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Saving the Forests and the Creation

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There are inspiring, wonderfully brave people who are risking their lives to protect the land, hills, forests, rivers and streams from the loggers, mining companies and tree cutters in the Philippines. A few weeks ago, I mentioned the courageous people of Midsalip in Mindanao and the Columban Missionaries standing with them in prayer and trust. These good people whose lives and families in their hundreds depend on a healthy and protected environment.

These people have been defending their lands and forests for the past thirty years against the onslaught of the local and international corporations backed by corrupt politicians. Mining companies covet their mineral rich lands. The brave people have stood against the powers that are behind the ugly face of corporate greed.

A good mining law that restricted irresponsible mining, protected the environment and the human rights of the people and the environment was struck down by the Supreme Court at the behest of corrupt politicians and mining interests. They had it replaced with a bad mining law that removed environmentally protective restrictions and safeguards. They virtually threw open the door to the mining companies to do what they wanted. Open pit mining and illegal and destructive logging was the result.

Corporations backed by armed goons and even Philippine military units bulldozed huge pits in the earth, the minerals are being extracted and shipped abroad. Tree cutting spread and environmental disasters, one after another, occurred. There was and still are multiple deaths from landslides that bury homes and a few years ago a school filled with students was buried. There are bursting dams, toxic waste spills, destroyed rice fields, villages flooded, forests are cut down and the destruction is causing untold hardship and suffering for the helpless population.

But the people of Midsalip, twenty kilometers or so from Aurora, Mindanao, united and marched, protested and are still bravely holding back a bulldozer and a drilling rig from invading their lands. They have suffered threats, harassment and court cases hurled against them. So far their picketline has held out but they need national and international help.

They are encouraged and inspired by their Pastor, the religious sisters, Columban Missionaries, Father Sean Martin and Sister Patty Dinare and dedicated lay people. It is a movement of survival inspired by the love and respect for the wonders and beauty of creation and a desire for justice.
It is real faith in the words of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Sermon on the Mount that gives them courage. Their community action is basic Christianity in action. These are the profound spiritual values that strengthen people in a common cause. It is a dangerous stand to take and many activists have been assassinated for their principles.

According to the Philippine environmental protection charity Kalikasan, as many as 40 environmental protection and anti-mining advocates have been killed in the past ten years and 47 more survived their wounds after they have been attacked. Dr. Gerry Ortega, a radio broadcaster and staunch environmentalist was shot and killed last 24 January. He campaigned against irresponsible large scale mining in Palawan. A powerful politician is the prime suspect behind the assassination.

The good news is that the government of Noynoy Aquino, elected last May, has cracked down on the illegal logging. The last of the great Philippine rain forests of Caraga, 1.9 million hectares, there is a battle going on between environmentalists and forestry workers against the well-armed loggers.
The area in Agusan Del Norte and Agusan Del Sur, Surigao del Norte provinces and Dinagat Island, the forestry workers of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) have been threatened shot at and kidnapped by the hired goons of the loggers. Two have been killed.

In South Cotabato, Governor Arthur Pinggoy has vowed to implement the ban on open-pit mining in the province. The provincial board, responding to the will of the people, passed the ordinance in 2010. It has stalled the mining operations of the huge Swiss based mining corporation Xstrata working through its Philippine subsidiary company Sagittarius based in the town of Tampalkan. The area is rich in copper and gold. Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of the Diocese of Marbel, has taken a stand in support of the ban defending the integrity of creation and the well being of the people and the environment.

By Father Shay Cullen




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