An Open Letter to President Duterte to Defend our Environment, Resources and People

May 16, 2016

By Amianan Salakniban

Dear Mr. President,

We, Amianan Salakniban (Defend the North) the environment and human rights network in North Luzon congratulate you on your landslide victory this recent elections. As the newly elected President and the father of this country, we urge you to look into the plight of the marginalized people battling the negative effects of destructive large-scale mining to the environment and people’s livelihood.

For decades, communities in the Regions of Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and Cordillera has been suffering from the ill effects of large-scale mining. Inland open pit mining operations caused erosion, landslide, subsidence and the destruction of watershed areas, residential and agricultural lands.

Along the coastal areas of Ilocos and Cagayan Valley, magnetite mining has caused massive shoreline retreat, flooding, and has made communities near the sea vulnerable to sea surges. With the use of high-tech sensory analysis, US experts studied that NL coastal communities with magnetite mining operations were observed to be subsiding annually and will be underwater in 30-70 years.

Large scale mining in Benguet has long polluted the Agno River affecting the lowlands of Quirino and Cervantes in IIocos Sur. It has also caused the drying and siltation of the rivers and streams. Hundred of hectares of farmlands were deemed useless because of this. The biodiversity of affected areas are in grave danger. Species of fish, plants and corals are affected. The source of livelihood of millions of farmers and fisher folks are at stake.

Mining communities in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya also lost their sources of potable water due to ground disturbance caused by blasting operations of foreign large-scale mining companies. In Brgy. Runruno, people report that the springs that provide clean water for the whole community suddenly disappeared when the FCF Minerals started its drilling exploration. Oceana Gold Philippines Incorporated (OGPI) with a Free Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) caused massive destruction to the environment and the people of Brgy. Didipio. OGPI’s mine tailings have been polluting the adjacent river systems affecting several barangays surrounding the mining site. Community reports that their cattle die upon drinking the water from rivers that are scientifically proven to be contaminated with high levels of copper and cyanide. Existing forests in the hills and mountains surrounding the once Dinkidi Hill, are being threatened to be denuded, excavated as the company plans to expand its operations.

Water source for irrigation dried, or has been contaminated with high levels of toxic chemicals. In Cordon Isabela, their irrigation systems were ruined when the illegal mining company Golden Summit Mining Corporation covered the rivers with excavation debris preventing the water to flow to dozens of farm and corn lands. Drought caused by climate change aggravates this situation forcing farmers into brink of starvation and some even to commit suicide.

Environmental advocates and anti-mining community leaders are being threatened, harassed, vilified, and killed. Indigenous peoples are displaced and their connection to their own land, lost. Instead of hearing the people’s concerns, the previous administrations responded by militarizing communities opposing the entry and operation of mines.

We believe that the mining industry is crucial to our economic growth. But in our neo-liberal economic system, our country is always at a loss. Based on MGB data in 2015, the contribution of the mining sector to our GDP remains insignificant at 0.7% since 2012 and its employment rate remains irrelevant at 0.6%. The country’s history of mining disasters proves that responsible mining of foreign and local mining companies remains a myth. No mining company ever rehabilitated the destroyed ecosystems they gobbled up.

Promises of development to mining communities and municipalities are bubbles in the wind. In Didipio, the people are angry at OGPI’s failed promises of roads, schools, hospitals and jobs. Justice for them remains elusive. When the Commission of Human Rights found grave evidence of human rights violations committed by the company when it demolished hundred of houses in 2008, the Supreme Court immediately sided with the OGPI. It is the company’s constitutional rights to displace hundreds of families under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. It is also their right to cut hectares of forests to use in the construction of their facilities and also to dump their wastes in rivers is their ‘water right’. Apparently in our country, foreign companies have more rights to our land than we Filipinos. And now, this OGPI is bragging of its super profit gained from the ‘lowest cost gold mines globally’ which is Didipio. Our land, our gold, their profit.

Mr. President, our mineral resources are finite. Once taken, they can never grow back. Let’s make the most out of it by building our own industries with it and ensuring that we do it responsibly. Let us ensure that the profit from our resources remains ours. If we use our iron, copper, nickel, gold and other minerals to build our own industries that make industrial and agricultural machines, we can create more jobs for our people, minimizing the need for our people to find greener pastures overseas. If we support our science and technology sector, we can encourage them to discover cleaner and safer methods of mineral extraction and ensure proper rehabilitation.

Amianan Salakniban, believes that we can only do this through a nationalized mining industry that prioritizes people over profit and by scrapping the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 that has caused grave suffering for the environment and the people for over two decades.

For our indigenous peoples in the North, “Land is Life… Nobody can own what can outlive us”. It is our responsibility to the future generations that they can still breathe the same fresh air we breathe today. It is our responsibility to protect our lands and maintain a clean environment that they may use it for their own sustainability and also protect it for the next.

Mr. President, the Filipino people believed that you will be the CHANGE that this country needs, please prove us right.

Sincerely Yours,

Fernando Mangili
Convener and Spokesperson
Amianan Salakniban
(+63) 0998 864 9167, 09291349449