We Are Killing Each Other Over Mining

Catholic prelates urge the government of Marinduque to pursue
the class suit against Barrick Gold | Photo: Asia Pacific Post

Catholic prelates have joined calls by civil society groups to urge the provincial government of Marinduque in the Philippines to pursue a multimillion dollar class suit against a global mining firm over the 1996 Marcopper spill.

 
Local pressure for the Marinduque government to refile the case mounted after the Nevada state Supreme Court on June 11 threw out the case against the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp, reported the Inquirer.
 
The Marcopper Mining Disaster occurred on March 24, 1996 on the Philippine island of Marinduque, a province of the Philippines located in the Mimaropa region in Luzon. It remains one of the largest mining disasters in Philippine history.

A fracture in the drainage tunnel of a large pit containing leftover mine tailings led to a discharge of toxic mine waste into the Makulapnit-Boac river system and caused flash floods in areas along the river.
 
One village, Barangay Hinapulan, was buried in six feet of muddy floodwater, causing the displacement of 400 families. Twenty other villages had to be evacuated. Drinking water was contaminated killing fish and freshwater shrimp. Large animals such as cows, pigs and sheep were overcome and killed. The flooding caused the destruction of crops and irrigation channels. Following the disaster, the Boac River was declared unusable.
 
In a copy of its 13-page ruling, the US state high court upheld the February 2011 decision of the Nevada district court to dismiss the case for “forum non conveniens,” meaning the United States was a wrong jurisdiction to hear the case.
 
It said the case “lacks any bona fide connection to this state, adequate alternative fora exist, and the burdens of litigating here outweigh any convenience to the province (Marinduque).”
The US courts believed a judgment “could be more readily enforced against Barrick in Canada than in Nevada” since the company was incorporated and based there.
 
The Marinduque Council for Environmental Concerns (Macec) slammed the provincial government’s slow action to pursue the case in Canada.
 
“It’s been two months (since the Nevada ruling) yet there seems to be no movement at all, not even talks (in the Marinduque government),” said Macec executive director Elizabeth Manggol said.
 
The Marinduque provincial government filed in October 2005 in the Nevada district court a $100-million class suit against Placer Dome Inc. The Vancouver-based Placer Dome, later absorbed by Barrick Gold, was the parent company of Marcopper Mining Corp. that was responsible for the mine tailing spill on the province tagged the Philippines’ worst mining tragedy.
 
Barrick Gold offered a $20-million settlement but the Marinduque provincial council in 2014 turned down the amount, which it felt was not enough to compensate the damages to the province.
 
The Catholic Church has stepped in, as environmentalist groups lobby for the Marinduque council to pursue the case in Canada.
 
In an August 10 circular, Boac Bishop Marcelino Antonio M. Maralit Jr. enjoined the faithful in praying for “environmental justice” through the inclusion of two petitions in all Eucharistic celebrations. These intercessory prayers were for Marinduque to be declared a mining-free province and for the provincial government to have enough strength and inspiration in pursuing the case against Marcopper, Placer Dome and Barrick Gold.
 
Marinduque Vice Gov. Romulo Bacorro Jr. said the province’s executive and legislative bodies had yet to meet with Marinduque’s legal team to finalize its next move regarding the case.
 But pursuing the case in a new forum “is not that easy” as it involves “millions of dollars” for the litigation fees, he said.
 
The Marcopper case comes in the wake of a global investigation into hundreds of the world’s mineral mines which concludes that the legacy of the global mineral boom is social conflict, human rights violations and environmental devastation across Asia, Latin America and Africa.
 
A new atlas of 600 international mining and oil companies has identified more than 1,500 ongoing conflicts raging over water, land, spills, pollution, ill-health, relocations, waste, land grabs, floods and falling water levels.
 
The EU-funded report by academics at 23 universities and environmental justice groups in Africa, India and Latin America has identified 142 disputes involving gold mines, 130 at coal mines, 96 at copper mines and 73 at silver mines, with India, Colombia, Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and the Philippines having the most. They ranged from longstanding legal disputes to armed conflicts.
 
The companies whose mines have attracted the most accusations of human rights abuses and environmental conflict are some of the largest in the world, mostly listed on the London stock exchange, reported the Guardian.
 
They include AngloGold Ashanti, Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold, BHP Billiton, Glencore Xstrata and Newmont Mining. Between them they are involved in 75 conflicts in countries ranging from Colombia, Burma and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the US, Zambia and the Philippines, says the database.
 
“Much of the Philippines has now been militarised to defend the companies,” says Benedictine nun Sister Stella Matutina, a community worker in Mindanao province who has been targeted by the government for opposing mining companies.
 
In the last year she has been charged with kidnapping, human trafficking and illegal detention for opposing Canadian, Australian and British mining companies and for looking after tribal people displaced by mining.
 
Mining in the Philippines has exploded from only 17 operations in 1997 to nearly 50 mega-mines today. “We have found that mining divides our people, it kills them, it does not help us. It destroys our values. Mining and militarisation are twins. Where there is big mining there is always militarisation, because the government has to ensure that foreigners can invest in our country. People are resisting, are taking up arms against the entry of these mining companies. We are killing each other over mining,” she said.
 
Canadian mining companies have some of the worst records for human rights violations, according to a report submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2013. It found Canadian companies were involved in more than 100 human rights and environmental disputes in Latin America.
 
Pierre Gratton, director of the Mining Association of Canada, said: “We don’t deny that there is conflict everywhere but feel we are leaders in setting standards and are doing a better job than anyone else. There’s a much higher level of awareness and sensitivity now, and an ability to raise issues which in the past might have been overlooked. The industry is more active [than it used to be] in Asia, Africa and the Americas and is working in countries with weak governance. These [mines] are multibillion-dollar investments. The money flows to the capitals, and [impacted] communities say ‘what about us?’
 
According to PwC, one of the world’s top four industry auditors, government intervention and conflicts have mushroomed as commodity prices slump. “The gloves are off for the industry with widespread government intervention, internal industry conflicts and rising shareholder activism,” it said in its annual report.
 
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