It was a blistering hot day in November 2009 when I went to the protest picket line outside the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).There were about forty people on hunger strike in tents led by father Edwin Gariguez. He is a servant-leader dedicated to empowering the Mangyan indigenous people of Mindoro, to organize and protect their rights and lands from the onslaught of the massive open-pit mining project of the Intex Resources.
Intex is a Norwegian based mining corporation that had somehow got a permit from the DENR officials to gouge open a huge open pit nickel mine on the ancestral lands of the Mangyan. Powerful local business men and military officials supported the project giving Intex assurances that they would take care of getting rid of the indigenous people, their leaders and supporters.
The Mangyan are the original inhabitants of the Island. They survived in harmony with nature for thousands of years. Such a mining project would have ripped out their mango trees, polluted their streams and rivers and driven them away from their ancestral lands forever. The only beneficiaries of this destructive mining operation would be the international share holders and investment banks in nations thousands of miles away.
The protest leaders I talked to on that hunger strike were determined that this would never happen. They were called agitators, communists. When they held protests in the capitol of Mindoro Island they were set upon by gun toting goons who did not shrink from beating them up and even shooting dead, one campaigner. Father Edu, as he is popularly called, received death threats.
The eleven day hunger strike, and the previous international campaigning and lobbying by Father Gariguez around Europe developed strong support and finally the Government officials caved in and cancelled the mining permit of Intex, which they should never have approved. Why government officials are serving the interests of foreign corporations and not their own people is a mystery that might only be solved by looking into their bank accounts and life styles.
Goldman Sacs the big investment bank withdrew its support and money from the US$2.4 billion Intex project. Members of the Intex board resigned and the project closed to the delight of the people and their supporters. Father Edwin Gariguez was honored for his solidarity and courage and awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in San Francisco last 16 April 2012. He risked his life for the sake of the people, the environment and the nation.
It is great people like him and his team that should be the role models and heroes of the Filipinos but sadly instead the media promotes semi-illiterate emotionally dysfunctional celebrity actors and actresses instead. And even help to have them elected to high office to run the nation and lead it into corrupt chaos.
The example of Fr. Edu and the victory won is giving hope and encouragement to all in the Anti-destructive mining movement. If you could see the beautiful and life giving environment of Mindoro Islands and other places in Mindanao and Palawan that are under threat by mining corporations you would want it be saved forever. Then look at a photo of such an excavation as an open pit mine it will truly boggle your mind. We are called to challenge and question the policies of government that allow the destructive mining.
In Palawan and Mindanao in the southern Philippines similar projects are underway amid protests and campaigns to stop them. Open pit mining is perhaps the most destructive of all. All of us must take a stand and say no to such projects and write to government officials to protest or send them this article.
We can ask them if it is necessary to destroy the beauty and life sustaining environment of this planet and centuries old communities just to get nickel. Imagine these gigantic holes in the earth. Some can be excavated so deep that two Eiffel Towers, one on top of the other would fit into it.
The utter destruction of the environment by such projects is enormous; mountain-sides, rivers, streams, forests, rice lands are destroyed or damaged and made unusable. But with the servant -leaders like Father Edwin Gariguez and thousands of dedicated human rights and environmentalists active today there is great hope that we can hold back this destructive force and win out with the people through non-violent peaceful protest.
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 www.preda.org).