A woman walks on sediment from a mining site that flooded the Philippine town of Santa Cruz after heavy rains. (Photo courtesy of Ben Molino)
(UCAN Series: Best of 2016)
A fact-finding mission launched by church and environmental groups in late February discovered "police brutality and land grabbing" were committed in a mining town north of Manila.
"The police employed excessive force against the people," said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of the group Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment.
Residents who set up a barricade to prevent mining equipment from entering the town of Santa Cruz in Zambales province were able to record on video the use of "excessive force" by police.
The two-day mission on Feb. 27 and 28 also found "widespread ecological degradation [and] worsened health conditions" suffered by the residents due to nickel mining operations.
"Community members have confirmed to us that there is an increase in the prevalence of upper respiratory infection especially among children," said Rhea Candog, environmental researcher of the Center for Environmental Concerns.
Candog said dust from trucks hauling soil might have caused the increase of cases of coughs and asthma among residents.
Father Noel Montes of Iba Diocese said the local church is "taking all opportunities to mobilize action relating to environmental issues."
"We are saddened by what is happening now in Zambales where issues concerning the environment and violation of the rights of the people are going on," the priest told ucanews.com on Feb. 29.
"We condemn all acts that destroy our environment and plunder our resources," Montes said.
He appealed to the government to investigate the reported cases of land grabbing and human rights violations.
"Large-scale nickel mining operations in the province are proven detrimental not only to our environment but to people's rights and safety," Bautista said.
At least four companies are mining an estimated 12,000 hectares of land for nickel laterite in Santa Cruz town. The laterite are exported to China.
Bautista said they will use the data gathered during the mission to file legal complaints against the mining companies.
He said his group also will campaign for "zero-vote" for politicians who failed to prevent mining operations in May national elections.
In January, residents set up barricades to prevent the continuous operations of the mining companies but policemen dispersed the protest resulting in the arrest of several protesters.
A study conducted by the Center for Environmental Concerns last year show that sediment flooded the town from the mine sites during torrential rains.
An estimated 2,629 cubic meters per hectare of sediment covered low-lying areas of Santa Cruz, affecting some 13,790 families.
Published Feb. 29, 2016