Cherish El Salvador’s historic national mining ban and continue the people’s defense of lands, lives and environment!

March 31, 2017

By Kalikasan PNE

The Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) warmly commends the historic move of the El Salvador government declaring a nationwide ban on metal mining to protect its increasingly scarce water sources from threats of mining pollution.

The declaration of El Salvador as a ‘mining-free’ territory is a powerful example of a people asserting its sovereign rights over its national patrimony, the latest in a series of victories brought about by more than a decade of the Salvadoran people’s struggles against destructive mining projects.

In 2009, the then-newly installed left-wing government of the FLMN instituted a moratorium on metallic mining projects to heed the people’s clamour. In response, Australian-Canadian mining company OceanaGold filed a damages suit before the World Bank International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), an investor-state tribunal, against El Salvador for allegedly causing millions of dollars in undertaken mineral exploration activities and in loss of potential profits.

Seven years later on October 14, 2016, ICSID was forced to rule in favour of the El Salvador government and dismiss the damages suit for OceanaGold not having any concrete legal basis for its claims.

Here in the Philippines, OceanaGold’s Didipio mine is among the 28 large-scale mining projects that were closed down or suspended through a historic order by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) that heeded the longstanding demands of frontline communities and social movements to hold large-scale miners accountable for violating various environmental and social regulations.

President Rodrigo Duterte should take El Salvador’s cue and assert our country’s national sovereignty and patrimony against mining plunderers. We urge Duterte to decisively uphold the DENR mine closure and suspension order and demand just compensation from the notorious mining criminals.

Duterte can build on the initiatives of government leaders. Governor Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya province is currently in El Salvador to share his province’s ordeal of environmental degradation due to the impacts of OceanaGold’s mining operations before public officials and other local audiences. Bayan Muna Party-list Representative Carlos Zarate, meanwhile, is in Canada to lobby the Canadian parliament and communities to hold accountable the various violations of OceanaGold and other Canadian mining companies.

Duterte should support Rep. Zarate and the rest of the Makabayan Bloc of legislators to mobilize the Philippine Congress in fast-tracking the passage of House Bill 2715 or the People’s Mining Bill, a proposed new mining law that will reorient the mining industry away from mining liberalization and plunder towards a framework based on national industrialization, respect of people’s rights, and protection of the environment.

The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, the largest mining lobby group in the country in which OceanaGold is a member, has threatened the Philippines with billions of pesos worth of legal actions. The Philippine government’s economic managers led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez act like figureheads of the industry, echoing the Chamber’s fear-mongering over economic and jobs losses and the threats of investor-state dispute lawsuits.

The Chamber and its lapdogs in government will surely fail. The lessons of El Salvador are clear and will be heeded well by the Filipino people.

As the leading national environmental campaign center in the Philippines, Kalikasan PNE will mobilize all its local people’s organizations and networks across the country to push for the decisive implementation of the DENR’s mining closure and suspension orders. Together with various people’s movements at the national level, we will hold accountable President Rodrigo Duterte’s consistent proclamations of supporting DENR Secretary Gina Lopez’s crackdown on the big mines.

From the Philippines to El Salvador, we must defend the fruits of our relentless struggles for meaningful social change.

As we carry on the defense of our lands, lives and environment, we hope that the people of El Salvador and the Philippines continue to harness inspiration and lessons from each other’s solidarity and successes. We also enjoin the global people’s movement against mining liberalization and plunder to further amplify our common struggle and help replicate our victories across the world.

La lucha continua! Tuloy ang laban!