DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 August) — Members of a foreign religious mission who visited a mining community in Compostela Valley vowed to continue their advocacy against open-pit mining in the Philippines upon their return to their home countries.
The mission, composed of 22 Filipino-Canadians and Filipino-Americans, earlier said in a press conference here they will focus their advocacy in the US.
The group went last week to Sitio Gumayan in Pantukan town, Compostela Valley for a dialogue with small-scale miners, who shared their problems with the entry of US-based St. Augustine Gold and Copper Ltd.
Juland Suazo, public information officer of environment rights group Panalipdan, said the mining operation will displace 3,000 individuals in Gumayan.
He said the firm will push through with its operation because it has been endorsed by the Sangguniang Bayan through Resolution No. 50 last July.
Pantukan Mayor Celso Sarenas vetoed the resolution, but eight councilors led by Juan Caballero overrode the veto.
Caballero is the former manager of Nationwide Development Corporation, the local partner of St. Augustine and holder of the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement.
“The endorsement legitimizes the displacement of small-scale miners to allow the foreign company to extract 24.8 billion dollars worth of gold and copper deposits within 1,656 hectares in Gumayan,” Suazo said.
As a result of the dialogue, the foreign missioners said they will send a letter of concern to President Benigno Aquino III on the conditions of small-scale miners in Gumayan and the threats they face with open-pit mining, and to call for the respect of their economic rights.
They said they will lobby and hold pickets at the headquarters of St. Augustine in Washington to inform the American people on the accountability of the US-based company in the Philippines.
They added they will call attention to the human rights situation in Gumayan, citing the summary killing of Santos Manrique, leader of the federation of small-scale miners in Pantukan, on April 12 last year.
Reverend Richard Bentley of the Methodist Federation for Social Action said they support the desire of all communities for self determination, including the small scale miners of Gumayan.
“Throughout the world, open-pit mining has carved the environment so that the land cannot be used for other purpose for generations to come. The toxic mine tailings wash down to the rivers and streams. This pollutes the water and poisons all who used the water, including communities in lowlands far from where open-pit mining is occurring,” he said.
“We’ve also been reading reports that there are more and more human rights violations being committed at a faster pace here in the Philippines following profit. We are in solidarity with their fight for national patrimony, their livelihood, ancestral domain and the nation,” Kuusela Hilo of the International League of People’s Struggle said.
Pastor Sandie M. Richards of the United Methodist Church (UMC) in Los Angeles, California and chairperson of California-Pacific Church and Society, stressed their mission does not end upon their return to the US.
“When we touch down in the US, we will continue to advocate for help for those who need it, education, and for the end of multinational and US corporations’ exploitation of the natural and human resources of the Philippines,” she said.
She added the death of Father Fausto Tentorio has made them keen on monitoring the country to make sure their local partners remain safe to do their tasks.
Tentorio, an Italian missionary, was killed in Arakan, North Cotabato in October last year. He was believed killed for his anti-mining advocacy, although no suspects have been charged in court.
Jolo Buktaw, US team coordinator of Rosewood UMC of California advocacy ministry, said: “We believe that all goods created by God are for the good of all. The greater pursuit of common good translates to pursuit of social justice and our mission here continues. In fact, it will just begin when we leave Davao.”
Bert Mendoza, president of Filipino Caucus, said the missioners will bring this attention not only to the authorities here but also in the US.
He said international attention would oblige the government to pay attention to problems like human rights violations. (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)