Muddying Already Murky Waters

Presentation by CAP-CPC member, Rev Shaun Fryday
Walking the Talk:  Human Rights Abroad, Take II
Friday, March 16, 2012, Centre Block, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Thank you Mr. Julian, for the opportunity to participate in Walking the Talk:  Human Rights Abroad Take II.   I will focus my comments and remarks on the work we have undertaken in the Philippines which was comprised, as you have said in your introduction, of a 14 person delegation from five regions of this country, primarily with members of the United Church of Canada.  We were hosted by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines, The United Church of Christ in the Philippines, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, The Cordillera Peoples Alliance and the Regional Ecumenical Council of the Cordillera.

The Cordillera Region is made up of five provinces with rich mineral deposits and, being remote and in the interior, are also home to the Ancestral lands of Indigenous peoples who have never been  assimilated and, resisted 350 years of Spanish colonization, 50 years of American colonization, and live gracefully on the land, which they believe the Creator gave to them to protect.  We followed the course of the great Abra River as it flows from its head waters down to the sea.  The Abra River has been permanently ravished by the toxic waters from the Mine Tailings Ponds created by the Lapanto Mine, not a Canadian Mine, but one which has received major infusions of capital from Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines.   Fish stocks have died off, rice fields can no longer sustain life and human health is at risk for those who live along the river.
In our study, we met with several Governors, Mayors, Municipal Councillors, Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, local unions, community leaders, women’s organizations, indigenous elders and people’s movements.  Eighty-five percent of the land mass of Abra Province specifically, is now under application for exploration by 7 Canadian Mining Companies.  The 1995 Philippine Mining Act has attracted transnational mining investors and it is no wonder.  It allows for:

*  100% foreign ownership of Mining projects,

*  allows foreign companies to have enormous areas for concession, both on shore and off shore,

*  a 100% repatriation of profit,

*  5 years tax holiday which was later extended to 8,

*  enjoyment of easement rights, mining leases for 25 years, extendable to another 25 years,

*  losses can be carried forward against income tax among other things.

When it is all said and done, the mining industry in the Philippines contributes 1% of the Philippines GDP.  For the affected Indigenous communities that we met and stayed with for three days, deep in the interior, there is wide scale resistance to any form of large scale mining development.  The reasons are clear from many examples throughout the Philippines.

As Mining Exploration and development occurs, a whole series of vectors are released within the society.  In brief:

--  Vilification, known by other names such as labelling, red-bating, smear campaign, guilt by association and many other names, is used to discredit an individual or an organizations credibility and has been a concern of the Progressive Peoples movement.   I am quoting in part from Resolution #2225 introduced by Representatives Colmenares and Casino urging the House of Representatives to bring an end to vilification which was presented March 6, 2012.  “Vilification is a Human Rights Violation because it undermines political participation, causes medical and psychological torment to the victims, it affects people’s mobility and their capacity to do their work among other things.  Many organizations are placed on  watch lists including the organizations with which the United Church of Canada has long term partnerships.  And, once you are on that list, you are a target in a provisional order of battle for use by the Philippine Army and its paramilitaries.  Professor Philipp Alston, the United Nations special rapporteur in 2007 named vilification as one of the two causes of Extrajudicial Killings.

--  Extrajudicial Killings:  There have been over 1200 extrajudicial killings over the past 11 years.  Indigenous leaders, lawyers, trade unionists, students, journalists, people’s movements, and 54 church clergy and workers, have been assassinated and murdered which continues to this day.  Of that number only 1.3% of the perpetrators of these murders have come before the court.  I personally attended a preliminary hearing of Major General Palparan and four others, in cases related to the abduction, torture and rape of Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno.  These two vibrant, young female university students remain missing and are part of an additional, over 400 enforced disappearances meaning no body has been recovered, however, people have often witnessed the abductions.  Although four of the five charged are now “in custody,” two by the army and two by the National Police Force, General Palparan who attempted to flee the country is now in hiding.  He has been known on the street for nearly a decade, as “the Butcher” which leads me to my next Vector.

--  Political Prisoners:  There are 347 political prisoners currently detained in the Philippines and even though we had signed consent from the Minister of Justice we were denied access the day of the scheduled meeting.  There are many others who are subject to illegal arrest and arbitrary detention including Angelina Ipong who at the age of 62 and who spent nearly six years in prison, was raped and tortured.  Angelina  will be here, on Parliament Hill as part of a Human Rights tour the first week of April.  Please avail yourself to meeting with her and the other delegates.

--  Culture of Impunity:  Presently, former President Arroyo is also in custody in a medical facility awaiting trial on various charges, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, who was unconstitutionally placed in his position by that same President, is currently undergoing impeachment hearings in the Senate.  There exists within the main frame of the Philippine Society a Culture of Impunity and a wonton disregard for human life.  If the vulnerable cannot have recourse to impartial judges, who cannot receive accurate information from credible witnesses, then society is at risk and lawlessness abounds.  Corruption flourishes.  War Lords prosper and in all this the people themselves bare the high cost and suffer.

--  Enter the militarization of communities:  In an effort to bolster security for International mining efforts, the Armed Forces of the Philippines routinely intimidate, harass, threaten and affect the lives of whole communities, particularly indigenous communities.  At will, they bivouac, taking over schools, often the only public building, abuse women and children including sex crimes against women, trample entire rice crops depriving villages from their primary food source and, with a new and disturbing development, made possible in October 2011, President Aquino authorized the deployment of paramilitaries, known as Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical United Active Auxiliaries the SCAA.

Colloquially in the Philippines they are know as “goons combined with guns and gold” - the three G’s - and mayhem breaks loose.  According to a news release yesterday on March 15th, Congress representative Antonio Tinio is calling for a Congressional investigation into Human Rights abuses committed by a Canadian Mining Firm against small scale miners and Indigenous Subanen in Zamboanga del Sur.  TVRID, is a subsidiary of TVI Pacific a publicly traded Canadian Mining company based in Calgary, Alberta.  This is an extremely disturbing development as Mining Companies now have the capacity to hire these private militias who are armed and trained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

There is a total lack of accountability for any of their actions.  Congressman Tinio alleges that with the aid of paramilitaries, paid for by TVI, they have committed numerous Human Rights violations in preparation for establishing an open-pit Gold Mine including, the demolition of Indigenous People’s homes.  The bull-dozing of subsistent plots, destruction of small scale mining equipment, illegal searches and arrests, setting up check points, the imposition of blockades to prevent supplies from reaching communities and fencing off the Mountain Spring that serves as the main source of water for the community.

The Balabag Primary School attendance, the only one serving the remote communities, has dropped from 105 to 50 students as the activities of TVIRD have kept many children in the community from going to school.  This is one example which is duplicated throughout the Philippines of the dislocation and mistreatment of Indigenous People by a globalized Mining industry, which spells out WRIT LARGE misery and suffering to vulnerable groups and sectors like, labourers, farmers, indigenous peoples, women, children and the urban poor  among others.

Another vector or another reality is that people resist.  And the New People’s Army, which is the armed wing of the Communist Party regularly clash with the regular Armed Forces of the Philippines and often the people are caught in the midst of this armed struggle.  Tubo, where we stayed, was accused of supporting the New People’s Army and that is why their rice crops were stomped into the ground as a form of punishment and intimidation.  Have we not learned from our own shameful history, only to repeat our historical, social and spiritual evils as they are visited upon indigenous peoples in the Philippines.

In closing, the Indigenous People’s have for centuries resisted incursions on their Ancestral lands.   To deploy professional armies, paramilitaries and goons to advance corporate interests constitutes a form of depraved indifference which according to definition, “is so deficient in a moral sense of concern, so lacking in regard for the life or lives of others, and so blameworthy as to warrant the same criminal liability as that which the law imposes upon a person who intentionally causes a crime” rests in the hands of  a complicit, ill-informed  Canadian Public, the Canadian Government which intentionally blinds its own seeing eyes to this fundamental injustice and furthermore it subsidizes, loans and invests billions of dollars through Export and Development Canada, the CPP and Consular support to the Canadian Mining Industry.

Someone is getting away with murder!

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