Thousands March Against Killings of Indigenous Peoples in Philippine ‘Mining Capital’

by Hannibal Rhoades

19 December 2015

Last week, a 3,000 person-strong people’s caravan, or Lakbayan, formed
on the island of Mindanao to protest the criminalization and murder of
Indigenous Peoples and environmental defenders in the Philippines.

Uniting Indigenous Peoples, peasants, workers, faith groups, teachers
and youth, the caravan marched for three days and over a hundred
kilometers from Davao del Sur to Koronadal City under the banner ‘Resist
imperialist plunder! Stop Lumad killings!’

Though the numbers reported vary, the organizers of the caravan say 144
indigenous people, environmental defenders and human rights activists
have been the victims of extrajudicial killings during the reign of
incumbent President Benigno Aquino.

In a statement released before the Lakbayan, the groups connected these
killings and rights abuses to the increasing presence of the extractive
industries in Mindanao and the Philippines.

“These human rights abuses glaringly persist in the ancestral domains
where the big and foreign mining companies and agri-plantations
operate,” they said.

These killings form part of a wider pattern. According to research by
UK-based think tank Global Witness, two environmental defenders are
killed every week as they work to protect their lands from being
appropriated and exploited by mining companies and other industrial

In recent years, the Philippines has become a hot spot for these
killings. But, as is the case around the world, very few of those
responsible for the murders of environmental defenders ever see a court
of law. Around the world between 2002-2013, perpetrators of such
killings were brought to justice in less than one percent of cases.

Stop Lumad Killings

On Sept. 1, 2015 educator Emerito Samarca and two Lumad leaders, Dionel
Campos and Aurelio Sinzo, who opposed large scale mining, were brutally
murdered in Lianga, Mindanao. According to local reports, the men were
killed in the heart of the community by members of the Maghat/Bagani
paramilitary group, attached to the 36th Infantry Battalion of the
Philippine Army.

Speaking at COP21 in Paris, Clemente Bautista, National Coordinator for
Kalikasan PNE, described how the Armed Forces of the Philippines and
affiliated paramilitaries are implicated in the terrorization of
Indigenous and peasant peoples.

“The government is using militarization to protect corporate mining in
the Philippines. They use the state military forces including
paramilitaries to secure mining projects, quell the people’s resistance,
and sow fear among the people, particularly those in mining-affected
communities. Mining corporations, military and paramilitary groups
employ violence such as harassment, illegal arrest and assassination,
targeting anti-mining leaders”, he said.

The killings of Samarca, Campos and Sinzo are the latest in a spate of
murders that has seen 56 Lumad leaders assassinated for protecting their
lands and communities.

The ‘Lianga Massacre’, as it has become known, sparked international
outrage and a day of solidarity and action that called on the Philippine
Government to Stop Lumad killings. But the more diffuse consequences of
the terror these kinds of killings are designed to produce have been
underreported outside of the Philippines.

The relentless persecution of the Lumad People is creating a climate of
terror in Mindanao that is profoundly impacting the freedom of the
Lumads to live their lives freely.

In their statement before the three-day Lakbayan, organizing group
Soscskargends Agenda revealed how the rising tide of violence in
Mindanao has contributed to the internal displacement of up to 40,000
Lumads. The Lianga Massacre alone forced over 3,000 local Lumads to flee
their isolated villages in Surigao del Sur to nearby towns, fearing for
their lives.

The constant threat of violence in Mindanao and the panic migrations
that result are having a particularly negative impact on Indigenous
children. According to Soscskargends Agenda, at present 9 out of 10
Lumad children have no access to formal education and 87 Lumad schools
are suffering from “various forms of military violence”.

“The 36th IB Philippine Army-Magahat/Bagani rampage at the ALCADEV
School shows that the Aquino government has dropped all pretenses of
adhering to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and
other international human rights instruments”, say the International
Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.

The Lakbayan gave the groups involved an opportunity to elevate these
underrepresented issues and create a platform for several urgent demands.

The groups are calling upon the Philippine government, first and
foremost, to stop the killing of Lumad people, protect indigenous and
peasant schools in Mindanao, and pull the plug on the large scale
multinational mining projects that they say are helping fuel poverty and
violence in the Philippines.
The Resource Curse

Mindanao has become known as the ‘mining capital’ of the Philippines.
The island is peppered with 500,000 hectares of mining concessions, an
area almost eight times larger than Metro Manila, the National Capital
Region of the Philippines. These concessions have overwhelmingly been
granted to multinational corporations, many of which are registered in
Global North nations such as Canada.

Other islands in the Philippines, estimated to be the sixth richest
nation in the world in terms of mineral and metals, have experienced a
similar expansion of large scale mining since the Philippine Mining Act
of 1995 (Republic Act 7942). The Act liberalized the country’s mining
sector, promising economic growth and development through the
exploitation of the country’s natural resources with the help of
multinational corporations.

However, many Filipino civil society and indigenous groups argue that
the liberalization of the mining sector has led to rising poverty, not
prosperity, for Filipinos.

In a recent report*, Philippine people’s network Kalikasan PNE write
that, based on data from the Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue,
between 1997 to 2013 less than 10% of mining revenues generated in the
Philippines stayed in the country’s economy. According to their
research, mining contributes only 0.7percent to Philippine GDP and
provides just 0.7% of employment.

The significance of these figures is emphasized when the costs mining
corporations inflict on ecosystems and local communities are considered.
The presence of multinational mining corporations in the Philippines has
unleashed a tidal wave of environmental destruction on local indigenous
and rural communities, costing thousands of livelihoods, devastating
ecosystems and sustainable local economies.

The Marcopper disaster at a mine the owned by Canadian multinational
Placer Dome on the island of Marinduque provides a good example.

On March 24, 1996 a sealed mine tunnel connected to a pit containing 23
million metric tons of mine waste fractured, leaking between 2-3 million
tons of the waste into the Boac River. Residents of twenty local
villages were forced to leave their homes, some of which were totally
inundated by the flash flood of mine waste.

Agricultural fields were also flooded and the rapid destruction of all
aquatic life in the Boac, a key source of livelihoods for local fishing
communities, led the Philippine government to declare the river dead.
Local peoples had already suffered decades of chronic environmental
pollution, loss of livelihoods and ill health as the result of mining.

Dozens of other mining disasters have occurred in the period since the
Mining Act of 1995 was passed. “Simply put”, write the authors of
Kalikasan’s report, “we have experienced two decades of mining plunder.”
Resistance and Militarization

The two decades since Mining Act of 1995 was signed into existence have
also been characterized by escalating resistance efforts from Indigenous
Peoples, peasants and their supporters at the local, national and
international levels.

Indigenous Peoples in particular have taken a stand to defend their
territories, even taking up arms to protect their lands. In some cases
this sustained resistance has been successful in preventing mining
projects going ahead.

In June 2015, the Indigenous B’laan people and Philippine environmental
groups celebrated mining giant Glencore Xstrata’s decision to pull out
of the highly contested Tampakan copper-gold mining project. The company
had been attempting to get mining under way since taking ownership of
the project in 2001, but met powerful resistance from the B’laan.

The Philippine government’s response to such strong, sustained and well
organized resistance has been to increasingly militarize areas where
multinationals are operating, as seen in the case of Samarca, Campos and

The organizers of the recent Lakbayan say the current Aquino
government’s ‘vicious internal security doctrine’, Oplan Bayanihan, is
being used as a cover to to attack the schools, communities and leaders
of those who actively resist mining.

The stated aim of Oplan Bayanihan, a government counter insurgency
program, is to squash the New People’s Army (NPA), a communist guerrilla
group that has been warring with the Philippine government for over two
decades. However, the powers contained in the plan are also used to
criminalize anti-mining activists who threaten the interests of
multinationals in regions like Mindanao.

These activists are frequently accused, by the government, military and
paramilitaries, of being connected with the NPA. Branded as
anti-government rebels their intimidation, incarceration and/or murder
is effectively excused.

But even this systematic state repression is not stopping people
standing up for their rights, says Bautista.

“We say more oppression breeds stronger resistance. Surely the
government and corporations will continue to trample the rights of the
indigenous people and other sectors. This will make Indigenous Peoples
and ordinary people more united and their collective struggle stronger.”

Holding cultural events, forums and symbolic actions along the way, the
recent Lakbayan paid testimony to this theory, as people voted with
their feet and raised their voices for justice.

*The report, Kalibutan: Stories and lessons from the Filipino people’s
struggle for the environment, is not yet available online. Visit
Kalikasan PNE’s website to make enquiries and find out more.