Indigenous community threatened by a mining project

July 4, 2014
by 
Lawrence Townley-Smith, Member of Development and Peace
B'laan tribal leader Erita DIalang is defending her community against a planned mining project.

A group of 12 Development and Peace members from the Prairies and the Atlantic provinces, accompanied by two staff members, are on a solidarity trip to the Philippines. They will be visiting eight Development and Peace partners and some of their projects in the capital city of Manila, in southern Mindanao and on the islands of Leyte and Samar – where Yolanda (the Filipino name for Typhoon Haiyan) first made landfall on November 8th of last year. We invite you to follow their adventures and learnings as they travel through the Philippines for the next two weeks.

We caught an early flight to Mindanao, a large island in the southern Philippines. Our half day was spent at the Diocesan Social Action Centre (SAC) in Marbel where the director, Fr. Joy Pelina introduced us to their work. Their priority activities are justice and peace, disaster risk reduction and helping indigenous peoples regain control of their ancestral lands. Development and Peace supports the agrarian reform program of the SAC.

Fr. Joy described a struggle the SAC is supporting to help the B’laan, an indigenous people, regain title to their ancestral homeland. Unfortunately, the land is home to a major deposit of gold and copper, which the multinational Sagittarius Mining Inc. wishes to strip mine. This will create a pit up to 800 m deep on 10,000 hectares of old growth forest that is home to many endemic and endangered species. The mine is expected to massively reduce the water supply to downstream farmers and has a high risk of arsenic contamination in the water that is left. The mine will affect water in 5 watersheds.

Four thousand people will be displaced from the mining area and relocated to lands occupied by others, creating new conflicts. The SAC is providing help and support to tribal leaders such as Erita Dialang. The day of our meeting she was in court, because she had led a demonstration against the forced eviction of her people. Fortunately for us, she was able to join us afterwards and answer many questions about the mine and its expected effects on the traditional lands and way of life of the B’laan.

Every day we meet inspiring people who share their situations and efforts to fix them with us. Today was no exception.