Aaron Macaraeg  Bulatlat

gawad bayani 649x365The Philippines ranked second in the 2019 Global Witness report for being the deadliest for environmental defenders with. In 2018, the country topped the list with 30 defenders killed. In the same report, mining was cited as the “deadliest” sector.

Last week, September 28, the Center for Environment Concerns – Philippines (CEC) recognized the valiant environment defenders who put their lives on the line against large-scale mining.

The United Organization of Didipio Residents was one of the organizations recognized in the sixth Gawad Bayani ng Kalikasan for the successful barricade against Australian-Canadian mining company Oceanagold, which continued to operate despite its expired permit.

The organization, tied up with multiple environment organizations, LGU, provincial government, and religious sectors, lobbied for the permanent suspension of operation of Oceanagold, citing both environmental and human rights atrocities. It was in October last year that the company suspended its operation in Nueva Vizcaya but it still has pending application to renew its financial and technical assistance agreement (FTAA).

Due to extensive excavations and harmful wastes by the mining company, the community suffered air and water pollution as well as damages to the forests, forsaking the locals’ livelihood and health.

In a statement, local environmental group Alyansa ng Novo Vizcayano para sa Kalikasan (ANVIK) congratulated the group and said their “unyielding struggle” has inspired many in their province.

“We are witness to the courageous and consistent stand of this community organization against the destructive mining in our country. They are at the forefront of the people’s barricade. They spearheaded the many mass actions that registered their and our opposition to the renewal of the FTAA of Oceanagold.” said Fr. Vic Tiam, ANVIK chairperson.

On April 6, amid the ongoing lockdown brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Didipio residents’ barricade was dispersed violently by Philippine National Police in order to force fuel tankers in the mining site; a local leader was arrested but also bailed out the following day.

Gina Lopez’s ‘maverick leadership” remembered

A posthumous award was also given to late Regina Paz “Gina” Lopez, former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary and a staunch anti-mining advocate.

During her short yet “fearless” stint as environment secretary, Lopez closed 28 mines, including the Oceanagold in Didipio and revoked 75 mining permits.

After her ad interim appointment had been rejected by the Commission of Appointments, she continued her advocacy in taking care of the environment through her television show G Diaries which focused on environmental conservation, area development, and helping local communities across the country.

“Tireless in promoting the people’s sustainable and harmonious beneficence from the environment, Gina will always be remembered as a sterling ally of the people and a powerful environment defender to be reckoned with,” said GBK.

Other awardees

A posthumous award was also given to Roberto “Obet” Verzola for being “a champion of sustainable agriculture and safe and clean energy.”

Verzola was at the forefront in the fight against the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and exposed its technical deficiencies when he was part of the Citizens’ Review Panel. In 2015, he founded the Center for Renewable Energy Systems and Sustainable Technology (CREST), which promotes sustainable energy policies and the adoption of small-scale renewable energy systems especially for vulnerable communities.

For individual award, GBK recognized Environmental Lawyer Robert Chan for the defense of natural resources in Palawan. He leads a small team called “para-enforcers” Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) where they sharpen and strengthen conservation laws often sidelined by authorities themselves.

Another awardee is Alberto “Ka Bobby” Roldan, a community organizer active in in coastal community mangrove protection and rehabilitation activities in Central Luzon, particularly in Bulacan, Pampanga, and Bataan provinces since 2000.

As a fisherfolk himself, he was involved in a campaign against the China’s takeover of Philippines’ islands in the West Philippine Sea. Due to his organizing work, Roldan has been repeatedly red-tagged, endangering his life.

Cristeta Sison, both a farmer and a fisherfolk, leads an anti-mining initiative in Zambales and Pangasinan as one of the founder of Sagipin ang Kalikasan organization.

She was involved in an environmental investigative mission, together with civil society groups, on mining-affected areas that were later and during the mining audit of the late Gina Lopez.