PHILIPPINES: Cordillera People Demand Presidential Ouster
The Cordillera People's Alliance (CPA) of the Northern Luzon region in the Philippines has joined the nationwide movement calling for the immediate ouster of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
As part of a nationally coordinated protest against the president on August 23, indigenous peoples in the Cordillera region condemned the economic dislocation and human rights violations brought about by intense militarization under Macapagal-Arroyo's administration.
According to the Cordillera People's Alliance, Macapagal-Arroyo's political and economic priorities include nine mineral exploration and mining development projects in the region-all of which are located within or in close proximity to indigenous lands and people.
"[Macapagal-Arroyo's administration] aggressively enticed mining applications at the International Mining Investment Conference in February 2005 and parceled out mineral areas to foreign mining companies, in utter disregard and violation of the people's rights to their ancestral lands, customs, and traditions," said Simeon 'Ka Filiw' Naogsan, the Cordillera Peoples' Democratic Front spokesperson, in a open statement.
Under Macapagal-Arroyo's Mineral Action Plan, the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) has simplified the mining permit process and is fast-tracking the 114 applications that have already been filed for the exploration and mining of 1.2 million hectares (66 percent) of the Cordillera region.
In order to secure forest and mineral resources for foreign investors, the Macapagal-Arroyo government has increased the level of militarization in the Cordillera region since March of this year, while heavily suppressing indigenous peoples' efforts to ward off harmful development, according to the CPA.
In January 2004, the Philippine Supreme Court decided that certain provisions of the Mining Act of 1995 that allowed mining companies to take indigenous lands were unconstitutional. In response, Macapagal-Arroyo appointed Secretary Michael T. Defensor to head the DENR; the agency went on to appeal and reverse the Supreme Court ruling the following December.
According to A Primer on Mining in the Philippines, released by the U.S. Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines, "this [ruling is] expected to open the doors to billions of dollars of foreign investment in the mining sector."
The Asian Journal Online reported after the ruling that Macapagal-Arroyo said the development of the mining industry would "come hand in hand with the full protection of the environment and a sturdy umbrella of social and economic returns for the communities, especially the indigenous peoples."
But the CPA says that statements such as these are "mere lip service and devoid of substance." According to the CPA, the Mining Action Plan provides for the further weakening of legal procedures and mechanisms on environmental protection and democratic space for local government units and affected communities. The land is already showing devastation from large-scale mining operations in the region.
According to the Philippine Sun Star newspaper network, one study recently presented at Saint Louis University in Baugio City showed that Lepanto Consolidated and Mining Company operations on the Abra River in the western Cordillera have caused abnormally high levels of cyanide, copper, and lead in the blood of neighboring community members.
The Macapagal-Arroyo administration has also given foreign mining firms access to indigenous water sources for bulk water projects in the Cordillera, Naogsan said. Many communities face a loss of their watershed, drinking water, and irrigation.
Nationwide protests to force the impeachment of Macapagal-Arroyo have been ongoing since allegation of election fraud arose in 2004. The Philippine Congress voted against her impeachment on September 6, but opposition groups have vowed to continue their street protests to oust the president, CNN reported.
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