A delegation from the Philippines that includes an Anglican bishop wants the government to appoint an ombudsperson to monitor Canadian mining operations overseas and to support formal peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front.
“We want the Canadian people to hear our story and we want that foreign corporations operating in the Philippines, especially Canadian mining companies, be held accountable for their complicity in human rights violations against our people,” said Bishop Antonio Ablon, speaking at a news conference on Parliament Hill March 23.
The five-member delegation is on a six-city tour of Canada sponsored by KAIROS, a social justice coalition of 10 Canadian Christian churches and organizations, including the Anglican Church of Canada.
The tour, from March 20 to April 5, also includes visits to Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. In Ottawa, the group met with members of Parliament, officials of Global Affairs Canada and other civil servants. Ablon also preached at a service at Christ Church Anglican Church in the Aylmer area of Gatineau, Que.
People in resource-rich communities are being driven from their lands and from their sources of food and livelihoods into hunger and poverty, said Ablon, the bishop of Zamboanga del Sur province in Mindanao, one of the three islands in the Philippines. “People’s rights are being violated and some people who choose to stand their ground are being killed.”
The bishop said he has received “many threats” and that his room was ransacked in 2014 after it was announced that KAIROS Canada’s “Learning Tour” would visit communities impacted by the mining operations of TVI Resource Development Inc. (TVIRD), a Filipino-Canadian venture affiliated with Calgary-based TVI Pacific, Inc. “I was lucky I was not there,” said Ablon, suggesting he could have been attacked.
Ed Bianchi, program manager for KAIROS, said that during the learning tour, the group gathered information from community groups, government members and people who work for TVIRD. “From that, we called on the Philippine government to stop all mining in the area until they could ensure the safety of the people and also to investigate those human rights violations.”
TVIRD has maintained that it “operates under the highest standards of health and safety practices for its workers and its host community and is uncompromising in its best-practices approach to environmental protection as well as community development,” according to its website.
KAIROS is also working with other organizations in Canada in urging the Canadian government to appoint an extractive-sector ombudsperson with the power to investigate and address the claims, said Bianchi. “We also call on the government to legislate and facilitate access to Canadian courts for those people overseas who are claiming that their rights have been violated by a Canadian company.”
Nenita Condez, deputy secretary general of the Salabukan nok G’taw Subanen (SGS), a federation of Subanen groups, said TVIRD occupied “thousands and thousands” of hectares of land for its mining operations in Mindanao, displacing thousands of people.
Condez, a tribe leader, said many of her people are now unable to return to their ancestral lands. As well, “I am not free to return to my community because my life is threatened,” she said. “We are here in Canada to seek for justice not only for myself, but for my people for what this company did to my community,” she said. Another delegation member, Carlos Zarate, a member of the Philippine Congress and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, translated for Condez.
With the Filipino delegation at the news conference was Emily Dwyer, co-ordinator of the Canadian Network on Corporate Accountability (CNCA). What is happening in the Philippines is not isolated to that country, she said. “We’re hearing continuously, and have been for over a decade, accounts of widespread, credible allegations of serious human rights abuses associated with Canadian mining companies around the world.”
The Canadian government has been hearing calls from around the world for over 12 years to develop accountability mechanisms and has yet to implement any credible mechanisms, she said.
Dwyer said all the major political parties in Canada have made commitments to establish an extractive-sector ombudsperson if they were elected, including the Liberals. But, she added, “The budget that came out yesterday [March 22] includes absolutely no reference to the ombudsperson and no reference to business and human rights.”