Large-scale Mining: Why local level resistance and International Solidarity is needed

Large-scale Mining:
Why local level resistance and International Solidarity is needed

By Nicole Oliver

It was a cool and misty morning the day I set out with Innabuyog-Gabriela for Mankayan. As our van wound its way through Benguet Province, oddly I felt at home amid the familiar landscapes of jagged rock faces and majestic towering pines. The scenic route barring a welcoming resemblance to areas that I have explored in my home nation of Canada along with the four hour drive gave me space to reflect upon the differences and similarities that both Canada and the Philippines are facing regarding large-scale mining.

On the weekend of September 22, 2012 Innabuyog-GABRIELA along with an international intern from Spain and I camped out at the barricade site constructed by local indigenous peoples against the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company’s drilling expansion project in Barangay Tabeo in the Municipality of Mankayan of Benguet Province. In February of 2012, the community of Barangay Tabeo sets a barricade to block access to the newly inserted and heavily contested diamond-tip drilling site of Lepanto. The site is set to advance the ever expanding Lepanto exploration and extraction of gold and other precious metals in the area. For nearly nine months, the community has sustained the Save Mankayan Movement (SMM) engaging in many protests actions, lobby,dialogues, petitions, pickets, and has held their deposits are found primarily under Alberta’s Boreal dialogues, petitions, pickets, and has held their deposits are found primarily under Alberta’s Boreal ground at the erected barricade site. They have received much support and messages of solidarity from other indigenous groups in the Cordillera region and people’s organizations in the Philippines.

On the flip side, the persons involved in this prolonged campaign have experienced harassment from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippines National Police (PNP), Barangay officials, Lepanto workers, and private security personnel hired by Lepanto that act mercenaries.

At this time, there have been three-failed dispersal attempts made at the barricade site in Tabeo. The local residents of Mankayan, who for multiple generations have relied on farming for subsistence and livelihood erected the barricade in February of 2012. The protesting community members claim that the site was given the green light for exploration without undergoing the necessary Free Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) process as stipulated in the Republic Act No. 8371, which states that no ancestral land shall be opened for mining operations without undergoing the said process and gaining the consent of the indigenous cultural community concerned.

Tar Sand mining Canada

Meanwhile back in my home nation of Canada, the debate is raging regarding the Federal Government’s tar sands expansion project and the West-to-East oil pipeline. The Canadian tar sands forest and wetlands covering an area about the size of Florida. In order to extract synthetic crude oil from the tar sands, millions of acres of pristine forests and wildlife habitat have been clear cut, strip-mined, and drilled. To produce what is often referred to as “dirty oil”, tremendous amount of water is needed for the refining process.

Additionally, the complex extraction and refining process of tar sand crude oil requires extraordinary amounts of energy in comparison to the production of conventional crude oil. It is estimated that tar sand oil production releases at least three times the greenhouse gas emissions per barrel to that of the conventional stuff.

Few persons are aware of the fact that Canada is home to one of the world’s largest tailings dams, one that is built to hold toxic waste from just one tar sands operation. As it stands, the Canadian government is proposing to triple the tar sand production between now and 2025 resulting in the continued release of enormous greenhouse gas emissions despite international pressure to reduce emissions from treaties such as the Kyoto Accord. Perhaps it is surprising to reveal that Canada is the leading foreign supplier of US oil. Thus, with the expansion of the tar sands, it is reasonable to criticize Canada of becoming the world’s dirty energy superpower, and in my opinion a shameful international leader in the perpetuation of global warming and climate change.

Further, various Canadian pipeline For Canadian First Nations (aboriginal peoples) Further, various Canadian pipeline For Canadian First Nations (aboriginal peoples) proposals relay plans to build lines that will transport tar sand oil through some of Canada’s most sacred natural and cultural landscapes, stretching west-to-east and south of our border into America. These landscapes are unique ecosystems that are the lungs of Canada and home to some of our endangered national animals, such as the great Canadian grizzly bear. Much of these lands also fall under the ancestral domain of our indigenous peoples. Building pipelines that will carry tar sand oil places communities under threat of devastating spills; thus, compromising environmental integrity of life, land, and water.

Projects such as the further development of the tar sands and the pipelines render countless communities and ecosystems at risk for catastrophic oil spills and threaten to commit us to a devastatingly warming climate.

The need for International Solidarity

In visiting those involved in the Save Mankayan Movement and reflecting on the tar sands development back home, many common themes and issues emerge from these two instances of proposed large-scale mining expansion. There are parallels to be drawn between encroachments on ancestral domain, violations of the rights of future generations, impacts on ecological integrity, impacts on health, and social costs of mining between the large scale mining projects in Canada and the Philippines.

For instance, under Canadian law similar to the Philippines, aboriginal groups must be consulted about mining and pipeline projects that cross their lands. In both countries, this process of consultation or free prior and informed consent is often done with deceit and bribery. One of the Canadian oil companies, Enbridge has offered many tribes, 10 percent stake in its westward pipeline project. Similar profit sharing schemes are also offered in the Philippines causing the destruction of cultural integrity which is part of their divide and conquer scheme.

Regarding ecological and health impacts, Canadian indigenous peoples living downstream from the tar sands and the tailings dam are being directly affected by this type of so-called development. They cite that the fish stocks in their local fishing holes have become deformed, the pickerel (white fresh water fish) in Lake Athabasca exhibits tumors, growths, pushed in faces, bulging eyes, humped backs, crooked tails which were never seen before in the history of this community.

their way of life is being destroyed by the tar sands, and that the animals and wildlife that they traditionally fish and hunt for sustenance are displaying mutations and high levels of toxins. The indigenous peoples community of Fort Chipewyan situated directly downstream from the tar sands has experienced cancer rates that are reportedly 30 percent higher than those of the rest of Canada.

In comparison, many of the elders of Mankayan described their firsthand accounts of the environmental changes brought about by the mining that they have witnessed as Lepanto has been operating in their area since1936. They assert that these environmental changes and biological impacts such as the dramatic reduction in local water levels, depleted fish stocks, smaller crop yields, subsidence, and a higher incidence of skin conditions are directly linked to the ongoing mining activities in their area.

During the September 17 dispersal, protesters exclaimed “It’s good for you that you have your job at the mine, but so do we – our source of livelihood is this land and we must protect it for our own survival and for our future generations”.

The Mankayan community members engaged in the blockade and protest actions have been successful in preventing the dismantling of their barricade due to their ability to assemble and act together at a moment’s notice. Despite the fact that in the first two dispersal attempts the dismantling teams swelled to over 300 persons, the picketers have always managed to outnumber their opposition. More impressive than the numbers of community members willing to participate in the resistance struggle is their courageous political will to defend their ancestral land. Their deep seeded connections to the land cultivated by endless generations of tillers are indigenous roots that cannot be extracted so easily by a profit driven development project. It is this rootedness that has enabled the people of Mankayan to hold their ground at the Tabeo barricade site with unshakeable determination. Their relentless determination to engage in actions of resistance and direct democracy should be an inspiration to Canadian communities alike as our responsibility to protect the globe from the “dirty oil” tar sands expansion rests heavily on the shoulders of local Canadians.

With that said, as the impacts of large-scale mining are all too often created by multinational corporate partnerships and international treaties, local resistance movements can benefit from allying with communities facing similar threats, thus extending the scope and momentum of their efforts. Lastly, as the affects greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, and global warming resulting from extractive mining enterprises are felt worldwide there is much need for sharing, solidarity, and the continuation of joint international campaigning that transcend political borders if we are to secure a green future for those who will inherit the earth after we pass on.

Nicole Oliver is a Canadian national who came to the Philippines as an international intern of GABRIELA. She is a member of the Canadian solidarity organization Centre d’appui aux Philippines-Centre for Philippines Concerns (CAP-CPC). Additionally, she holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) from McGill University, a Masters of Arts (MA) in Philosophy from Concordia University and Honors Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Ethics from The University of Western Ontario.

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