An easy call: IFC should quit MRL mining project

3 July 2012 | Guest comment

by Edel Garingan of Alyansa Tigil Mina, Quezon City, Philippines

Mining in the Philippines, just like in many other countries in the world, has faced countless protests and rejection from communities and civil society groups. For an industry that boasts multimillion dollar investments, it has been accused of barely contributing to the efforts of uplifting the lives of people in dire poverty. This consideration alone should have discouraged the International Finance Corporation (IFC, the World Bank’s private sector arm) from investing in a mining project in the Philippine province of Agusan del Norte.

But there are more reasons for the IFC to pull out its equity investment of nearly $10 million in Mindoro Resources Limited (MRL), a mining company that has violated the rights and customary laws of the Mamanwa tribe dwelling in the target mine site. In September 2011, leaders of the affected indigenous community filed a complaint with the IFC’s accountability mechanism, the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman, which found it eligible for further assessment. The complainants claim MRL encroached their sacred grounds, watershed and burial sites without their knowledge. Under the Philippine Indigenous Peoples Right Act of 1997, any project that affects indigenous peoples and their ancestral domains should undergo consultations with the tribal community to get their free, prior and informed consent (FPIC). Should the community reject the project, this has to be respected. FPIC is also now part of the IFC performance standards (see Update 77).

the IFC should terminate its support

In the same letter, the Mamanwa leaders reject MRL for causing division in their community (pro and anti-mining), affecting relationships among them. For Mae Capua, 22, a student and member of the Dinarawan Indigenous Peoples Organisation, growing up in her village she was always told to respect her elders and the environment. The community performed rituals, toiled on the farm and took care of the children together; through this they maintained good relationships in the tribe. That silent pace of contented life remained seemingly undisturbed until MRL pushed its operations on their ancestral domain. Pro-mining people in the community and some leaders in the local council now often have heated arguments with the anti-mining segment of the community, even though they belong to the same kinship group. For more than three years now, Mae and her parents and siblings have not been talking to some of their cousins and other relatives, whom they used to play and spend special occasions together with.

MRL has caused undue stress to the community not only for the conflict it has caused in the tribe, but also for the threat it poses to their livelihoods and the environment. Their watershed, farmlands and hunting grounds would have been taken away from them already in 2008, if they had not campaigned to halt the project that would have taken over 600 hectares of land in its initial two years of operation. MRL claimed that they had secured FPIC for the project during their first appraisal in 2008, and that it was even reconfirmed in May 2010. But Elyeterio Dakula Jr., tribal chieftain of the Mamanwas in the affected village, is definite that they were not informed in any way by MRL regarding the project. In this light, the IFC should terminate its support to MRL for not following their guidelines, and more than that, for ignoring the Philippine law concerning indigenous peoples.

With the adverse realities happening to the Mamanwa in Agusan del Norte, if the IFC would stand by its principle of only financing projects with no intent to do harm to the involved communities, it would be very easy for them to cancel its venture with MRL. There is no point of promising better lives to the community when in fact, even before the IFC funding for the project was approved in 2010, many were already suffering from the impact of MRL’s mining activities.