International People’s Conference on Mining (IPCM), International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) Commission 19, Asia Pacific Network of Environmental Defenders (APNED), Yes to Life No to Mining (YLNM), and Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) last June 5, 2020. Attended by over 150 people, the webinar shared stories from the ground among three countries in the Asia Pacific.
Mining communities around the world have different stories to tell. While these communities face common enemies, their action varies in shapes and forms. From the Philippines to Myanmar, and Papua New Guinea, the stories of resistance have a common theme – the power of collective action and the spirit of coming together goes beyond borders.
People’s Barricade in the Philippines
From the Philippines, Miranda Dummang is the Chairperson of Samahang Pangkarapatan ng Katutubong Magsasaka at Manggagawa Inc. (Association for the Human Rights of Indigenous People, Farmers, and Workers, Inc.) and member of United People’s Organization in Didipio. She is one of the community leaders who led the movement to oppose the mining operation of the Australian-Canadian mining giant, OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI).
The Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) of OGPI has expired in June 2019 but pushes to continue to operate. This is when the people of Didipio decided to put up the people’s barricade because they no longer want to suffer under the hands of the mining company. According to Dummang, they want to protect their environment and their natural resources that are abundant in their area. They want their continuous source of living through agriculture. Their organization has documented an immense depletion of water resources that they relate to the underground mining operation of OGPI.
Dummang was happy and proud to share that the people’s barricade was able to suspend the operation of OGPI. However, they assert that the employees of the mining company should be provided with livelihood upon its closure. She also scored OGPI for taking advantage the government-imposed exemptions that allows mining companies to operate even during the COVID-19 pandemic. She explained that OGPI should be excluded from these protocols because their FTAA has already expired.
In April 6, 2020, OGPI brought three (3) tankers of diesel in their site. The people would prefer to stay at home but were alarmed of the situation. They decided to stand their ground in the barricade. Many were reportedly hurt and attacked while the Philippine National Police (PNP) escorted OGPI’s fuel tankers. In this line that Dummang urged the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to file a total closure of OGPI to finally leave their community alone. Dummang then called on the Filipino people and the international community to strengthen their ranks and intensify the campaign versus foreign-mining companies and the plunder of the environment and natural resources.
Legal Mechanisms in Myanmar
Oo Kyaw Thein is the Executive Director Myanmar Environment Legal Services. Their organization forwards the use of environmental law to promote environmental justice and human rights. Thein pointed out that Myanmar is rich in natural resources. Jade, copper, and tin mining areas are found in several parts of the country. Thein shared one of the successful cases that he handled. His client was a landowner where an Eastern Mining company was found to have polluted water and soil in many areas of his client’s land where fruit-bearing trees and roots crops used to grow abundantly.
It started to operate in 2012 where the company is involved in the storage of a large amount of ores from the mining plant to the processing plant. Rocks and sediments have fallen over in one creek throughout each year and have polluted the water and soil. The contaminated water has washed over the lands and the company doesn’t have a systematic waste treatment plant. Before the mining operations, people used to fish in the creek but now they don’t dare because of the presence of the sediments. Sediment in the creek destroyed the client’s garden and farm plot. It is no longer suitable for farming because of the traces of chemicals found in the soil and water.
The law of Myanmar only allows the filing of cases on the individual level contrary to the class suit that was often used in other countries. Because of the dire situation, two individuals, including his client, came forward and to file a case to demand compensation for their loss of income and damage to their properties. Challenges arose as the case took two years to process. They experienced threats and harassment from the authorities. They were also physically and mentally overwhelmed because of the tedious process and the attacks on them. Despite the challenges, Thein and his clients won the case. Thein stressed the importance of documentation and the perseverance of the community to win a case against a mining company.
Save the Sepik in Papua New Guinea
Emmanuel Peni is the Coordinator of Project Sepik in Papua New Guinea. Commonly known as “Manu,” he is a renowned activist behind a massive campaign against mining in his country. In a video interview, Manu explained that they are campaigning to save the Sepik River against Pan-Aust, A China-Owned Australian-incorporated company who is is planning an enormous A$12.45bn gold and copper mine in the Sepik Region of Papua New Guinea.
Manu further explained that a mining operation could poison the 1,126 kilometers (kmM) of the Sepik River – Papua New Guinea’s largest river and one of the Asia Pacific’s last remaining freshwater sanctuaries. He attested that communities living alongside the river have complained about its implication in their health, livelihood and way of life. In July 2019, Manu joined representatives from Jubilee Australia and AIDWATCH to meet with the company at their headquarters in Brisbane, Australia and sent a strong message for the company, “you are going to destroy our home, our life, our identity, everything that is human about us.”
Manu organized Project Sepik in 2016 to build a movement against the proposed Frieda River Mine. The movement was able to mobilize thousands of people to show support and solidarity to his cause. He gathered a thousand signatures from the indigenous people landowners who live all along the Sepik River. “All the mining that has happened to our country has been exploitative to the environment and the people. We haven’t seen an improvement or changes in our lives. That’s why I’m doing this,” Manu concluded.
Clemente Bautista, Secretariat of IPCM and ILPS Commission 19 closed the discussion by highlighting how the mining companies have highjacked the pandemic to gain super profit. It showed that even a pandemic cannot stop the operations of large-scale mining companies. Instead, they maximize the situation to clean their image, quell dissenters, and exploit their workers further.
“They ceaselessly explore and exploit minerals to extract super profit at the expense of people’s rights, health, and the environment and our future,” said Bautista. He then stressed the importance of international solidarity and the coming together of activists and communities around to world to strengthen their ranks to assert their democratic rights to life, welfare and a just and healthy environment for all.