Silent but not silenced

Earth Day at lake Mainit: In line with the watchword “Tao Muna – Hindi Mina!” (Men over Mining!) small-scale education is meant to prevent from Large-Scale Mining.

It´s not a mass-demonstration, it´s not clamant and neither is the police around nor any casual visitors. And yet it´s a protest, a movement designed to have a sustainable impact on landscape, ecology, life of the people and the local balances of power. Each year, on April 22nd , in over 190 different countries the Earth Day is celebrated with diverse actions aiming to raise public awareness of different ecological issues and problems. In this context at many places on the Philippines there are, among others, a number of events focusing on the problems of Large-Scale Mining. One of them happening here, at the Lake Mainit, in the north east of Mindanao, where we came to observe the quiet gathering of a small village community: A silent protest to provoke no more violence, despite the tense and conflict-prone situation regarding the mining issue.

A number of individuals ans groups of Human Rights Defenders and environmental activists have came to what seams like “the middle of nowhere”. Still, they did so for good reason, because it´s here where those people, who are, or would be affected by mining,live. The basketball court, where the community gathers, is being decorated with posters stating the demands of the activists. Next to them a map, showing the surrounding area, with marks for those places currently being explored by the mining companies, is set up. Involved is also the land which belongs to the local group of indigenous people (IP), as their “Ancestral Domain”, meaning no exploitation is to be done without their consent. Unfortunately it seems to be common practice to win such a consent with the help of empty promises, which is the reason why the activists came to warn the villagers about these kind of tactics and to inform them about the various risks Large-Scale Mining contains for Men and their source of life, the nature. It is the aim of the speakers to address the whole village, for all of the inhabitants are affected just as well. Therefor the audience gathering in the shadow also includes a lot of children.

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The performers of this event all have different personal backgrounds and bring different stories. Some of them represent local grass root movements, wishing to share their own experiences with others, showing how ruthless the work of mining-companies can be. Others come from non-government organizations (NGO), working and networking on a regional, even national basis, regarding different matters. While the preparations and decorations are still being finished we take the chance to some of the protesters.

Our first interview partner is Danny Arias, spokesman of an organization called “Side of the Struggle” (SOS). SOS is an alliance of many, NGOs, IP-Groups, civilian society organizations and churches in the Philippines. Explaining it was their aim, to persuade the Philippine Congress to pass the “Alternative Mining Bill”, he also tells us, that they were not rejecting mining on principle, but demanding for a more responsible way of realization.
According to Danny the current regulation provided only very little benefit for the people and the local population but favored the big, mostly foreign companies. Those hardly were to pay any taxes, and furthermore the natural assets were brought abroad instead of being used to promote local development. Often, the companies would first promise to provide the locals with jobs, schools and infrastructure projects like electricity and water supply. But these promises would just fool the people, for rarely any of them were fulfilled. Even if the residents were employed in the beginning, they didn´t get any long term contracts. Additionally common workers only got very low wages and had to work under poor working conditions, while managers would keep a disproportionately high amount of money. In terms of this behavior, Danny tells us, there was no difference between one company or another.
Beside all this he mentions his concern about the – at times devastating – consequences the Large-Scale Mining would cause for the environment. Not only a lot of forests were cleared, but, to pick only one more example out of many, also often the ground and river water was highly affected. This water, used by the people for drinking and numerous other purposes, sometimes would contain a concentration of nickel, copper or other pollutants, outraging the maximum permitted level by far.
Danny explains, that for these reasons, he would support an alternative mining bill, aiming to adjust mining to the basic needs of the population, thereby preserving and protecting the environment and the people and getting a bigger share of the profit for the Philippine Nation. The currently valid law was not only weak in theory but also penetrated by corruption. And, where bribery would not succeed, the mining-companies would find other forms of pressure, not being reluctant to violence, to reach their aims.
Beside the lobby work for the “Alternative Mining Bill” his group would currently do some research work, considering whether or not Small-Scale Mining, being in local responsibility, was a more sensible, more sound for men and nature, alternative compared to Large-Scale Mining. Due to smaller mines and lower exploitation rates the damage often was less severe. Also the locals would benefit more directly, but the problem about Small-Scale mining was a lack of regulation. Thus, safety measures were rarely satisfying, shaft supports usually self-made and mines would frequently collapse. Furthermore, Danny assumes, that child labor would happen more often and soil and water would be exposed to uncontrolled pollution.

The next person we talk to is Jaime Makinano, representing PhilDHRRA (Philippine Partnership for the Development of Human Recources in Rural Areas), a NGO network claiming the implementation of sustainable development programs as their over all aim. To reach that they would focus on the improvement of individual capability by offering trainings, education and information, Jaime explains. They wanted to support the people, especially victims of Human Rights Violations, to organize on their own, providing them with access to knowledge about their rights, strengthening their identity, so that they could protect themselves. Jaime tells us, that this was of extraordinary importance when it came to the field of mining conflicts, for government agencies and military often were bribed by the companies. Thus, state forces would back up the companies, not only during anti-mining-protests, but also in terms of developing new areas for exploitation. It would, for example, happen, that complete villages were ordered to relocate, using the fight against terrorism as an excuse to make them leave their houses for some time. During that period of time the companies would take their chances to explore the area and – finding only empty houses – declare it as inhabited. Through this strategy they would elude the necessity of getting the residents consent.

Most of these portrayed procedures are verified by experiences of other people we talk to. A woman tells us the story about her home village, where at first the whole community had been united in their struggle against the near by opening of a mine, wishing to preserve their ground water. But after the involved mining-company had built up a medical care center, made some job offers and paid money to the right people, the concord of the villagers had been destroyed. Now some of them had agreed with the mining, while others had joined together to continue their protest being fought fiercely by the mining-company. For example, cars of the company had been driven directly through the crowd of protesters and the company had employed armed security guards. In the ongoing violent conflict, police and military had taken sides with the mining-company.

For our last interview we´re listening to a group of women, who also live close to the lake Mainit. They tell us, they had lost all their belongings and built up everything – houses, farmland and livestock – from the beginning again, for quite a few times now. The reason: They had been asked by the military to leave their settlement and live in the village hall for some time, allegedly for their own safety, for armed rebels would have been supposed to be around ind that area. But actually the woman tell us, they had never seen such rebels as long as no military would show up. When they had been allowed to return, after up to two months of inability to tend to their houses, fields or livestock, they had found them pillaged and burnt. Again, allegedly by the rebels, bur the women assure us, that they had really been destroyed by the soldiers. Only a few months ago they had decided to organize to be able to defend themselves better against these kinds of Human Rights Violations.

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During the speeches of the activists, it has become dark an candles a lit. There is one for each villager and they use them to illuminate the motto of this event and the posters brought by the activists. The “show down” of this happening seems to be full of kindness and hope, relaxing and yet binding. Not only the children enjoy holding candles and posters in their hands. Meanwhile the participants form a circle and in it´s center silent scenes of oppression are personated. Here and now it´s only about taking pictures to document this event and to entertain the people, but in reality the mining issue contains numerous, violently escalated conflicts, in which a human live do not seem to count a lot. The fact that environmental activists and Human Rights Defenders are regularly threatened with their lives, and the fact that many affected people don´t know how to help themselves peacefully anymore, seems to be far away in this calm candle light atmosphere. And yet exactly these facts and the reluctance of them, are the reasons for this de-escalation seeking, quiet form of protest. Today, at the Earth Day, it´s all about peace for men and nature.

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