Mining ban U-turn sparks fear of more activist killings

Rights group in Philippines expects rise in number of murders after open-pit extraction ban is overturned
Mining ban U-turn sparks fear of more activist killings

Residents of Homonhon island in the central Philippines protest in September against a government decision to reopen an open-pit mine close to their community. (Photo by Elmer Recuerdo)


Attacks against environmental defenders in the Philippines are expected to rise with the government’s U-turn on its ban on open-pit mining, activists and church groups warned on Oct. 26.

Many environmental activist killings have been linked to opposition to open-pit mine operations, said Leon Dulce, campaign coordinator of environmental group Kalikasan.

Dulce cited the US$5.9-billion Tampakan gold and copper deposits, which straddle the borders of four provinces on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Unrest over the copper-gold project has killed 10 people since 2010. Among the murder victims was Italian missionary priest Fausto Tentorio, whose alleged killers were released on bail and were reportedly under the protection of a member of Congress.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines said paramilitary forces were behind the killing of Father Tentorio for his opposition to mining operations, including Tampakan, which is owned by close friends of incumbent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Investors expect to haul 2.4 billion metric tons of copper-gold deposits from Tampakan, formerly owned by an Australian mining firm that backed out of the project due to resistance by tribal communities. The mines will eventually sprawl across 24,000 hectares of ancestral and agricultural lands, as well as forests.

At least 19 environmental activists have been killed in the Philippines this year alone, according to international group Global Witness. The group also listed the country last year as the third deadliest in Asia for environmentalists, with 28 killings.

Early in his presidency, Duterte vowed to close all open-pit mines. However, he has since allowed allies in Congress to reject the confirmation of environmentalist Regina Lopez who, when she was briefly environment minister,  ordered the closure of the mines.

Lopez's replacement as minister, former armed forces chief Roy Cimatu, has allowed the reopening of the mines.

"There is a stark dissonance between Duterte’s fierce proclamations of holding environmentally destructive projects accountable, and the brutal repression environmental defenders are experiencing under his security and investment defense programs," said Anna Kapunan, spokeswoman for the group Environmental Advocates against Repression and Tyranny in defense of Human Rights.

Kapunan told that two conflicts over planned open-pit mines on the northern Philippine island of Luzon have already killed two environmentalists and displaced hundreds of families. Ten activists have also been jailed for their opposition to mines in central and southern Luzon regions, she said.

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