoples’ rights could be the “possible, if not probable, cause” for the murder of Italian missionary, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, two groups today said.

Tentorio, parish priest of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Arakan, North Cotabato and a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), was gunned down early Monday morning by motorcycle-riding men, in the garage of  his convent, as he was preparing to drive to a monthly clergy meeting in Kidapawan City, 52 kilometers away.

“Fr. Tentorio understood the disastrous effects mining activities would have on his people – despite the consent some were giving these under the influence of the mines.  As a man of God, therefore, giving voice to the voiceless, he opposed these – taking no heed of the danger this brought him.  Perhaps he should have taken heed.  Now he is dead,” the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) said in a statement.

The CEAP stressed that the murder “at this point cannot incontrovertibly be laid at the feet of large-scale mining activities in Mindanao” but that Tentorio’s anti-mining advocacy is “a possible, if not probable, cause for his murder.”

The group noted that since 2003, the priest’s life had been under threats for his defense of the rights of the Lumads of the province and his advocacy for  a safe environment.

Tentorio was never unfazed by these threats, the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. Anti–Mining Campaign secretariat said in a separate statement.

The PMPI-AMC said that a fellow missionary had posted in his blog anti-mining sentiments by the Tribal Filipino Program of the Diocese of Kidapawan, of which Tentorio was coordinator. The same blog alleged that the public hearings on the Environmental Impact Assessment of SMI did not give a fair chance to the opposition to present their side.

“The Dioceses of Marbel, Digos and Kidapawan are currently coordinating efforts to stop SMI from getting its Environmental Compliance Certificate from DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to operate its Tampakan Project” the group added.

The CEAP cited a statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in 1998 which assailed the Mining Act of 1995 as “severely skewed in the interest of foreign mining investors” and warned that its implementation “would certainly destroy both environment and people and will lead to national unrest.”

It added that the CBCP, in 2006, called on all religious leaders “to support the call of various sectors, especially the Indigenous Peoples, to stop the 24 Priority Mining Projects of the government,  and the closure of large-scale mining projects, for example… the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in South Cotabato…among others.”

The CEAP joined the CBCP’s call that the Tampakan project in South Cotabato be stopped.

SMI’s Tampakan project straddles Tampakan and the towns of Columbio in Sultan Kudarat and Kiblawan in Davao del Sur.

In an article posted on the DENR website on October 14, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje said the Mines and Geosciences Bureau renewed on October 6, ten exploration permits including that of SMI (EP-00001-08-XI).

Paje clarified that the mining moratorium imposed early this year has not been lifted.

“I want to make clear that these approvals made by MGB Director Leo Jasareno are not new mining permits, but renewal of exploration permits issued earlier prior to the imposition of the mining moratorium,” he explained.

Meanwhile, MBG Region XII director Constancio Paye Jr. said 51 mining applications have been rejected in Southwestern Mindanao in line with the government’s “use it or lose it” policy to revive the mining industry.  But 18 other applications were endorsed for approval, he added. (See related story)

The report however did not say if some of the applications that were either rejected or endorsed for approval actually covered parts of North Cotabato.

Region XII comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato and the cities of Koronadal, General Santos, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

Aside from condemning Tentorio’s murder, the CEAP called on government to demilitarize the areas affected by mining as well as Lumad communities.

It also urged lawmakers to pass House Bill 3763 or “The Minerals Management Bill,” which it said “better protects the welfare of the Filipino people and the Filipino environment”.

Lawyer Mario E. Maderazo, PMPI-AMC project officer said: “This senseless killing should be a wake-up call for the Aquino Administration to reconsider its recent decision of backing the formation and deployment of militias to beef up security for mining corporations.”

He said the move “will only perpetuate the condition which made the killing of Fr. Fausto  possible. The rule of law will not spring from use of arms and armed militias. Only an empowered citizenry capable of combating poverty, inequality and injustice in their communities will bring genuine peace to our land and people”. (MindaNews)