Vote Wisely, Understand the Issue – Says Anti-mining NGO

Aug 10th 2009

A t the recent CFA Environmental forum on Indigenous People and the Mining Controversy, the message was: Vote wisely and understand the issues surrounding the threat posed by mining in our countryside.

This was the call made by guest speaker Jaybee Garganera of the non-government organization Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) to participants of the Coffeehouse Environmental Forum held last July 31 at the Lagerwey Hall of the Communication Foundation for Asia (CFA).

Students line up to take part in the CFA Coffeehouse Forum.

Garganera called for everyone present at the event to “keep informed and to understand” the issue of mining and how it is affecting the environment and the cultural identity of tribes living in affected areas. He especially addressed the students who felt that they did not have a say in the matter: “We do not expect you to go to the streets and attend rallies. The best that you can do to help our affected brothers is to do research on these mining activities, spread the word to your friends, and allow others to understand what is happening as a result of mining.”

Garganera also took note of the huge population of young Filipinos of voting age, who have the power to elect leaders who have genuine concern not only for the environment but also for the situation of the indigenous tribes. “We should be aware of the platforms of these people running for office and be wary of those whose concern is the aggressive promotion of large-scale mining in the country,” he added.

An attentive audience listens to the discussion pertaining to large-scale mining operations and their effect on local tribes.

In an effort to curb unrelenting mining operations especially in areas that affect the culture of ethnic tribes, the ATM has continually pushed for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act No. 7942), Executive Order 270-A of 2004, and the National Minerals Action Plan. These two laws have allowed relatively unrestricted mining operations and control of Philippine soil by foreign entities. ATM has also been exposing several politicians who are in support of 100 per cent foreign ownership of Philippine land, purportedly for that sake of economic prosperity. ATM has also been denouncing human rights violations committed against tribal leaders and their people, who have been driven away from their ancestral domains by the mining operators.

The audience is amused by one of their colleague's statements that cleared up the issue on the apparent apathy toward the welfare of affected tribesmen.

Garganera emphasized that their group has come up with an Alternative Mining Bill, to replace the Mining Act of 1995. It proposes the establishment of a Multi-sectoral Mineral Council whose role is to enforce policies and decisions, the declaration of all areas as “closed” to mining unless declared “open” by the Council, the removal of the Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA), which allows virtually 100 per cent foreign ownership, and the revocation and termination of mining agreements upon findings of human rights violations as well as administrative violations.

The response from the students was very warm, leading to active debate in open forum. Students asked what their role could be in this situation. Garganera stressed that they should not forget that these tribes are direct links to our ancestors, and that we have a blood relationship with them. Thus, the fight of the indigenous tribes is also our fight.

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