Church groups condemn arrest of anti-mining protesters

Activists say detritus from mine has killed residents, disrupted livelihoods
Church groups condemn arrest of anti-mining protesters

The waters of Santa Cruz turn red due to silt and mud that flow downstream from the mines. (Photo by Vincent Go)

Church groups and environmental activists in the Philippines condemned the violent dispersal and arrest of several people who were trying to stop mining operations in the northern province of Zambales in the past three weeks.

"The police has once again sided with the large-scale miners despite these companies' repeated environmental and health impacts upon the people," Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment, told ucanews.com.

Police arrested several residents of Bayto village in Santa Cruz town as more than 200 people barricaded a road to prevent trucks from transporting nickel ore from the mine site to the seaport.

Some 30 policemen carrying anti-riot shields and more than a 100 workers of a mining company tried to disperse the residents on Feb. 7, after 26 trucks were stopped by the people.

Benito Molino, chairman of the Concerned Citizens of Santa Cruz, told ucanews.com that armed policemen used force in an attempt to disperse the barricade.

On Feb. 9, at least 11 residents were charged for involvement in the barricade.

Molino, who has been tagged as one of the leaders of the protest, said the barricade, which started Jan. 19, is the "culmination of the people's frustration to the effects of mining."

The doctor claimed that at least seven residents were killed and millions of pesos worth of livelihood, like farms and fishponds, have been destroyed by mud and water that flow from the mine sites.

"What frustrated the people even more is the statement of local government officials summarily dismissing the liability of mining companies regarding the disaster," Molino said.

 

Residents barricade the road from the mines to prevent trucks from hauling nickel to the seaport. (Photo courtesy of Ben Molino)

 

The Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc., a network of about 300 church groups, people's organizations, and Misereor, the development arm of the Catholic Church in Germany, noted that it is common for mining companies to bully environmental activists by filing civil and criminal complaints.

"We consider these arrests and trumped-up charges as forms of harassment meant to quell the people’s resistance to mining operations," said Primo Morillo, its advocacy officer, in a statement to the media.

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The government suspended mining operations in the town of Santa Cruz in April last year due to violations of environmental standards, but operations resumed after three months.

Bautista said mining operations in the province of Zambales have caused chronic water, air, and noise pollution to communities in proximity to their operations and roads. 

A report made by the Center for Environmental Concerns noted that Typhoon Koppu, the worst to hit the country last year, caused sediments to flow from the mine sites to the lowlands, affecting more than 13,790 families.

The report noted that approximately more than 1,000 hectares of vegetation have already been cleared due to mining operations.

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