Undermining Patrimony: excerpts from a book review (Conclusive Part)

Mar. 09, 2016

It is inevitable that  Professor Simbulan’s  review of the book Undermining Patrimony will proceed in the  following observations and  insights, deep into the  more than overwhelming evidence from the information and data gathered firsthand by the triad,  namely Panalipdan,  Inpeace Mindanao and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

In sum, the multiple forms of resistance to mining have included awareness-raising activities, mass mobilizations, road blockades, lobbying with the Philippine Congress, legal cases before the courts including the Supreme Court, local government ordinances and armed resistance.

International solidarity against large-scale mining confronted with global mining corporations, like-minded individuals and social movements from various countries have linked up to share experiences and strategies in their struggles against mining. Filipino anti-mining activists have helped establish regional and international platforms for solidarity and support for indigenous communities affected by State and corporate projects implemented in their territories. They have forged ranks with the Indigenous Peoples Global Network on the Extractive Industries (IPGNEI).

In response to extractive industries and corporate exploitation, indigenous peoples’ organizations in Asia, including KATRIBU, the national federation of indigenous peoples in the Philippines, have established the Asia Indigenous Peoples Network on Extractive Industries and Energy (AIPNEE) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on March 13, 2015. The international network of anti-mining organizations are proposing to the Permanent International People’s Tribunal to put global mining companies on trial for the displacement of indigenous peoples and environmental destruction. An ASEAN People’s Treaty has also been drafted that includes restrictions on mining operations in indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands.

As if to highlight international solidarity for anti-mining activities, Philippine environmental and indigenous people’s organizations hosted the International People’s Conference on Mining (IPCM) in Manila on July 30- August 1, 2015. This unprecedented international summit of global anti-mining activists and scientists brought together 63 international organizations from 28 countries and 53 local groups in the Philippines to share lessons and to strategize a global campaign against the mining industry and its consequences.

These international networks seek to better understand mining industry trends to effectively strategize to counter the industry’s myth of “sustainable mining.” Alternatives to Large-scale Mining Mining methods like black sand, unsystematic strip and open pit mining that threaten and even poison rivers and agricultural lands cannot, by any stretch of one’s imagination, become “sustainable.” The unions under the Metal Workers’ Alliance of the Philippines have not only worked for better working conditions of mineworkers, but are also beginning to put pressure on mining companies not to disregard the health and safety of communities where mining operations exist. Perhaps, the best mentors for alternatives to mining are the growing initiatives of indigenous communities to develop more sustainable and equitable forms of development.

While the indigenous peoples and their supporters want the 1995 Mining Act to be scrapped, they have proposed and lobbied for a ‘People’s Mining Bill’ filed by sympathetic legislators in the Philippine House of Representatives. This bill, if it becomes law, would strictly regulate large-scale mining, and ban them from indigenous people’s territory (ancestral lands) where more than 60% of mining companies in the Philippines operate today.

People’s Victories

Inspiring victories have been achieved in the local community campaigns against mining in the Philippines. Notable of these is the recent pullout of the mining giant Glencore XTrata from the Tampakan mines in Cotabato, Mindanao and, because of local resistance to mining, even the local government banned open pit mining from the area. Earlier, Australia’s Western Mining had sold its share to Glencore XTrata. Local community awareness and struggles are decisive as these have often invited support from lawyers’ groups, the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Scientists and doctors have also mobilized to do environmental investigations and health surveys for endangered communities.

Fortunately, local governments are beginning to heed the call of indigenous peoples and farmers’ communities to stop approving mining applications and operations. The League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) has proposed to ban large-scale mining as part of the efforts to curb the effects of climate change and global warming in the Philippines. These reflect the growing strength and influence of the struggle of indigenous communities against destructive large-scale mining, contradicting national mining policies and programs. The awareness and organization of Indigenous communities against mining, and the multi-sectoral support by various sectors of Philippine society have put pressure on government and corporations to be more accountable. This was after the adoption of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

In its pronouncements, the Philippine government claims to uphold and protect indigenous peoples’ rights. But in practice, the government’s profit-driven development policy assures that extractive industries are given more priority in indigenous people’s territories than the indigenous people’s rights and welfare, resulting in continuing forced eviction from ancestral lands, loss of livelihood, disintegration of communal ties, and militarization.

In conclusion, the indigenous peoples’ communities, which survived through the centuries, had to unite and continue to assert and defend their historic right to their lands and their way of life. Today, these continue to be threatened by mining companies and their operations. And since mining and militarization go hand in hand, these grassroots communities must also defend themselves against violent attacks on their lives, families and communities.

 It is a continuing struggle for their right to their ancestral domain and survival as a people. The mining issue has only galvanized the unity of indigenous peoples of the Philippines, and with other sectors of Philippine society as well. As expressed so aptly by an indigenous peoples’ leader from the Philippines, Vicky Corpus-Tauli, who is currently the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: “The systematic violation of indigenous peoples’ rights ranging from arbitrary arrests, labeling of indigenous organizations, leaders and activists as terrorists, torture and extrajudicial killings continue. However, the assertion of their rights and their resistance against incursions into their lands by extractive industries and land-grabbers has strengthened.”

Before ending, let me state that the capitalist owners of rapacious large-scale mining companies are THE ENEMIES OF NATURE. Very rich in empirical data through fieldwork, document analysis and interviews, the book in my view still needs to theoretically address the real enemies of nature and the people. It is profit-oriented Capital that conditions and is the driver of capitalist development and is what destabilizes eco-systems all over the planet in an ecologically destructive way. It creates a social relation that is grounded on the domination of labor and the commodification of labor power, surplus value extraction, and the transformation of all means of production, into capital. In short, capitalism is indeed the enemy of nature, for under capitalism, everything, nature included – the atmosphere, forests, oceans and other species – is to be dissolved into everything else and nothing is to remain sacred except money. This tells us that the search for an ecologically sustainable society and the search for a just society are fundamentally the same.

Undermining Patrimony belongs to the desk of every Filipino; it should be read even by development scholars and neoliberal advocates obsessed with higher dividends for mining investments. It is the definitive statement on the harm wrought by large-scale mining in the name of progress and development. I highly recommend this book for all those interested in understanding the political economy of mining, its consequences on the people’s health and safety, and the people’s resistance to large-scale mining plunder. This is the story of our people, as told by our people, of the obstacles and challenges that they face as they struggle against domination over people and communities by profit-driven Capital – the real Enemy of nature. ______________________________ ______________________________ _

* A Professor of Development Studies and Public Management at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), Simbulan is former U.P. Vice Chancellor and former Faculty Regent of the U.P. Board of Regents. He has written on social movements, NGOs and civil society organizations, notably the anti-nuclear and anti-bases movement in the Philippines. In 2008, he wrote “The Future of the Philippine Left.”

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