Bishop dares Atienza to prove pro-life stance

PRESS RELEASE

MANILA, Philippines—As the hunger strike of anti-mining advocates pressing for the revocation of a mining clearance permit entered on its seventh day, a Catholic bishop dared Department Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Joselito Atienza to prove his pro-life stance by withdrawing the permit issued by his office to a mining company to operate in Mindoro.

In a strongly-worded letter sent to Atienza, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, called on the DENR secretary to uphold the law and revoke the environmental clearance certificate (ECC) issued to Norwegian mining company Intex Resources.

“You issued a defective ECC; have the courage to revoke it!” the bishop declared.

Pabillo, who also heads the Episcopal Commission on Social Action-Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), said it is better to go wrong defending the lives and rights of Filipinos than to err defending money and foreigners.

“Better to lose your face in front of foreigners than to lose it in front of your countrymen and women,” he said.

Indefinite suspension of ECC

Representatives from the Church, local officials of Mindoro provinces (LGU’s) and Mangyan leaders (IPs) dialogued with DENR officials on Nov. 18 asking for an indefinite suspension of ECC granted to Intex Resources.

“In the said dialogue, in front of two provincial governors, several mayors, congressmen, priests, two bishops, DENR officials and several Mangyan leaders, you were emphatic about your allegiance to the law and your assurance to punish anyone in your office who does not abide by the law,” Pabillo said in his letter.

But despite acceding to the “irregularity” of ECC, Atienza only issued a 90-day suspension order.

The order caught the anti-mining advocates by surprise, who had decided to call off the hunger strike after the “fruitful” dialogue.

Pabillo said Atienza’s action did not reflect accurately the discussions and agreements of the meeting.

Among those discussed and agreed in the meeting include 1) the recognition of the LGU’s moratorium on mining; 2) the failure of the Intex Resources to conduct a genuine consultation in the communities; 3) the steadfast refusal of LGUs to allow the entry of the Intez Resources in the area; and 4) the sustained rejection and withholding of consent of the legitimate indigenous people to be affected by the mining operation.

The bishop said they all felt betrayed by Atienza’s failure to act on the side of justice and truth.

“If the ECC is acquired with irregularity, why should it be just suspended for 90 days? Is it not invalid, and being so, must be revoked?” he asked.

Critical watershed area

Pabillo also scored the DENR’s failure to formally declare the contested area a watershed despite confirmation from Mindoro officials that “some 11,000 hectares covered by the ECC definitely include the watershed that feeds the two Mindoro provinces.”

The area has long been established as a watershed, which explains why a mining permit by the same company in July 2001 was cancelled by former DENR secretary Heherson Alvarez, Pabillo said.

Aside from being a critical watershed, the area is also home to the communities of Alangan and Tadyawan Mangyans.

Mangyan leaders, together with some priests and nuns and LGU officials have been on hunger strike in front of DENR office since Nov. 17 to press their demands.

They said the indigenous communities have never given a genuine Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), and that Intex Resources resorted to deception and indirect bribery to get the support of some tribal leaders.

“The 25 hunger strikers, most of them Mangyans, are now in the 7th day of their hunger strike. Don’t you care at all for their situation? Is this not part of your pro-life stance?” Pabillo asked Atienza.

Responsibility towards environment and people

While urging Atienza to act quickly in canceling the permit, the bishop also reminded the official of his responsibility towards the environment and the people who depend on it.

“Allow me to remind you that your responsibility is more towards the care of the Philippine environment and the Filipinos who mostly depend on a well-balanced ecosystem than towards foreign investors who are here not to help our country—inspite of their protestations—but to exploit us and our natural resources,” Pabillo said.

Rich in natural resources, Mindoro is considered the food basket of southern Tagalog provinces including Metro Manila. Farmers depend on the rivers for irrigation of rice fields. To preserve the island’s ecosystem from destruction, both provinces of Oriental and Occidental Mindoro have issued a moratorium on mining for 25 years.

Gross violation of the law

“You have always insisted on the observance of the law. But the way you disregarded the decision of the local government units in Mindoro is a gross violation of Section 70 of the Mining Act of 1995, which clearly requires the conduct of a genuine consultation, approval and endorsement through ordinance from the affected municipalities and the provincial government,” the letter said

Pabillo noted that the issuance of ECC also has no basis because DENR “disregarded the decision of the independent scientists who conducted the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).”

The EIA Review Committee for the Mindoro Nickel Project on September 23, 2009 had recommended a denial of an ECC for the mining company. But the DENR office reversed the decision by issuing an ECC on October 14, 2009.

Reiterating his appeal for the cancellation of the ECC, Pabillo said the people would not have gone on hunger strike if not for its issuance.

“I appeal to you, Mr. Secretary, to revoke the ECC. Do not blame the people for going into hunger strike… They want to have their voices heard, and now, many people even out of Mindoro—bishops, priests, religious, lawmakers, students, parishioners and many NGO supporters are hearing it,” he said.

The bishop said it is now the time for the DENR official to prove his pro-life stance.

“Otherwise, please do not campaign on pro-life issues in the coming election and do not claim that you are for the good of the local government in which you would be running,” Pabillo said. “I pray that you would have courage, humility and compassion,” he added. (Pinky Barrientos, FSP)

Source: CBCP News

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