Friday, November 4, 2011

Australia mining aid for PH questioned

Melbourne, Australia – Filipino and Australian organizations criticized Prime Minister Julia Gillard for launching a $127 million ‘smart aid’ for poor but mineral-rich nations during a forum at the University of Melbourne.

Recently, the Gillard government has launched ‘Mining for Development Initiative’ which aims to help more than 30 developing countries, including the Philippines, address mining related challenges, including everything from managing environmental impacts of mining to governance issues.

Mining Action Philippines – Australia (MAP-Oz), a mining watchdog composed of various Filipino and Australian citizens and organizations including Friends of the Earth and Haribon Foundation, said that the initiative will not really address the emerging issues on mining in the Philippines such as extra-judicial killings, human rights violations, indigenous land grabbing, environmental destruction and corruption.

“While the main aid for the Philippines is for scholarships and trainings either in the country or in Australia, we cannot deny the fact that there are a lot of conflicting mining issues and policies which should be addressed by both the government and the mining industry. The Gillard government should think twice in granting aids to a country where issues are not solved and wrongly addressed,” MAP-Oz declared in its statement.

There are at least 11 Australian mining companies in the Philippines with licenses to operate and explore including OceanaGold, Xstrata, Indophil, Central Gold Asia, Pelican Resources and Mindoro Resources Limited.

Earlier this year, the highest human rights body in the Philippines released a statement, following a lengthy process of investigating community claims, saying that its findings confirmed Australian mining company OceanaGold had committed gross violations of human rights against the people of the remote and mountainous area of the Philippines, Nueva Vizcaya, including illegal and violent demotion of 187 houses.

Jubilee Australia executive director Adele Webb claimed that the ╩╗Protect, Respect and Remedy╩╝ Framework of UN Special Representative Professor John Ruggie, endorsed by Australia as member of the UN Human Rights Council this year, makes it clear that states have a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties including business enterprises, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication.

‘Yet the Australia government gives companies no authoritative guidance on how to avoid negative affects in their operations overseas, and there exists no accountability and enforcement mechanisms when such breaches occur and while there is much patting on the back about joint industry and Australian aid funded scholarship programs in countries like the Philippines, there is an eerie silence about what remote indigenous communities are facing on the ground,’ lamented Webb.

Meanwhile, MAP-Oz convener Alyansa Tigil Mina, a Philippine-based alliance with more than 90 mining affected community organizations and support groups, exposed that a large mine owned by Australia-based Xstrata Copper and Indophil Resources NL will soon be opened in Mindanao region which has the largest underdeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia. However, the local government of South Cotabato had banned open pit mining in the province and the mining company is presently pressuring the national government and the local officials to lift the ban.

According to technical studies of the mining company, the mines will cause extensive disturbance of almost 10,000 hectares of forest lands, which serve as watersheds of South Cotabato and other three Mindanao provinces and will cut down 4,000 hectares of forests including old growth forests, which are initial components of the protected areas system. It will also displace more than 2,600 people belonging to the B’laan indigenous community.

“With the recent approval of deploying mining militia; and emerging issues on human rights violations, environmental destruction, inequitable tax share and questionable mining licenses; is the Philippines ready for Australia’s ‘smart aid’? Are the Australian people ready to share and participate in the ongoing history of Philippine mining?” Alyansa Tigil Mina statement declared.

Members of MAP-Oz are re-echoing the call of Philippine civil society movements, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), The Uniited Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) for the revocation of Philippine Executive Order 270-A which liberalizes the mining industry, scrapping of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the passage of alternative minerals management bills lodged in the House of Representatives which will lead to a human rights-centered law, establishment of mining no go zones and respect of indigenous peoples rights.