Political Assassinations Increase Sharply in Philippines; Links to Mining Opposition

Political killings of left-leaning activists, clergy and journalists in the Philippines have been escalating steadily under the Presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The majority of the victims belong to the Bayan Muna, a political group that is represented in parliament, of which as many as 95 members have been killed since 2001. However, other politically active groups have also been targeted, such as the Movement for National Democracy (KDP), an umbrella grouping of trade unions, farmers’ and fishermen’s organizations, and women’s and youth groups. KDP has lost 5 members to extra-judicial killings this year alone.

Over the past two months, unidentified assailants in various areas of the country have murdered at least 18 activists. The human-rights group Karapatan estimates that 601 activists have been killed since Macapagal-Arroyo came to power in 2001. Nearly all of the cases remain unresolved.

An additional 140 activists are considered “disappeared” and remain missing. Almost all of those that have been executed are known leaders and local level organizers. In some cases witnesses have identified soldiers, police or members of paramilitary and vigilante groups. Other victims are shot dead by masked men on motorcycles (Herbert Docena: Killing Season in the Philippines, 2006).

A number of the killings and death threats received by activists, clergy and journalists are related to their open criticism of large-scale mining in the Philippines. Most recently, mining campaigner and activist Joey Estribar has gone missing and is now presumed dead. A community organiser from the South Tagalog region, Noli Capulong, who openly spoke against mining activities in the region, was killed. Rafael Markus Bangit, the Coordinator of the Elders Desk of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), was gunned down in public in similar circumstances to José Doton, another tribal elder, killed in May. Both had spoken out against large-scale mining in their region. There are concerns for other members of the CPA who are on a death-squad hit list that the CPA obtained in February of this year (see www.minesandcommunities.org for details.).

The Arroyo government, spurred on by the World Bank, has made mining a central plank of its economic recovery program, naming 24 proposed large-scale mining projects as “priority projects” that the government is determined to permit in the coming years.

National opposition to mining is widespread and well organized. Leaders of major religious organizations, including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, have expressed concern over liberalized mining laws that pave the way for natural resources to be mined by foreign companies that will export most of the profits. In a statement issued on the 29th of January, the bishops questioned the presumed link between development and mining: “The promised economic benefits of mining by these transnational corporations are outweighed by the dislocation of communities especially among our indigenous brothers and sisters, the risks to health and livelihood, and massive environmental damage.” (see the Bishops’ statement below.)

Canadian company TVI Pacific is operating on indigenous land in Zamboanga del Norte, a conflict zone in the Philippines, and is the subject of long standing local opposition. TVI Pacific’s operations are protected by paramilitary forces and have been plagued by killings and violence. Crew Gold, also based in Canada, is trying to start a nickel mine in Mindoro. This proposed mine is also strongly protested by a broad coalition of local citizens including the indigenous Mangyans. At least 40 community activists have been killed in Mindoro in the past three years.

On May 30, 2006. the US Ambassador to the Philippines made a public statement at a press conference calling for a stop to extra-judicial executions. The Canadian Embassy in Manila has not made any public statements on the killings.

A Statement on Mining Issues and Concerns

29th January 2006

“Do not defile the land where you live and where I dwell” (Num. 35:34)

Sisters and Brothers in Christ: We are Pastors. We listen to the voice of the flock and take care of them. In our task to care for them, we reiterate our concern for the Earth, the source of life for all.

1. In 1998, we in the CBCP issued “A Statement of Concern on the Mining Act of 1995”. We declared that the government mining policy is offering our lands to foreigners with liberal conditions while our people continue to grow in poverty. (par 4) We stated that the adverse social impact on the affected communities far outweigh the gains promised by mining Trans-National Corporations (TNCs). (par 8) In our 1998 statement we also forewarned that the “implementation of the Mining Act will certainly destroy both environment and people and will lead to national unrest.” (par 9)

2. We reaffirm our stand for the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995. We believe that the Mining Act destroys life. The right to life of people is inseparable from their right to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interests of big mining corporations to prevail over people’s right to these sources amounts to violating their right to life. Furthermore, mining threatens people’s health and environmental safety through the wanton dumping of waste and tailings in rivers and seas.

3. Our experiences of environmental tragedies and incidents with the mining transnational corporations belie all assurances of sustainable and responsible mining that the Arroyo Administration is claiming. Increasing number of mining affected communities, Christians and non-Christians alike, are subjected to human rights violations and economic deprivations. We see no relief in sight.

4. President Arroyo’s “Mining Revitalization Program” is encouraging further the entry and operation of large-scale mining of TNCs. Alarmingly, the mining tenements granted through the program have encroached into seventeen (17) of important biodiversity areas, into thirty-five (35) of national conservation priority areas, and thirty-two (32) of national integrated protected areas. The promised economic benefits of mining by these transnational corporations are outweighed by the dislocation of communities especially among our indigenous brothers and sisters, and the risks to health and livelihood and massive environmental damage. Mining areas remain among the poorest areas in the country such as, the mining communities in CARAGA, Bicol and Cordillera Regions. The cultural fabric of indigenous peoples is also being destroyed by the entry of mining corporations.

5. Moreover, we are apprehensive that the proposed deletion of the nationalist provisions in the Constitution by the Consultative Commission (CONCOM) can pave the way to the wholesale plunder of our National Patrimony, and undermine our Sovereignty.

6. We reiterate our request to the President to recall all approved mining concessions, and to disapprove pending applications.

7. As Shepherds we remind the faithful of God’s injunction to us through our first parents to care for and cultivate the Earth (Genesis 2:15). As believers, we should live a lifestyle that is outwardly simple yet inwardly rich and compassionate to the Earth community. We therefore call on all religious leaders:

  1. To support, unify and strengthen the struggle of the local Churches and their constituency against all mining projects, and raise the anti-mining campaign at the national level;
  2. 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 Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project in Albay, HPP Project in Palawan, Didipio Gold-Copper Project in Nueva Vizcaya, Tampakan Copper-gold Project in South Cotabato, Canatuan Gold Project in Zamboanga del Norte, and the San Antonio Copper Project in Marinduque, among others;
  3. To support the conduct of studies on the evil effects of mining in dioceses;
  4. To support all economic activities that are life-enhancing and poverty-alleviating.

8. As we have said our 1998 statement, “even our best efforts will come to nothing without the help of God, our Creator. We invoke upon you the grace of the Holy Spirit who renews the face of the earth. With gratitude in our hearts we ask the intercession of Mary the Mother of Jesus and our Mother to obtain for us a renewed land and a converted people.”

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,

Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D.
Archbishop of Jaro