The voices of anti-mining protesters in Brooke’s Point, a town on the nearly southern tip of Palawan province, should be heard and not sidelined, a Catholic bishop said.
Bishop Socrates Mesiona of Puerto Princesa said the church is in solidarity with the ongoing protest to protect what’s left of the environment.
“We are appealing to listen to the voice and respect the concerns of our fellowmen,” Mesiona said.
The call was contained in a pastoral statement that was read at a barricade against a large-scale nickel mining operation in Ipilan village on Monday, Feb. 28.
The statement started with a quote from Psalm 34, which reads: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”
A barricade has been set up outside the headquarters of Ipilan Nickel Corp. as residents, mostly farmers and indigenous peoples (IPs), assert that INC is operating without a mayor’s permit.
The protest also came more than a month after a massive flooding due to heavy rains struck several of the town’s villages.
The bishop said the anti-mining protests are “just” action to express their principles for what they think is good for their community.
“We recognize the basis of what they are fighting for. They are the ones who know the most and are directly affected by what is happening to their environment,” Mesiona said.
“It is only appropriate to respect their rights and listen to their grievances,” he added.
Residents have no recourse but to organize a barricade since the mining firm continues to operate despite an order by the town’s mayor Cesareo Benedito Jr to stop operations.
Vice Mayor Jean Feliciano of Brooke’s Point said “the people themselves are organizing the action to fight for their welfare.”
“We are thankful to the residents of Brooke’s Point who are willing to make sacrifices to protect our natural resources, livelihoods and our future,” she said.
Environment group Alyansa Tigil Mina said that INC has also been operating without a certificate of precondition from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and other necessary requirements.
As the barricade continued, Bishop Mesiona also appealed for calm and for a “truthful” discussion on the issue for the sake of the common good “and not for the benefits of a few”.
Caritas Philippines, the Church’s social justice arm, also expressed their support to the call to stop mining in Palawan.
“We believe it is important to listen to the voice of the community regarding its negative impact on the environment and the lifestyle of the local people,” said its president, Bishop Colin Bagaforo of Kidapawan.
“We also call on the provincial government to declare Palawan as a no-mining zone to protect the natural resources of the so-called ‘the last frontier’ of the Philippines. This is especially important now that we are facing the climate emergency that is intensifying the calamities in our country,” he said.