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The Philippines: Indigenous people vs. multinational mining companies

By Joe Iosbaker |
July 16, 2016
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Iosbaker is part of a human rights delegation in the Philippines from July 16-25.

Iligan City, Mindanao, Philippines - Starting July 16, there will be hundreds of activists from the U.S., Canada, Europe and around the world in the Philippines in a show of international solidarity. Organized by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, this is taking place as developments in the international and national economy have seen a rising level of attacks on Filipino working people and the environment. There is also a growing level of imperialist intervention in the Philippines as the U.S. steps up its war preparations in the Pacific.

The solidarity mission will spread out across the country to visit areas where indigenous peoples such as the Lumad and the Subanen are standing up to multinational mining companies. Then they will gather in Davao City in Mindanao for a conference on human rights, the second one being held here in recent years.

Among the organizers, there is a definite sense of accomplishment as the U.S. contingent expanded from 80 to 114 people in the last weeks of preparation. This growth in solidarity efforts is in response to the growing level of violence faced by Filipino peasants, the Muslim people of Mindanao, as well as the indigenous communities here. The most recent example of repression was the massacre of starving farmers in the city of Kidapawan in Mindanao on April 1.

Large scale mining: A known evil

There is a broad level of awareness of the ongoing crises in the country. For example, on the topic of imperialist globalization, Iligan City was a bustling success story 30 years ago, and now has seen the closing of its major steel mill and a general decline in the economy under the impact of the free market, neoliberal policies of successive governments in Manila. Locals express their anger that the National Steel company, in which they took pride, was bought by a Malaysian steel company and then closed.

The economic policies associated with ‘free trade’ deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership also bring with them the rising level of human rights abuses, damage to the environment and violations of the rights of indigenous peoples.

A local businessman named Jowe told a story that revealed that large scale mining in Mindanao is already a social question here. “A Catholic priest in Zamboanga [in southern Mindanao] was asked to bless the funeral of a man involved in mining. The priest refused because of the terrible effects against the people by the mining companies such as the Canadian corporation, Toronto Ventures Incorporated. This was unexpected, but the real surprise came next. The dead man’s family then appealed to the bishop, with whom they had some influence, but he, too refused to intervene because of the controversy.”

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