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When mining threatens the flock

September 13, 2008

            Bishop Jose Manguiran is a friend to trees.  Before he said anything about the foliage around his residence, before I even met him, I knew this to be a fact.  His premises in the Diocese of Dipolog is a beautiful overrun forest.  If they were anything other than trees, they would smother the house itself.  But trees don’t smother- they open the air unto the sky.  And if for no other reason, this is why Bishop Manguiran leads the crusade against mining in Western Mindanao as he has for more than a decade: to protect the trees and the people who live under them.

“Tribal Filipinos are in danger,” Manguiran said on a warm August evening.  “The Canadian miners are (so) hard headed about mining.  Once they find gold they will never (stop).”   The tribal Filipinos he referred to is the Subanon tribe, one of the 18 indigenous peoples left on the island of Mindanao.  Their ancestral lands are those coveted for mining by “the Canadians”, or TVI, a mining corporation from the North American country.

TVI was the first corporation to open a mine in Mindanao post-Mining Act of 1995, a law passed by the Filipino Government that relaxed laws restrictions on foreign mining corporations operating in the Philippines.  It opened the doors for these large companies to gobble up vast quantities of precious land and virgin forests on Mindanao, and while other organizations soon followed in TVI’s lead, it’s this particular company who has remained a thorn in the side of the Subanon people.

TVI has various capitalistic projects in Western Mindanao but the main threats to the area right now are in Balabag and more so on Mount Canatuan, which is sacred ancestral land for the Subanon people.  But as Canatuan is not listed in the heritage inventory at the National Historical Institute, TVI did not need any consent from the people before it ripped the sacred mountain apart.

Bishop Manguiran is justifiably enraged.

“I went to (the area) to publicly pray with the tribal Pinoy leaders,” he said.  “We prayed to bring down (God’s power) against the Canadian mining project.  We prayed together- the leaders, Protestant pastors and myself.”

The suffering was reenacted to create solidarity with the people.

“I wore a black robe and I prostrated on the ground,” the bishop said with a wry smile that quickly fled from his face.  “Our Lord Jesus announces the good news, but he also denounces the bad news.  We are given that power in (his name).”

Bishop Manguiran did not shy away from the bad news.  He knows full well what is happening to the environment, to the livelihood and lifeblood of the people.

“Mining destroys the soil, it doesn’t just displace it,” he said.  “And (this is) the destruction of bio diversity, large animals down to microbes.  And geological restitution is already impossible.”

Cyanide, according to the Bishop, is just one of the many poisons used by the mining corporation.  In its continuous processing of gold and silver from the Canatuan, TVI releases abundant quantities of cyanide and other chemical components into the soil.  From the soil it seeps through into the water supply, where it poisons not only the fish and wildlife in the rivers but also the irrigation systems the river supplies. 

So not only does mining destroy the land in the mining site and then cause soil erosion to lands below, but the poisoning of the water supply threatens the entire ecosystem for miles around.  The Subanon’s livelihood dies with the wilderness.  They cannot eat the fish or drink the water and their crops will not grow in the toxic environment.

Bishop Manguiran holds the government responsible.  “Our laws are meant to protect the indigenous people (and the land).  But in implementation they only help the foreign corporations.”

Such laws include the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA), which the government claims protects ancestral lands.  But in actuality, the gaping loopholes in the law make it even easier for foreign investors to secure indigenous lands for their own endeavors.  According to Manguiran, the investors acquire these lands dirt-cheap and government officials, corrupted by bribes and desire for development, waive taxation on revenues.  It’s a dirty deal with godless entities.

Manguiran illustrated his conviction with an American dollar bill he keeps in his wallet.  “(Foreign investors) are hypocrites,” he declared, waving the dollar in the air.  He pointed at some of the writing.  “Here it says ‘In God we trust’.  But it’s not in God (they trust); it’s in their money.  In their filthy profit!”

And the profit, he said, which is their greatest strength, is also their greatest weakness.  Certainly it’s what allows them to buy up land and control the economy, but it also limits them, because without it, they fall apart.

“It’s the one place we can hurt (the foreign companies),” Manguiran said with a smile.  He said he believes there are alternatives to armed struggle.

“You see, they make the guns.  They manufacture the weapons.  When we fight, they just make more money,” he said with a laugh.  “If we minimize their profits, they will be shattered.

Bishop Manguiran alluded to one of his heroes, Mahatma Gandhi.  According the Bishop, Gandhi led the overthrow of the British in India by convincing Indians to boycott British goods, to only buy and use what they could make themselves.  And this is possible for Filipinos too.

“We (need to) minimize our use of chemical fertilizers, chemical medicines,” he said.  “We (need to) remind the people about the natural products and herbal medicines we used before (colonization).”  The people don’t need to buy farming equipment and textiles from foreign companies.  They need to develop their own “appropriate” technology and sustainable economy, he said.

“We need to minimize our buying and consuming,” Bishop said.  “We need to link with other (impoverished countries) throughout Asia to gain true independence (from the West).”

Before I left his home, the Bishop insisted that I take a moment to see his trees.  He boasted over 30 different kinds, ranging from huge towering fortresses to baby saplings he was nursing in tiny pots.  He pointed out the ones he was particularly proud of and took note of the ones he needed to prune or mulch.  And he could not resist a Biblical metaphor as we discussed the power of the West over the Philippines.

“You see, the Southern countries, like the Philippines and the people who are pro ecology are David,” he said.  The Western powers are of course, Goliath.

“We only have a slingshot to defeat that horrible giant and the battle may be long, but the hand of God is with David.” He crouched down and patted the dirt around the young sapling. 

When he stood up he said with a grin, “David always wins.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2008 9:54 am

    Nice dude

  2. September 14, 2008 9:23 pm

    Yes, it is sad to say but indigenous rights always come second when natural resources are at stake. We can help by boycotting those mining companies and making the indigenous peoples situation known to a wider audience.

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