Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Priests, ethnic minorities go on hunger strike to protest mining operation in Mindoro Island

Two Catholic priests and a group of indigenous people from Mindoro Island have commenced a hunger strike of indefinite length in Manila to protest an impending mining operation by a Norwegian company, the Asian Human Rights Commission said Tuesday.

Fr Roberto Reyes, a staff member of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), is one of the 25 people who joined the protestors--two of whom are Catholic priests and sixteen of whom are Mangyans; as well as seven others.

The group has pledged to go on a hunger strike until their demands are met.

In his statement, Fr Reyes said of his decision to go on strike: "I go on hunger strike with the Mangyans and the people of Mindoro who hunger for justice and freedom from exploitation and oppression of foreign multinational corporations and their counterparts in the present regime". The full text of his statement can be read below.

The group set up a makeshift tent in front of the headquarters of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City, a government agency responsible for issuing permits to mining firms. The group is protesting against the DENR's issuance of a mining permit to Intex Resources - a Norwegian multinational mining company who work to mine ore minerals - despite strong opposition by the local government and the indigenous communities who are affected by their work.

Mindoro Island is the Philippines' seventh largest island and is reported to have the biggest lateritic nickel ores deposit in the world.

Intex Resources, according to a local newspaper, was issued a permit to mine ores covering the areas of about 11,218 hectares, which included the ancestral domain claim of the Alangan and Tadyawan, which are indigenous Mangyan communities. The mining project covers four towns, in Victoria, Pola and Socorro in Oriental Mindoro and Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro. The operation is expected to produce 100 to 120 million tons of ore over a period of 15 to 20 years.

Legal provisions state that before any mining firms are issued work permits, there should be a public consultation and hearing with the communities and villagers who will be affected, in order to obtain their consent. Only after this consultation and willing agreement of the communities, can permits be issued.

However, according to the protestors, the DENR has issued permits to the Intex Resources despite a 'strong and valid opposition' from the affected communities, the local government and the Catholic Church.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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