philippines: community resistance against extractives
In 2008, alongside existing threats from mining and large-scale timber and agricultural plantations, local communities faced a new threat: the proposed construction of a coal-fired power plant in Maasim, Saranggani Province, an area famous for its coral reefs, and where local people depend on the rich coastal resources for their livelihoods.
Living in conditions of severe poverty, poor rural communities are often ignorant of the real nature of extractive industries, and, dazzled by promises of better lives from the companies and their middlemen, give up their land willingly. Yet experience has shown that these kinds of developments only have adverse impacts – on the environment and on the lives of local people.
Friends of the Earth Philippines / Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center set out to address the Indigenous and other rural communities’ lack of awareness of the true impacts of extractive industries and of the real value of their own natural resources.
The project had three components: research, movement building, and education and awareness-raising.
FoE Philippines began researching a ‘Resource Valuation Case Study’ in Pujada Bay and Mt Hamiguitan in Davao Oriental. This is a program to assess the actual financial value of the natural ecosystem, for comparison with the value estimated by the mining firms looking to exploit the area. The research team is led by researchers from the University of Southern Mindanao, who have developed and trained a pool of community volunteers to assist them. The initial biodiversity assessment has been carried out.
To build the movement against extractive industries, a number of community meetings were conducted in Mindanao. These meetings included discussions and study sessions on the impacts of large-scale mining, climate change, and the drivers of agrofuel plantations, all framed within the context of defense of ancestral land and food sovereignty.
In Columbio, Sultan Kudarat, FoE Philippines held a three-day training session with partner La Bugal Tribal Association, a B’laan Indigenous People’s community organisation, and another community organisation with B’laan, Muslim and Christian members. La Bugal Tribal Association has opposed mining in their area and is now faced with the conversion of their land to jatropha plantations for agrofuel. The training event aimed to develop a pool of community researchers to document the impacts of the jatropha plantation on people’s lives, including community relations, availability of food, land use, families’ livelihoods, weather patterns and the environment in general.
FoE Philippines, together with a church organisation, also published a primer on the proposed coal-fired power plant, in the local Visayan language. The booklet contains basic information on coal plants and their environmental impact, and also explains the forces promoting and funding this project. The booklet has been distributed among affected and neighboring communities.
All of the activities in the project contributed towards creating a movement for supporting communities’ struggles against extractive industries. As well as empowering communities themselves, it built support groups including local government units, other communities, and networks such as those working on food and climate change.
The community meetings and research work involved a wide cross section of society, including different cultures (Indigenous people, Muslims, Christians) and sectors (farmers and fishers). Within all these groups, FoE Philippines actively involved women, contributing to the development of women as activists, researchers and leaders. More than half of the 25 action researchers were women, who have become more visible and influential in their community as a result.
The project successfully raised communities’ awareness of the links between their local concerns and bigger issues, such as climate change and corporate-led globalization. They learned about the different players involved, beyond familiar local figures – and deepened their understanding of why extractive industries are being promoted and who really benefits.
This deeper understanding has strengthened their struggle. The communities are carrying out more campaign actions themselves against mining, jatropha plantations and the coal plant. They are now engaging with campaigns at national and international levels, and getting involved in work on climate change and food. For example, local communities have been involved in an international campaign against BHP Billiton’s mining operations in Macambol; the La Bugal community sent a representative to the Bangkok meeting on Climate Justice; and local communities and support groups have been involved in convening a provincial conference on climate change.
The training of community research volunteers has led to a transfer of knowledge and technology. Communities were closely involved in the scientific Resource Valuation work and the action research, so they have a greater appreciation and ownership of the results.
Research and documentation can be an ‘extractive industry’ itself, with outsiders coming into an area to collect data for use in their campaigns, leaving the affected communities as mere subjects of the campaign. The resource valuation and action research approach being pioneered by FoE Philippines gives communities the tools to document their own experiences, and express their issues and demands in the way they want. The series of discussions and guidebooks also provided communities with tools to run their own campaigns. With an empowered community, the partnership with FoE Philippines deepens.
The value of empirical data cannot be over emphasized. The actual cost incurred when a family loses its land to jatropha plantation, for example, is good evidence that can be used to refute promises made by the plantation promoters. The survey and valuation of biodiversity and marine resources allow real comparison with the promised economic benefits from the mining operations.
The Resource Valuation Case Study will be published in 2009, and used to support campaigning and lobbying work and to underpin dialogue with local government units. The Resource Valuation framework will be promoted to other communities.
FoE Philippines will support the publication and circulation of the action research of the Columbio community on the impact of jatropha plantations. Action research training will be conducted with other communities in areas threatened by agrofuel plantations.
FoE Philippines has scheduled a series of forums and conferences, with Indigenous People, representatives of different sectors, and with campaigning colleagues such as Focus on the Global South and other members of the Climate Justice network.
FoE Philippines will also file a lawsuit challenging the legality of a mining agreement granted to BHP Billiton and other mining companies. A primer on mining and its contribution to climate change will be published in 2009.
with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)