Strengthening Partnerships and Studying the Impact of Canadian Mining Interests in the Philippines

The following report from the "Beaconsfield Initiative" that toured Cordillera region of the Philippines in early 2012 to look at the impact of Canadian mining is submitted to the CAP-CPC for sharing with our members by our good friend, Reverend Shaun Fryday. CAP-CPC spokesperson Tess Tesalona also participated in the exposure tour.

River running in you and me,
Spirit of life, deep mystery.
Dancing down to the holy seas,
river run deep, river run free. *

From Province to Province: The Beaconsfield INITIATIVE January 1-12, 2012;
Strengthening Partnerships and Studying the Impact of Canadian Mining Interests in the Philippines

Connecting with the Local Filipino people

While in the Philippines for 13 days on the Beaconsfield Initiative Exposure tour, we visited many rural communities under threat from mining applications or who are directly impacted by mining activities, resulting in environmental degradation, human rights violations, militarization and other social and economic impacts in the communities.

To that end, in terms of our information gathering, we met with municipal mayors and councilors, provincial government representatives, 2 provincial governors, representatives from women’s organizations, and clergy organizations, political prisoners, the Canadian ambassador and his staff, the Attorney General of the Philippines, Bishops and other church leaders, women and children, Elders, and representatives from people`s organizations, including, CHESTCOR, CHRA, CPA, UCCP, NCCP, RECCORD, ETS and their student body, family members of the disappeared, family members of victims of extrajudicial killings and protestors of mining activity. As Christians engaged in justice, we have a responsibility to know what is happening in these areas of injustice in the Philippines today.

Our focus became clear when we divided our group into two teams in Salapaddan and Tubo, where we lived for several days. It became clear, through our first conversations with people in all communities, that the river is the source of life. It is sacred, holy, embodied with the life of the people, a place of creation and goodness, where the children play, the people wash and bathe, the fish swim, a place of celebration and delight in the abundance of the earth. It is a place of life!
The river is also a place of death! An individual who had spoken out against mining companies in the community of Tubo was decapitated, his body was desecrated, divided and thrown into the river. With the explosion of mining activities in the nearby centres, the Abra River has been impacted, with the mine tailings which contain deadly cyanide, mercury and a host of other chemicals being deposited into the once healthy and vibrant Abra river.

We followed the course of the Abra River from its headwaters where it continues to be polluted from the Lepanto mine. It winds its way through several provinces, many communities and opens, eventually, into the sea. Fish that once swam abundantly now float to the surface, destroyed. Skin diseases plague the Filipino people and their animals. The water buffalo, the most valuable domestic animal, and other domestic animals help the people preserve their way of life in subsistence farming and municipal or small-scale fishing. The Abra river is now an ambiguous place, a place where the balance of life needs to be restored and whose very flow of life is in peril with the development of mining practices.

As we heard the first hand stories of people who were directly impacted, individually and communally, we were awakened to the realities of gross injustice, realities we had heard about only in theory.

 Upon entering the communities, we were met with unabashed hospitality and openness. Instead of finding a people filled with fear, as our North American minds might have expected, we found a people filled with radiance, warmth and welcome. The ministry of hospitality is abundant in this part of the world, among people who are facing realities of injustice on the part of principalities and powers that threaten their livelihoods of fishing and farming, suppress their rights as indigenous people, and even compromise their security and personal lives as well as the lives of their families.
he people of the northern, central and southern Philippines, in Luzon, in the Cordilleras, especially in Tubo and Salapaddan, radiate a way through to justice, through their style of theological reflection that is both contemplative and active, as in the praxis model of liberation theologies of Latin America. Their challenge and strength, especially grounded in the roles of women in cultural and social activities, is akin to the womanist theologies of Black women in America, finding a way out of no way, as theologian Monica Coleman describes the ongoing struggle toward freedom for the individual and the community (Monica A. Coleman, Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).

Considering Justice and Theology in our Global Context as Canadians

In Canada, our theological reflection is often unaware of these kinds of grave injustices, although we are beginning to speak theologically from these marginal voices when we engage our own indigenous populations in Canada.

A theology of the Philippines is one of redemptive hope, embodied in the spirit of a people whose voices will not be silenced and in whom the spirituality of celebration in the face of injustice is fierce and determined. Such a spirituality or values system can be described as practical, resistant, and celebratory. The theology is a practical one, shaped out of the practicality and strength of the local people, predominantly indigenous in their heritage. We saw this in the people of the local communities but we also saw this strength of practicality in the workers from the organizations with whom we worked and from whom we learned, including the CPA, CHRA, RECCORD, and other related groups.

The commitment of these local indigenous people and working groups is unswerving, as is their plea for solidarity with us, as people with the potential to capture the attention of our churches and government as well as the worldwide community. They call on us, as in the covenantal relationship we have with our brothers and sisters elsewhere, to enter their same struggle and to call into account our Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines. Particularly, they ask that we call into account the people, the globalized mining industry and the governments that support this industry as they directly impact on ongoing human rights violations, environmental degradation, and their lack of respect for the voices of the indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and claims and use of their ancestral lands.

The Indigenous worldview teaches that the land and resources were given to them in sacred trust by the Creator God Cabunian. The Elders shared with us that their responsibility is to preserve the land, to preserve the resources, to pass on the practices of the ancestors in caring for the lands sustainably, and to care for one another. We were welcomed into the practices of the Elders and celebrated in their communities. We were invited into this covenant relationship with them to tell their stories, take action on injustices, and continue a bond of connection and solidarity with the people we had met.

As foreigners, we were welcomed, as the story in scripture encourages, ‘welcome the stranger.’ Now, it is our turn to share our hospitality as followers of Jesus, a person who directed the attention of people in communities to the injustices that they were experiencing. Healing in the parables involved the participation of every member of the community. We had been welcomed as part of this community and are called to right living, right action, and right relationship with them.

In his 2011 address to the Regional Ecumenical Council in the Cordillera, held in Baguio City, Dr. Ferdinand Ammang Anno, presents three sources of theological integration of peace in the Cordillera, especially in recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples (IP). Firstly, the IP view is eco-centric; viewing that nature shares in the divine reality and is the object of reverence in many rituals. The created order is ‘radically egalitarian’ where human beings are not over creation but a part of its interdependence. A blade of grass is as significant as a person. (“Repent and Be Baptized: Rise Up and Speak: Pursuing the Indigenous Peoples Vision of Peace Based on Justice,” from The Writing on the Wall, September 2011, 21).

Secondly, the IP view is Eucharistic, seeing feasting and togetherness as community-building (p.22), as a celebration of all life and its growth process, a concept we are familiar with in our Canadian community ministries in places like the Carlington Community Chaplaincy (Ottawa, ON) and St. Columba House (Montreal, QC). Thirdly, the witness of the IP way is one of witness itself to the suffering of the Cordillera people, observing and relating the misuse, exploitation, displacement, and dehumanization of the people and the rape of the earth.

Theological Understandings and Call to Action

From an eco-feminist theological perspective, and within North American contextual theologies today, we echo these belief systems in our Christian embrace of peace and witness to the sacredness of the land. As we witness the destruction of our own lands in the exploration of oil and gas in Alberta and other provinces in Canada, we make a connection with the desecration of the land for the Elders and all people of the Cordilleras. Without the land, the people are without promise.

Thus, in our celebration of the goodness of the land, we are called to resist those activities that destroy its health and the well-being of its communities. As the Elders of the Cordillera shared with us, the land is not for the use of private organizations. It is not for the use of any one individual. It is a sacred trust, a responsibility that grows out of an understanding that we are not separate from, but intricately woven into, the earth, along with all other life forms. This is the creation story we must share and doing so means protesting the activities of mining corporations that threaten the land and the people, whether they exist in Canada or the Philippines.

In the 2006 pastoral statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on mining, the Bishops spoke unequivocally against large-scale mining activities in the country. “They called on religious leaders to strengthen the anti-mining campaign and raise it to a national level, demanding the suspension of 24 priority mining projects of the government and an abrupt end to ongoing large-scale mining activities by the global mining giants…,” many of whom are Canadian companies. Bishop Arigo has stated, “Based on experience, there is no responsible mining.” (Newsbreak July/September 2008).

We can be unequivocal in calling for an end to extra-judicial killings, incarceration of political prisoners, increased militarization, and intimidation and vilification of people opposed to government policy and military intrusion in community life. As well, we need to acknowledge the various points of view of people we met concerning both large and small scale mining. The national government, some local governments, and individuals 'on the ground' welcome a range of mining activity.
On the other hand, the vast majority of those whom we met are opposed to ecologically dangerous and socially destructive large scale mining. ‘Free, prior, and informed consent’ is not easy to apply in the context of conflicting legal and community agendas. However, it is central to respecting community wishes. For us it is clear that oppressive military pressure to enforce the mining agenda needs to cease. But having acknowledged the complexity of economic development in the form of large scale mining and that some people welcome it, we are called to stand with the vast majority of Indigenous People who oppose such intrusions on their land. The wishes of the Indigenous People need to be respected.

In our Canadian churches, we have a responsibility to be in solidarity with the progressive people’s organizations, the churches, and all other organizations in the Philippines in denouncing unregulated large-scale mining as destructive and against the ecological and social well-being of the earth and its people. From a theological perspective, the situation arising in the Philippines, call for a ‘status confessionis’ in our work as a church.

Dietrich Bonheoffer and others in the German churches calls for this reality in the height of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. A ‘status confessionis’ is a particular call in the midst of a crisis situation. It is, in fact, a time when the confession of Jesus Christ, our identity as a church, is questioned if our response as a church is less than active in the midst of a grave and clear injustice. In this kind of confession as a whole church, then, we would respond to the Philippines and the extrajudicial killings, human rights violations, ecological devastation and other social realities as a situation where we need to stand in solidarity as a church without differences, in the name of grace, in the name of the Gospel. As a church grounded in the witness of Christ, we are called to develop and deepen this understanding in relation to the Philippines and, specifically, the people of the Cordilleras. Both in our theological reflections as a Christian church and in our actions as the United Church of Canada, we are called to be directly involved in social change, in our own country and in the Philippines.

This is our call to the churches, presbyteries, conferences and General Council 41 of the United Church of Canada and other churches and all concerned Canadian citizens. We are dedicated to justice in our day! Join us in the struggle and celebration! The following are our recommendations for action at the 41st General Council meeting in Ottawa, August 11th to 18th. Additionally, we are including the recommendations made to the Sub-Committee on Human Rights at the House of Commons, April 3rd, 2012.

Recommendations to the 41st General Council of the United Church of Canada

These recommendations were received and unanimously approved on March 13, 2012, by Montreal Presbytery and transmitted to the Montreal & Ottawa Conference meeting in May for concurrence to be transmitted to General Council 41.

The Beaconsfield Initiative was an exposure mission to the Cordillera Region in the Northern Philippines, with the purpose of establishing long term covenants with partners and church congregations in the Cordillera region and congregations and ministry sites in Canada. As well, to evaluate the impact of Canadian mining practices and interests in the Cordillera, specifically in Abra Province; to explore and document the effect on the lives of indigenous people; the militarization of the region; the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; the resistance to mining explorations; the environmental destruction and human rights violations.

We ask General Council 41 to call for:
1. The end of the vilification and human rights violations of people and people's organizations.

2. The immediate release of the 347political prisoners.

3. The end of illegal arrest and imprisonment of people.

4. The end of abuse, violence and sex crimes against women in indigenous communities as practiced by the military.

5. The protection of the ancestral lands and resources from destructive large scale mining and all projects affecting indigenous communities.

6. A properly worded petition, with 25 accompanied signatures (to be developed in consultation with the Beaconsfield Initiative), to be distributed to all of its congregations and ministry sites, which will be hand delivered to every member of Parliament demanding the regulation of Canadian mining companies and their practices abroad. In addition, to invite Kairos and all our national Church partners and NGO’s to join in this campaign, to be completed by December 1, 2012.

7. The UCC, Kairos and other Church partners to lobby their membership and the Canadian government to boycott and divest from any companies who use and employ private militias or security forces, trained and equipped by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

8. An increase in funding and support for the National Council of Churches of the Philippines, United Church of Christ in the Philippines, Regional Ecumenical Council of the Cordillera, Cordillera Peoples Alliance and the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, who have been a long term partners, allowing them to expand their capacity to report on human rights violations, extra judicial killings, enforced disappearances, violence against women and children, the treatment of indigenous populations, the militarization of communities and monitor Canadian Mining applications and interests.

Recommendations to the Sub-Committee on International Human Rights, House of Commons, Government of Canada

April 3, 2012

The Beaconsfield Initiative was an Exposure Mission to the Cordillera Region in the Northern Philippines, whose purpose was two-fold: 1) to establish long term covenants with partners and church congregations in the Cordillera region with congregations and ministry sites in Canada; and 2) to explore and document the lives of indigenous people; the militarization of the region; the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; the environmental destruction and many additional forms of human rights violations.

The Reverend Shaun Fryday and The Very Reverend Dr. Bill Phipps, were leaders to a team of 14 concerned Canadians primarily from the United Church of Canada and we were hosted by our long term partners: The National Council of Churches of the Philippines, The United Church of Christ in the Philippines, The Regional Ecumenical Council of the Cordillera, The Cordillera People’s Alliance and The Cordillera Human Rights Alliance. The team was deeply disturbed by its findings and asks the Sub-Committee on International Human Rights to be seized with the opportunity, to conduct an investigation and review in the Philippines, as it relates to the following three areas:

1) Paramilitaries: (also known as Special Civilian Armed Forces Geographical United Active Auxiliaries) As of October 2011, paramilitaries who are trained and equipped by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, have been sanctioned by President Aquino. They are accused of participating in extensive Human Rights violations.

2) Vilification: Vilification is a practice that leads directly to illegal arrest and detention, harassment, torture, extrajudicial killings, threats and intimidation, enforced disappearances, violence against women and the abuse of children. The United Church of Canada has long-term partnerships with the above-mentioned groups and we request that the Government of Canada intervene with the Government of the Philippines, to have these organizations and its members removed from Government watch lists, lists which lead directly to Human Rights violations.

3) Sanctions: That the Canadian Government actively support and seek to fund NGOs and other progressive organizations who record and document human rights violations and further, seek to sanction any Canadian Interests whose practices violate human rights in their many forms in the Philippines.

4) Investigation & Further Study of Human Rights: That an inter-party delegation is formed from Members of the Canadian Parliament to visit the Philippines, especially the Cordillera region, in order to better understand the continued Human Rights violations and the impact of Canadian Mining interests on Indigenous peoples.

List of Participants on the Beaconsfield Initiative

The Very Reverend Dr. Bill Phipps, Former Moderator UCC, Calgary
The Reverend Shaun E. Fryday, Beaconsfield United Church, Montreal
Honorio Guerrero, Canadian Philippine Solidarity Group, Vancouver
Beth Dollaga, Canadian Philippine Solidarity Group
Darlene Brewer, Ph.D., (Theology), UCC, Fredericton (Principle Writer)
Guy Lin Beaudoin, UCC, Montreal
The Reverend Patricia Lisson, St. Columba House, UCC, Montreal
The Reverend Marie-Claude Manga, St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, UCC, Montreal
The Reverend Bob McElhinney, UCC, Toronto
Dorothy McElhinney, UCC, Toronto
Ivy Taguik Prénoveau
Alain Prénoveau, Former Grand Chief of the Confederacy of Aboriginal Peoples, Québec, Laval
Connie Sorrio, Kairos, Toronto
Tess Tesalona, Centre for Philippine Concerns, Montreal

Darlene Brewer, Guy-Lin Beaudoin, Shaun Fryday (Writing Team)

*(Song of the Common Cup Company, written by Ian Macdonald and Gordon Light; arranged by Andrew Donaldson, 2003, Canada).

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