Filipino bishops seek solidarity from Australian Church

In a statement timed to coincide with the Australian Church's Social Justice Sunday this weekend, Filipino bishops have called on their Australian counterparts for support in safeguarding the human rights of Filipino Indigenous people under pressure from Australian mining companies.

While mining in the Philippines has gained in value, a statement by Bishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong diocese entitled "The threat to Indigenous rights and environment by mining" says that "the environmental degradation it has caused has also increased".

This environmental degradation is "the principal trigger of the continuing wide opposition against mining as an economic activity in the country", according to the Bishop.

Social, ethical, religious and ecological concerns are magnified because of the environmentally sensitive land, the presence of Indigenous people and the social demands of a rising population, Bishop Villena says.

The nine Australian companies that have entered into financial and technical assistance agreements are also implicated, he adds.

Bishop Villena accuses these companies of having an adverse impact on human rights and sustainable development in his country, singling out Australasian Philippines Mining, which operates the Didipio copper and gold project in the Bishop's own area in Nueva Vizcaya, some 200 km north of Manila.

According to Bishop Villena, "the company claims that it has 'strong local community and government support'."

But "this could not be farther from the truth," he says, adding that "the people have resisted the entry of the mine from the beginning of the mid 1990s".

He says mining has displaced several Indigenous tribes and peoples who continue to resist their presence, adding that local people make allegations of intimidation, verbal harassment and even bribery of local government officials.

The Bishop says the Philippines Catholic Bishops seek the active support of the "Australian Bishops, institutions and civil society actors for the protection of democratic processes, local governance and adequate safeguards for the human rights of Indigenous peoples, the poor and marginalised, as you celebrate Social Justice Sunday on the 24th of September."

"We are also calling for stronger control and safeguards over the activities of corporations based in the Philippines and Australia and operating around the world with particular attention to the extractive industries sector, which has such a large impact on the environment and such a poor record in its dealings on issues of human rights and sustainable development," he continued.

Bishop Villena also notes his appreciation of the Australian Bishops' Committee for Justice, Development and Peace pastoral statement "Christians and their duty towards nature".

"We must consider very carefully the ways in which we can help other nations not to harm the environment. Richer nations can criticise the poorer ones for destroying their forests and ravaging their land, even though the more affluent nations contribute to that destruction. Existing international economic structures are such that nations in the third world are forced into using up their natural resources," he said, quoting from the Australian document.

"We pray for your support and understanding in the struggle against irresponsible mining and blatant exploitation of Indigenous Peoples," Bishop Villena said.

Bishop Villena's statement comes a month after nine bishops and 234 priests signed a statement calling for a halt to mining operations by the Australian company, Lafayette Mining, on Rapu Rapu Island.

This year's Social Justice Sunday focuses on dignity and justice for Indigenous Australians.

The Threat to Indigenous Rights and Environment by Mining, A Philippine Case Study (Press Release from Bishop Ramon B. Villena, 21/9/06)
Second Bikol Priests Congress (Press Release, 14/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishop Ramon B. Villena (Catholic-Hierarchy)
Bishop Ramon B. Villena (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines)

Priest threatens to take Aussie mine to court (CathNews, 8/9/06)
Oxfam weighs in on debate over Australian mine in Philippines (CathNews, 10/8/06)
Fish kill confirmed near Australian mine in Philippines, priest denies sabotage (CathNews, 16/8/06)
Lafayette rejects community claims over spill (CathNews 31/7/06)
Filipino Bishop disappointed over Lafayette mine decision (CathNews 14/6/06)

22 Sep 2006