Undermining Patrimony: excerpts from a book review

Mar. 04, 2016

Last Wednesday, March 2, a People’s Mining Conference was held at the Ateneo de Davao University.  It was attended by a mix of more than 200 indigenous people (Lumads),  peasant-settlers and environmental personalities, students,  academicians, as well as political activists.  They come from various places in Mindanao affected  by the onslaughts of large-scale mining.

Two important outputs of the conference were:  a drafting of a People’s Mining Agenda, and a book review made by Professor Roland G. Simbulan of the University of the Philippines (Diliman).  I find the book review very enlightening and thought it imperative to share the reviewer’s insights into the overwhelming problem of large-scale mining besetting the nation.

The book entitled Undermining Patrimony is itself a mine of extraordinary value and importance, replete with historical and current conditions about what has been outrageous consequences of this extractive industry.   No less than the Lumad peoples in the mountain areas of the country are primarily affected because the mining operations are in their ancestral domain.

And so here are excerpts of the book I select from the review carrying the reviewer’s  incisive insights that not only unfold glaring information about the  social and environmental damage caused by large-scale mining, but also provide inroads into the philosophical-ideological implications in respect to the  Lumad’s humanity—nay, their existential sojourn in their respective lifeworlds.

I write this book review as a fitting tribute to our indigenous peoples who are at the forefront of our national struggle against corporate mining, especially the Lumads from Mindanao who have come to Manila to amplify their plight and struggle

What is most original and important in this book, however, is not the meticulous documentation of havoc on the environment and the violence inflicted against our communities in Mindanao, but also the heroic people’s struggles and victories against the giant mining industry which is fully backed by the Philippine state, its armed forces, police and paramilitary units. The latter is the book’s important contribution.

The recent killings of the Lumad people in Mindanao are not isolated. They highlight a bloody pattern of killings and impunity directed against indigenous peoples’ communities in the Philippines. During the past five years alone since July 2010 under President B.S.Aquino, 73 people from indigenous peoples’ communities nationwide have been killed, of which 57 are Lumads in Mindanao. Why are these deplorable attacks and violence being inflicted on indigenous communities in the Philippines? Why are mining companies and their operations in the Philippines often accompanied by militarization and violence in the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples?

The following paragraph may not be shockingly revealing, but it does give us  a jolting awareness of a taken-for-granted fact that rubs salt on a delicate area of our historical past:

When Spanish colonizers came to the Philippines in 1521, they invoked the Regalian Doctrine, which declared that all lands belong Why are these deplorable attacks and violence being inflicted on indigenous communities in the Philippines? Why are mining companies and their operations in the Philippines often accompanied by militarization and violence in the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples? When Spanish colonizers came to the Philippines in 1521, they invoked the Regalian Doctrine, which declared that all lands belong to the King of Spain, effectively dispossessing the peoples of the Philippine Islands of their territories. This colonial dispossession “in the name of God” was based and reinforced by the Vatican’s 1452 Papal Bull – the Doctrine of Discovery – authorizing European monarchs “to invade, vanquish, subdue and to take away all their possessions and property” of pagans and non-Christians. But while the majority of the population in the Philippine Islands was subjugated, assimilated and Christianized, the indigenous peoples were able to defend their territories or retreated further inland in mountainous areas.  

These have become the remaining ancestral domains of the indigenous peoples which sit on the richest natural resources of the country. Up to now, this Regalian doctrine continues to be enforced by post-colonial Philippine governments which define all ancestral lands as “public domain.”

Indigenous peoples have a natural world outlook integrated with the environment. Macli’ing Dulag, a Kalinga leader in the Cordilleras who was assassinated and became a victim of development aggression, once said, “You ask us if we own the land. And mock us, ‘ Where is your title? ‘ Such arrogance of owning the land when you shall be owned by it. How can you own that which will outlive you?”

Indigenous peoples have a feeling of oneness with the land. In their view, land is the source of life. Land is life. Since it is on land that one’s ancestors are buried, they believe that the earth is man’s sacred relative, and a very special relationship based on nurturing, caring and sharing exists. Indigenous peoples also believe that the spirit of creation is in all things in nature, for all life forms are related to each other, that every aspect of the natural world and the earth should be honored and respected, even worshipped. This world view centers on respect for all living things in the past, present and future. So that the land is not theirs to give away, nor to sell.

Prof. Simbulan highlights salient points in the ongoing struggle of the Lumads in opposition to the very oppressive situation imposed by the Aquino government’s Oplan Bayanihan — a counter-insurgency program which is the overt justification   for the massive militarization in the Lumadlandia—but which is a deceptive cover-up of the essential rationale of the massive military presence in the beleaguered Lumad lands.   And that  is the to provide security to the large-scale mining operations.

Active mass resistance is not the only activity of the opposition to mining in the Philippines. Engaging in exploring alternatives to mining is as important. Indigenous communities are raising their awareness on their rights, designing and implementing their own development paths, engaging in community participatory mapping and resource inventories, exploring participatory tools measuring the extent of implementation of legal instruments, using traditional knowledge systems, waging campaigns and strengthening their movements at all levels.

The book UNDERMINING PATRIMONY is by itself a concretization of some of the tools of resistance against mining developed through experience and practice in the Philippines. They are the following:

  1. Research, popularization, and human rights monitoring and documentation in communities threatened and/or affected by large-scale mining operations.
  2. Capacity-building for impoverished and marginalized sections of the population to enable them to defend their rights in the name of survival as indigenous communities.
  3. Strong technical collaboration and linkages among environmental scientists and affected communities, in order to expose the destructive effects of mining on the health of the people and the environment.
  4. Coordinated legal suits and actions to stop industrial mining plunder.
  5. Forming active networks for research on corporate and financial aspects of mining.

It is also imperative for communities and their support groups to share each other’s experiences of resistance and struggle. Active networks for research on corporate and financial aspects of mining are needed while legal suits and actions to stop industrial mining plunder are being coordinated. It is now also being realized that they need to support the development of global mechanisms made available by the UN and European Union that one can use to hold governments and corporations accountable.

A very important institution in  Philippine social and political life is the Catholic Church.  This historical happenstance in Philippine socio-political affairs is given ample space in the book in so far as this reflects the actual involvement of the Church in the Lumad’s engagements against  the mining menace.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has asked for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act, citing “the devastating effects and adverse social impacts of mining that will destroy both environment and people.” The Mining Act, it said, “destroys life.” The Philippine churches’ anti-mining campaigns are anchored on the belief that resistance to mining is a “defense of creation”. The churches have consistently given support to indigenous peoples’ anti-mining struggles. It has facilitated Fact-Finding Missions on human rights violations and militarization in indigenous peoples’ communities. It has mobilized for Lakbayan Peoples’ Marches to highlight the plight of the indigenous peoples and their struggle against mining. Truly, when local communities struggling for life against mining get together and become more connected, they become a strong national force.      

And, of course, the role of armed defense of their ancestral lands which are rarely depicted in the mainstream mass media channel are here pictured in the book’s interesting narratives and graphics.

The violence inflicted by the state thru its military and paramilitary units against peaceful, legal and open resistance to mining in the hinterlands has only pushed many indigenous peoples and farmers into resorting to armed defense of their ancestral lands. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) claim that more than 70% of the members of the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Mindanao are from the Lumad tribes. But in fact, the Philippine military has by its actions, become the Number One recruiter of the NPAs coming from the Lumads. It is the mining companies and the militarization of their communities that have pushed Lumads into armed resistance. The situation has become so fertile for the NPA — increasingly regarded by many as the genuine army of the poor — that the longest-existing guerrilla army in the world has joined the Lumad and farmer communities in resisting mining companies and operations. The situation has become a fertile ground for extra-legal operations by NPA units, such as the destruction of mining equipment. In one incident, 50 container vans of the Tampakan  mining project in Mindanao were burned by the NPA.

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. Mining project in Mindanao were burned by the NPA.  

(To be continued)


* 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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