Vote against mining, vote for our collective survival
Berta Caceres was an indigenous woman leader of the Lenca people in Honduras, and a mother of 4. She has led opposition to a proposed dam on the Gualcarque river, considered sacred by the Lencas. Last Thursday, March 3, Berta was shot dead in her own home, in La Esperanza in Honduras. While the Honduran police said that it was a failed robbery, everyone knew that it was because of her relentless campaign against the dam, and for the rights of the Lenca people. Berta’s murder reinforces the position of Honduras as one of the most dangerous places for environmental rights defenders.
In 2015, Philippines placed second on a list of most dangerous places in the world for human rights defenders according to human rights group Global Witness. We then remember Juvy Capion, a B’laan woman leader from Bong Mal, Kiblawan Davao del Sur. Like Berta, Juvy was shot dead right at her home in 2012. Juvy was also a mother. But 2 of her 3 children were shot dead with her that day. She too was active in the defense of their rights as indigenous peoples over their ancestral domain, against the large scale gold mining of SMI-Xstrata in Tampakan, covering ancestral domains of the B’laan people. But while the killers of Berta were supposed to be common criminals, the killers of Juvy and her two boys, are soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The murders were initially declared as a “mis-encounter”.
The murders of these two indigenous women leaders expose the kind of development that governments are pursuing – that profit from the commodification of our waters, of our minerals, and the rest of our natural resources are more important than the lives of indigenous peoples.
The impunity with which these horrendous crimes are committed suggests that corporations have become more powerful than governments.
But Berta and Juvy, their lives as leaders and their deaths, underscore the significant role of indigenous women as frontliners in the struggle for land, for human rights, for survival, for life; and struggle against the forces that deprive them of these. For Berta, it was the multi-billion dam project. For Juvy, it was the large-scale open-pit mining project.
In the Philippines, it is the mining industry that is posing one of the largest threats to the environment, the natural resources, and the lives of the indigenous peoples. Almost two-thirds of the ancestral domains are covered by mining tenements. Fifty per cent of the key biodiversity areas and protected areas are impacted by mining.
The Mining Act of 1995 is in its 20th year this March. What does it have to show for? If we look at Didipio, Kasibu Nueva Vizcaya, the first FTAA or Financial Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) issued – the forests were cleared, the rivers shifted, Dinkidi Hill was flattened, agricultural lands are now rendered unproductive. Brgy. Didipio saw at least two killings related to land conflict because of the presence of Oceania Gold Philippines, Inc.
Most of the mining host communities in the Philippines have the highest and consistent poverty rates. We need to realize how deep the connection of the devastated environment and the ravaged state of our natural resources to the poverty that our people are persistently in. Our food producers have been stripped off their lands, the mountains which protect our communities from the deadly floods have been turned upside down. The waters, which are important resources to communities have turned murky or have dried up. Food security has been compromised. As more forests are denuded, and mountains flattened by mining, the impacts of climate change are worsened – on one hand, longer dry spell, and drought; while on the other, more rainfall, and sea level rise. This exacerbates hunger among the indigenous communities and rural poor, and exposes their lives to more risk – flooding, and landslides. And because of discrimination, and gender bias, which still exist in our society today, indigenous women are most vulnerable to these, which make them to be among the poorest, and the hungriest.
We know this. We see this. But the Mining law remains in place and enforced. The proposed alternative minerals management bill has failed to pass again in the 16th Congress.
In Zambales, where there is an ongoing protest against the large-scale mining operations in the province, at least two women were arrested last month. The police said those arrested could be charged with blocking a legitimate business operation, a violation of a provision of Republic Act No 7942 or the Mining Law. (PDI, March 1, 2016)
The Mining Act has been consistently invoked by the government against protests by communities, and against local governments who want to protect their areas of jurisdiction from mining. But the Mining Act has never been used to protect the communities from the impacts of mining; nor has it been used to make the corporations accountable to any human rights abuse; nor has it been effectively used to compel the government agencies to protect the environment and natural resources. Why is this so?
Because the mining corporations have such strong control over our government. We need new set of leaders who will take back control over our own government; leaders who can resist the seduction of money and power from the corporations; leaders who can think beyond their terms in office; leaders who will lead the people towards a more nurturing, respectful, democratic, and equitable natural resource management and our overall national development.
These May elections, let us be critical in analyzing the candidates, let us be radical in our choices. We cannot afford to be less than that.
We owe it to our children. We owe it to the children whose mothers and fathers have been killed as they fought for their land, for their rights. As they fought against mining, against the ravage of our natural resources, they fought ultimately for our collective survival.
Mabuhay ang mga kababaihang ngayong buwan ng Marso. Pagpugay sa mga kababaihang patuloy na nakikipaglaban ngayon para sa ating bukas.
JUSTICE FOR BERTA CACERES, JUSTICE FOR JUVY CAPION AND HER FAMILY. JUSTICE FOR ALL WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS.
MARCH 7, 2016
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