Development and advocacy work everywhere comes with unique stresses. In the Philippines, it can mean risking your life.
Abie Anongos, secretary general of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), knows this first-hand. In 2006, besides having her house ransacked, she had a knife pressed to her throat.
Going home after work one evening, Anongos says, she was grabbed by a knife-wielding man wearing a bandana over his face. She counts herself lucky to have survived.
“He told me not to scream if I wanted to live,” she says. “Of course, my initial reaction was to scream and I just ran for my life.”
Anongos’ organization is an alliance of some 200 non-governmental and community groups from across the Cordilleras, a mountain range in Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines. A partner of The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) since 1985, the alliance promotes the rights of the Indigenous people living in the Cordilleras. According to a document on the PWRDF website, the alliance “supports grassroots mobilization for environmental and socio-economic justice through joint action, networking and capacity building.”
Often, simply put, this means fighting mining companies eager to exploit the region’s minerals-a daunting task, given not only their tendency to hire private enforcers, but also the Philippine army’s officially mandated role as “investment defence force” for industry, says Anongos.
“As far as our experience goes, where there are mining operations and applications, there is military deployment to suppress the opposing communities, to harass the local leaders and members, and this has resulted [in] a significant number of human rights violations across the country,” Anongos says. “It is a very bad experience for the leaders, for the women, for the children, because everybody becomes a victim.”
The year 2006 was especially violent, she says. In that year, one of the members of the CPA’s regional secretariat was gunned down in front of his son; another CPA leader, Dr. Chandu Claver, was ambushed with his family. He and his daughter survived, but his wife did not.
Meanwhile, she says, the killings and disappearances continue. One CPA member disappeared in 2011 and has not been heard from since, Anongos says. Over the past five years, she says, there have been more than 100 extra-judicial killings of Indigenous people in the Philippines.
Some dozen Canadian mining companies are now involved in partnering with Philippines-based companies, Anongos says-and it’s implausible to her that their leaders are unaware of the human rights violations.
“Surely they are aware,” she says. “In our efforts, and with the help of journalists also, we have come up with public information materials that have widely circulated. Actually, they are aware of these, because their local counterparts would issue counter-statements denying the violations….When we come up with alerts, we make sure to send them to the companies themselves.”
The role of Canadian mining companies in international human rights abuses is, many say, relatively unknown to Canadians themselves.
Asked to comment on whether innocent blood was being spilled in the Philippines to protect Canadian mining interests, Jessica Draker, director of communications for the Mining Association of Canada, replied that none of the association’s member companies were active in the Philippines. “Given this, we unfortunately do not have any knowledge of what you are referring to and are not in a position to comment,” she said.
Anongos spoke to the Anglican Journal when she was in Toronto for the PWRDF’s national gathering of board directors, diocesan representatives and youth council on November 4-7. She was expected to give a presentation on the CPA, including a summary of its project work this year.
Among the alliance’s accomplishments, she says, have been the establishment of seven new people’s organizations; the acquisition of draft animals in some communities to help with intense agricultural work; the setting up of simple waterworks systems providing drinking water; and the purchase of machines for rice-pounding.
Some of this project work, simple though it may sound, has had the added effect of developing the leadership potential of the region’s Indigenous women, she says.
“It has eased the burden on women, who are usually tied up with the domestic shores of the household…such that they have more time now to participate in the decision-making activities of the communities,” Anongos says.
The biggest challenge to the CPA’s work, she says, remains-simply put-survival.
“Even during project implementation, the biggest challenge that we met is the intense militarization in our communities,” she says. “Where there is strong community opposition to destructive projects, that’s where the military is…It is sad, in the sense that the work we are doing is in the service of the people. The work that we are doing should be the work of the government.”
Over the past few years, the PWRDF’s funding to the CPA has sat at slightly more than $30,000 per year, according to a PWRDF document; it has also provided emergency response funding on a case-by-case basis.