The Brave Non-Violence Of The Subaanen People

by Fr. Shay Cullen

Some  thousands of indigenous people all over the Philippines, especially in Mindanao, especially the Subaanen people,  on the Zamboanga Peninsula have struggle for years to stop mining corporations from moving in to explore and mine the mountains and hills. They are victims of corrupt government officials and even judges who are captivated by the vested interest of the mining industry.

Some Indigenous people are sadly being forced to turn to armed resistance as the mining corporations  move into their lands.  The Subaanen people have remained steadfastly non-violent and turned to the  rule of law and trust in the  constitution to protect them and their rights.But is it enough?


Hundreds of thousands of  hectares of ancestral land has been threatened by the  illegal and corrupt acts of some officials of the  Department of  the Environment  and Natural Resources (DENR). Allegedly some of  these officials  are not  on the side of the people  in Mindanao  but are for the rich and powerful mining interests and the banks that fund them.

They allegedly enrich themselves by giving mining permits to companies over ancestral lands which is forbidden by law. It is at this level in the provinces where the anti-corruption campaign of President Aquino is weakest. He has deposed a former president and a chief Justice  but not yet the corrupt officials in Mindanao. While the president is dedicated and honestly trying to clean up the stinking garbage of corruption he cannot  seemingly oust these entrenched officials, the henchmen and women of powerful political families.

They do not have allegiance to their department cabinet  secretary or the president. In fact they are ones who defy the president and are the hardest to get rid off. The presidents political allies could be behind the corrupt practices that is opening the way for the illegal logging and issuance of  mining permits. They are pushing the president to override the provincial governments bans on open pit mining. He must resist  this pressure.

Mining companies that get a permit  to explore and mine also get a logging permit for  the cutting the  trees in the  area allotted to them for mining. This is totally destructive and is a way around the  presidential ban on logging which goes on unabated.  Just drive through Mindanao and you will pass  twenty or thirty huge trucks hauling cut logs. I have seen them myself.

For many years the Subaanen people and their supporters have  stood peacefully for their rights courageously and bravely to stop  the local dynastic families and their cronies in the International mining industry from mining their ancestral lands. The  Subaanen  have been non-violent and  trusted the democratic  rule of law to save them.

Their  breakthrough cam  in August  2011 when the Supreme Court of the Philippines  granted a Writ of Kalikasan (A protection of nature) to the people  to protect the environment of the whole of the Zamboanga Peninsula.  A Writ of Kalikasan is a powerful legal remedy under Philippine law which provides for the protection one’s right to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” as provided for in Section 16, Article II of the Philippine Constitution.  It  protects one’s right for a healthy environment   against damage of such magnitude that it threatens life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces. But the government officials are ignoring the Supreme Court  order .

Bishop  Jiminez  and three other bishops and an archbishop  signed a letter  to the London based shareholders  of  the mining company  RTZ-CRA trying to get the officials to stop the mining and logging  wrote to the shareholders.

In part  the letter said; ” Š…..Since the company has the right to expatriate all the profits, you, the shareholders, will probably earn some money. However, many of our people who own the lands where all the minerals are ,will become paupers.  Our rivers and seas will become polluted, our mountains will become deserts and our ricelands poisoned. Our forest birds and animals will become extinct. The very existence of the Subaanen, a gentle and beautiful people will be put at very high risk.”

This must not happen, we must do all we can to see the rule of law prevails and justice is done and corrupt officials are ousted and permits cancelled.

Fr. Shay Cullen is President/CEO of Preda Foundation, Inc., a Philippine human rights social development organization working for 34 years through fair trade practices to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in society and overcome injustice and poverty.  There are 88 professional Filipino staff implementing the 12 projects of Preda (see


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