2023.05.22 The Rio Tuba mine and a processing facility in Palawan, Philippines. (Kimberly dela Cruz, 2021) 2023.05.22 The Rio Tuba mine and a processing facility in Palawan, Philippines. (Kimberly dela Cruz, 2021) 

Palawan bishops renew call to end mining in ‘last ecological frontier'

The clergy in two apostolic vicariates in Palawan, Philippines, renew appeals to halt the mining operations in the country’s “last ecological frontier”.

By Zeus Legaspi

Indigenous Peoples and ordinary farmers are the most vulnerable to the effects of mining, according to the Catholic clergy in an open letter renewing their call to end mining in Palawan.

Written in Filipino, the letter appeals for the protection of Palawan’s “unique and natural beauty.” “It is essential that we take special care of this land to ensure that the benefits we enjoy today will still be experienced by future generations,” the letter stated, referring to Palawan as the Philippines’ “last ecological frontier.”

The clergy acknowledged in the letter that other regions have already taken steps to shut down mining operations. Therefore, they emphasized the need to put in more effort to safeguard the biodiversity-rich province from the same threat.

In March, Oriental Mindoro was hit by an oil spill, prompting environmental advocates to demand reparations and protection for environmentally-critical areas in the region. Additionally, destructive mining operations are currently ongoing on the nearby island of Sibuyan in Romblon.

A tremendous moral responsibility

“We only have one province, and it deserves our care and attention,” the letter added. The clergy highlighted that mining activities in Palawan endanger the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and farmers who heavily rely on nature for sustenance.

They strongly called for measures to protect the island from destructive human activities, including banning the expansion and extension of mining operations and focusing on agriculture and tourism. Furthermore, they urged authorities to rehabilitate the areas that have been destroyed and to enhance people’s understanding of Palawan’s significance through education.

“To be a responsible steward of God’s creation is a tremendous moral responsibility,” the letter stated.

The release of the letter coincided with the 400th anniversary of Christianity on the island and received endorsements from Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay, Bishop Socrates Mesiona of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa, and over 65 priests under their jurisdiction. Lay people from various multi-sectoral organizations, academia, and social movements also signed the open letter.

Previous call to halt mining

In April, the Catholic Bishops of Palawan appealed to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., to halt mining activities on the island. In a message endorsed by Bishops Pabillo and Mesiona, they urged the President to “permanently stop” the mining operations licensed to Ipilan Nickel Corporation (INC), which reportedly operates in protected forests.

The call came after a peaceful protest by locals turned violent, with INC security guards allegedly being supported by a contingent of police officers who silently observed and encouraged them.

“The civilians have endured hunger, heat, rain, and serious threats to their lives and safety in order to raise awareness among the population and preserve our beautiful island of Palawan,” the bishops stated.

According to UNESCO, the Palawan Biosphere Reserve is a national natural heritage comprising over 1,700 islands and is home to 105 out of 475 threatened species in the Philippines. The province boasts a thriving marine ecology, as well as diverse terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems.

Pope Francis on the mining industry

Pope Francis has already called for a more sustainable approach towards mining. In his address on the mining industry in 2019, the Pope echoed his statements in his encyclical, Laudato si’, where he emphasized the importance of entering into a “dialogue with all people about our common home.”

He said that the earth’s current condition has been the result of prioritizing profit over human dignity and the natural environment and that what is needed is a “paradigm shift in all our economic activities, including mining,” the Pope said. 

“Mining, like all economic activities, should be at the service of the entire human community,” he stated. “I urge everyone to respect the fundamental human rights and voice of persons in these beautiful yet fragile communities,” the Pope added, referring to people who are being displaced due to mining activities around the globe.

More recently, in 2021, Pope Francis also called on extractive industries to halt their destruction of the earth. “In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries – mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness – to stop destroying forests, wetlands, and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people,” he said. 

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14 June 2023, 12:45