By Chloe Schwabe, CCAO Advocacy Associate and Damien Delgado, CCAO Intern
On February 4th, 2013 the Philippines government awarded the Xstrata-SMI mining company an environmental compliance certificate. The certification virtually gave Xstrata- SMI consent to build the hotly-contested Tampakan Mine in South Cotabato. The $5.9 billion project will be, upon completion, the largest mining complex in the country’s history. According to Xstrata’s website, the mine will operate for 17 years and will have a production rate of approximately 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold.
The mine is already highly controversial. Many indigenous community members and others who oppose the Tampakan Mine, including an Italian missionary priest, have been murdered over the past decade and their crimes have gone unsolved. There is clear evidence that the military, police, and paramilitary security forces are responsible for these murders. Most recently, a February 21st hearing disclosed that SMI-Xstrata has men on their payroll who are paramilitaries armed by, and under the nominal command of, the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
In the same hearing, the military reported that Col. Dan Balandra, a former military official, is employed by SMI. Relatives of Daguil Capion, an indigenous leader from the B’laan tribe who opposed the mine, testified that Balandra earlier tried to convince Capion to surrender. They hold Balandra accountable for leading the Army contingent to Mr. Capion’s house resulting in the massacre of his family only 200 meters from where he was chopping wood.
These actions that implicate both the official armed actors in the Philippines as well as the paramilitaries, also implicate Xstrata. Ironically, according to Oxfam America, Xstrata has some of the best social responsibility policies around free prior and informed consent. FPIC is an internationally recognized protocol to ensure that investments are done with community consent and approval. Clearly in the case of the Tampakan Mine, Xstrata is not meeting their own company policies.
Columbans have accompanied the communities in Mindanao for decades in their efforts to protect their livelihoods and way of life from mining companies who seek to take their land through land grabs to exploit the copper, gold, or other valuable minerals. Of note, both Father Sean McDonagh and Father Frank Nally, who served in the Philippines for many years, have been powerful advocates for these communities and the whole of creation. Father McDonagh, an internationally recognized eco-theologian, helped write the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines’ seminole statement in 1988, “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land,” which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. The statement speaks directly of the harm to creation: “Mine tailings are dumped into fertile seas like Calancan Bay in Santa Cruz, Marinduque where they destroy forever the habitat of the fish. Chemicals are poisoning our lands and rivers. They kill vital organisms and in time they will poison us.”
Father Nally has led high-level delegations to the Philippines. He also writes reports with other international and Filipino partners on the human rights and environmental concerns related to the mine.
Here in Washington, D.C., the CCAO and other members of the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines met with both the Philippines Embassy and the State Department in 2012 and continue to raise concerns about the extra-judicial killings in the mining region of Mindanao. Father Nally and other Columbans have made similar efforts in the U.K. to get the U.K. government to change their current policy that supports Xstrata’s harmful activities in the Philippines.
Columbans and the CCAO are not only accompanying communities in the Philippines, but also in Peru who are trying to protect human rights and their environment. Almost one year ago in May 2012, the community of Espinar, near Cuzco, organized a demonstration to call attention to the pollution from the Xstrata copper mine. Police interceded and two people were killed and a number of people were detained and held, in some cases illegally at the site of mining operations.
Threats to Creation in the Philippines
In addition to the human rights issues in the Philippines, the ecology in Mindanao is also under threat. Wildlife habitats, such as the Malalag Bay will face irreparable damage from land excavation to access the minerals. Additionally, Xstrata stated in their own Environmental and Social Impacts Analysis that if the tailings dam breaks, toxic rocks and water will spread leading to a large loss of life and environmental destruction.
Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez is helping to spearhead the resistance effort against the mine construction. Pointing to the fact that the government will make millions of dollars in profit from the mines, the Bishop questions whether any positive outcome will arise from the creation of this mine. Bishop Gutierrez said “If this government will receive millions, how about the destruction? You cannot replace (the environment)” 
As Christians, we are called, as part of Creation, to defend Creation from the threat of wholesale devastation (Genesis 2:15). In his Easter 2013 address, Pope Francis called on us to be guardians of creation. He also deplored a world divided by greed looking for easy gain, including in extractive industries.
What YOU can do
The CCAO as part of the Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines, is walking in solidarity with Creation and the communities. We invite you to lift up your voice and ask Xstrata and the Philippines government to back away from the Tampakan mine project. Click here for the letters
 Guttierez, Dinuldo, “Bishop Slams Tampakan Mining Permit,” February 22, 2013