The brave non-violence of the Subaanen people. Reflections No 395, 7 July 2012
Fr Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.
The Subanen People are native to the Zamboanga Peninsula in the western part of the island of Mindanao, Philippines. Mindanao is a little larger than Ireland and a little smaller than Iceland in land area. Timuay Fernando Mudai of the Pigsalabukan Bangsa Subano (PBS).
Some thousands of indigenous people all over the Philippines, especially in Mindanao, particularly the Subaanen people on the Zamboanga Peninsula, have struggled for years to stop mining corporations from moving in to explore and mine the mountains and hills. They are victims of corrupt government officials and even judges who are captivated by the vested interests of the mining industry.
Some indigenous people are sadly being forced to turn to armed resistance as the mining corporations move into their lands. The Subanen people have remained steadfastly non-violent and turned to the rule of law and trust in the Constitution to protect them and their rights. But is it enough?
Hundreds of thousands of hectares of ancestral land have been threatened by the illegal and corrupt acts of some officials of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Allegedly some of these officials are not on the side of the people in Mindanao but are for the rich and powerful mining interests and the banks that fund them.
Canatuan Copper Mine, Zamboanga del Norte
They allegedly enrich themselves by giving mining permits to companies over ancestral lands, which is forbidden by law. It is at this level in the provinces that the anti-corruption campaign of President Aquino is weakest. He has deposed a former president and a chief Justice but not yet the corrupt officials in Mindanao. While the President is dedicated and honestly trying to clean up the stinking garbage of corruption he cannot, it seems, oust these entrenched officials, the henchmen and women of powerful political families.
They do not have allegiance to their department cabinet secretary or the president. In fact they are ones who defy the president and are the hardest to get rid off. The president's political allies could be behind the corrupt practices that are opening the way for the illegal logging and issuance of mining permits. They are pushing the President to override the provincial governments bans on open-pit mining. He must resist this pressure.
Mining companies that get a permit to explore and mine also get a logging permit for cutting the trees in the area alloted to them for mining. This is totally destructive and is a way around the presidential ban on logging which goes on unabated. Just drive through Mindanao and you will pass twenty or thirty huge trucks hauling cut logs. I have seen them myself.
For many years the Subanen people and their supporters have stood peacefully for their rights, courageously and bravely to stop the local dynastic families and their cronies in the international mining industry from mining their ancestral lands. The Subanens have been non-violent and have trusted the democratic rule of law to save them.
Their breakthrough came in August 2011 when the Supreme Court of the Philippines granted a Writ of Kalikasan (A protection of nature) to the people to protect the environment of the whole of the Zamboanga Peninsula. A Writ of Kalikasan is a powerful legal remedy under Philippine law which provides for the protection one's right to 'a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature', as provided for in Section 16, Article II of the Philippine Constitution. It protects one's right to a healthy environment against damage of such magnitude that it threatens life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces. But the government officials are ignoring the Supreme Court order .
Bishop Zacarias Jiminez and three other bishops and an archbishop signed a letter to the London-based shareholders of the mining company RTZ-CRA trying to get the officials to stop the mining and logging. In part the letter said; 'Since the company has the right to expatriate all the profits, you, the shareholders, will probably earn some money. However, many of our people who own the lands where all the minerals are will become paupers. Our rivers and seas will become polluted, our mountains will become deserts and our ricelands poisoned. Our forest birds and animals will become extinct. The very existence of the Subanen, a gentle and beautiful people will be put at very high risk'.
This must not happen. We must do all we can to see that the rule of law prevails, that justice is done and corrupt officials ousted and permits cancelled. email@example.com