Workers for PWRDF partner in the Philippines risk death

By Tali Folkins –

10 November 2015

Abie Anongos, secretary general of the Cordillera People’s Alliance,
says the biggest challenge to her group’s work is “the intense
militarization in our communities.” Photo: Tali Folkins

Development and advocacy work everywhere comes with unique stresses. In
the Philippines, it can mean risking your life.

Abie Anongos, secretary general of the Cordillera People’s Alliance
(CPA), knows this first-hand. In 2006, besides having her house
ransacked, she had a knife pressed to her throat.

Going home after work one evening, Anongos says, she was grabbed by a
knife-wielding man wearing a bandana over his face. She counts herself
lucky to have survived.

“He told me not to scream if I wanted to live,” she says. “Of course, my
initial reaction was to scream and I just ran for my life.”

Anongos’ organization is an alliance of some 200 non-governmental and
community groups from across the Cordilleras, a mountain range in Luzon,
the largest island of the Philippines. A partner of The Primate’s
World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) since 1985, the alliance
promotes the rights of the Indigenous people living in the Cordilleras.
According to a document on the PWRDF website, the alliance “supports
grassroots mobilization for environmental and socio-economic justice
through joint action, networking and capacity building.”

Often, simply put, this means fighting mining companies eager to exploit
the region’s minerals—a daunting task, given not only their tendency to
hire private enforcers, but also the Philippine army’s officially
mandated role as “investment defence force” for industry, says Anongos.

“As far as our experience goes, where there are mining operations and
applications, there is military deployment to suppress the opposing
communities, to harass the local leaders and members, and this has
resulted [in] a significant number of human rights violations across the
country,” Anongos says. “It is a very bad experience for the leaders,
for the women, for the children, because everybody becomes a victim.”

The year 2006 was especially violent, she says. In that year, one of the
members of the CPA’s regional secretariat was gunned down in front of
his son; another CPA leader, Dr. Chandu Claver, was ambushed with his
family. He and his daughter survived, but his wife did not.

Meanwhile, she says, the killings and disappearances continue. One CPA
member disappeared in 2011 and has not been heard from since, Anongos
says. Over the past five years, she says, there have been more than 100
extra-judicial killings of Indigenous people in the Philippines.

Some dozen Canadian mining companies are now involved in partnering with
Philippines-based companies, Anongos says—and it’s implausible to her
that their leaders are unaware of the human rights violations.

“Surely they are aware,” she says. “In our efforts, and with the help of
journalists also, we have come up with public information materials that
have widely circulated. Actually, they are aware of these, because their
local counterparts would issue counter-statements denying the
violations….When we come up with alerts, we make sure to send them to
the companies themselves.”

The role of Canadian mining companies in international human rights
abuses is, many say, relatively unknown to Canadians themselves.

Asked to comment on whether innocent blood was being spilled in the
Philippines to protect Canadian mining interests, Jessica Draker,
director of communications for the Mining Association of Canada, replied
that none of the association’s member companies were active in the
Philippines. “Given this, we unfortunately do not have any knowledge of
what you are referring to and are not in a position to comment,” she said.

Anongos spoke to the Anglican Journal when she was in Toronto for the
PWRDF’s national gathering of board directors, diocesan representatives
and youth council on November 4-7. She was expected to give a
presentation on the CPA, including a summary of its project work this year.

Among the alliance’s accomplishments, she says, have been the
establishment of seven new people’s organizations; the acquisition of
draft animals in some communities to help with intense agricultural
work; the setting up of simple waterworks systems providing drinking
water; and the purchase of machines for rice-pounding.

Some of this project work, simple though it may sound, has had the added
effect of developing the leadership potential of the region’s Indigenous
women, she says.

“It has eased the burden on women, who are usually tied up with the
domestic shores of the household…such that they have more time now to
participate in the decision-making activities of the communities,”
Anongos says.

The biggest challenge to the CPA’s work, she says, remains—simply

“Even during project implementation, the biggest challenge that we met
is the intense militarization in our communities,” she says. “Where
there is strong community opposition to destructive projects, that’s
where the military is…It is sad, in the sense that the work we are doing
is in the service of the people. The work that we are doing should be
the work of the government.”

Over the past few years, the PWRDF’s funding to the CPA has sat at
slightly more than $30,000 per year, according to a PWRDF document; it
has also provided emergency response funding on a case-by-case basis.