Filipino nun wins German human rights award

Benedictine faced violence, arrest, threats for opposing large-scale mining in Mindanao
Filipino nun wins German human rights award

Sister Stella Matutina explains the threats of large-scale mining in Mindanao during a conference in Manila in early August. (Photo by Leon Dulce)

A Benedictine nun, known for her anti-mining advocacy in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, is this year's recipient of Germany's "Weimar Award for Human Rights."

Sister Stella Matutina has been recognized for "[engaging] herself extraordinarily for the rights of the native population, despite being exposed to permanent threats to her safety due to her engagements".

"This highlights the situation of Mindanao and the Philippines in general where the poor, the farmers, the indigenous peoples, the human rights activists and defenders of the environment endure harassment and face risks and death," the 47-year-old nun told ucanews.com.

More than a personal recognition, Matutina said the award acknowledges the "collective sacrifices" of freedom and environment defenders in the face of a "systematic effort to limit democratic space and security threats".

The nun, who comes from a poor family in Mindanao, said her heart "will always be for the poor and the victims of abuses".

"My life will always be dedicated to them," she said.

Matutina has been a vocal opponent of attempts to convert the farmlands in Mindanao to plantation crops like palm oil, pineapples, and bananas.

She has also led a campaign against the entry of large-scale mining companies in tribal communities in Mindanao.

In 2012, the Philippine military labeled Matutina a "fake nun" and accused her of being a communist New People’s Army guerrilla.

In 2009, soldiers detained Matutina and two other anti-mining activists in the town of Cateel in Mindanao for giving a lecture on environmental awareness to residents of an upland village.

Early this year, authorities charged Matutina, other Church leaders and human rights activists with kidnapping, human trafficking, and illegal detention for taking care of displaced tribal people in the provinces of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.

"These are proof that helping the oppressed, the poor, the abused comes with great risks," said Matutina, chairwoman of the Sisters Association of Mindanao and secretary-general of the environment protection group Panalipdan.

Since 1995, the Weimar Award has honored individuals or groups engaged in the fight for freedom and equality, the prevention and condemnation of genocide, the right to free speech, and the respect and preservation of political, ethnic, cultural and religious rights of minorities, among others.

The Weimar Award, which is supported by aid organization Missio, will officially recognize Matutina in December.

The nun will receive 2,500 euros [US$2,730], which Matutina said will help support her organization's advocacy.

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