BAGUIO CITY -- Visiting Canadians representing major church groups aligned United Church of Canada capped their ten-day Cordillera exposure with a resolve to forward findings to both the Canadian parliament and the UCC General Council for policy formulation.
Called the Beaconsfield Initiative, the exposure mission to three Cordillera communities on January 2 to 12 aimed to establish long-term covenants for life with church congregations in both the Cordillera region and in Canada.
Rev. Dr. Bill Phipps, former moderator of the United Church of Canada said besides meeting the people in the grass-root level in their villages, the 14-member mission also met with members of the Philippine Congress, national church leaders and the Canadian Embassy. The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the National Council of Churches of the Philippines (NCCP) coordinated with the UCC and Kairos Canada to realize this particular objective of the mission, he said during a press conference here.
It also aimed to evaluate the impact of Canadian mining practices in the five Cordillera provinces. Six mining firms with either applications or on-going exploration activities in the Cordillera include the Columbus/Magellan Mining Company (Bokod, Benguet); Olympus Mining Company (Licuan, Abra); Solfotara (Benguet and Abra); Pacific Metals Canada, Philippines (Tubo, Abra); Adancex (Abra); and Canex (Abra). Adancex and Canex are both subsidiaries of Solfotara and Metallum Canada.
Phipps admitted that all they got was a slice of a Filipino community's life with the short stay they had in Tubo and Sallapadan in Abra; Mankayan in Benguet and Cervantes in Ilocos Sur, but the generosity of their host families provided them with enough input to be able to understand the major issues especially the effect of Canadian mining in the communities, possible environmental destruction that results from these operations and the increasing militarization in the area that cause human rights vioations such as extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
Back home in Canada, mining remains to be in full operation but certain laws are in place according to Phipps. Canadian mining companies should maintain the same level of standards they observe in Canada even when operating in a foreign country, according to Phipps, referring to the Canadian policy.
UCC is holding its 41st General Assembly in Ottawa this year and it might use the Beaconsfield Initiative findings when submitted for the church body to develop church policy. The group also hoped to send its recommendations to the Canadian House of Commons committees on justice and human rights and the foreign affairs and tinternational development.
Lobby work in Canada includes an advocacy campaign for Canadians to withdraw investments in companies doing environmental destruction in their operations in a foreign country. The divestment advocacy has been jumpstarted by various religious congregations including the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Kairos Canada, besides those under the UCC, according to Connie Sorio, Asia-Pacific Partnership coordinator of Kairos.
In May 2010, Canada hosted the International Conference on Mining, which gathered almost 300 church leaders. NCCP Secretary-general Rev. Rex Reyes represented Philippine churches in that gathering, according to Rev. Patricia Lisson, director of the Saint Columba House.
Lisson was impressed with the hospitality of the host communities and aired her frustration over the government structure that she sensed was not created for them. She echoed the same frustration felt by local folk that the very little share the government gets from mining has to be divided into three government levels, the chunk of the income going to foreign mining companies.
She could not forget that Mankayan received only P1.4 million in taxes in 2010 from the mining operations of Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company.
Governors Nestor Fongwan of Benguet and Eustaquio Bersamin of Abra received the Canadian visitors. They also submitted a letter to Department of Justice, which Ricardo V. Paras III Chief State Council and DOJ Committee on Human Rights Ma. Christina Abalos received before they flying back to Canada .
# Lyn V. Ramo