‘You shall not defile the land where you live’

‘You shall not defile the land where you live’

Pastoral letter against mining in any part of Eastern Samar or the Philippines
You shall not defile the land where you life” (Numbers 35:33)

Beloved People of God:

May the peace of the Risen Lord be with you!

Unlike the joyful season of Easter, our country’s situation is urgent. We are in the middle of a long-staying pandemic, with its uncertainties and deeply disturbing viciousness and escalation. Our people are suffering. But we are deeply saddened that the President of the Republic has lifted the nine-year ban on mining with Executive Order (EO) 130, signed last April 14, 2021, allowing the government to enter into new agreements with mining firms to explore and exploit our already much-wounded land.

As the Local expression (Diocese of Borongan) of the Body of Christ, I, your Bishop, our Clergy and our responsible Lay Leaders oppose this move from our government. We stand strongly against all mining in the Philippines and particularly in Eastern Samar. Not least of all because the decision was reached without any credible “dialogue for the common good” among all stakeholders, as Pope Francis has exhorted leaders to do on mining issues.

Our opposition rests on solid grounds.

First, our situation has hardly improved since the CBCP, as early as in 1988, observed that “our country is in peril. All the living systems on land and in the seas around us are being ruthlessly exploited. The damage to date is extensive and, sad to say, it is often irreversible” (CBCP, “What is Happening to our Beautiful Land”, January 29, 1988). New mining operations will only worsen our environmental crisis on top of this health pandemic. Statistics evidently show that mining operations contribute little to our economy. Mining does not generate sustainable jobs as it only employs below 1% of the Philippines’ total employment from 2013. In host mining provinces, poverty incidence is high. According to the National Government Revenues – Tax Revenues (treasury.gov.ph), the share of the mining sector has yet to surpass the 2% share to the country’s total revenue.

Second, opposition to all mining operations in the Philippines and especially in Samar Island and Eastern Samar is a demand of the moral order. The Second Plenary Council of the Philippines teaches: “The physical limitations of our natural resources imply a demand, a duty of responsible dominion over nature” (PCP II 323). But the consensus among independent observers is that in the Philippines and particularly in Samar Island there is no history of responsible mining. Our local experience provides enough evidence. For instance, mining in Bagacay, Samar, till now has left only devastation, long-term pollution and poverty. There has been mining in Homonhon Island for more or less 40 years. And yet our people there have remained poor or grown even poorer. Trees have been burned down. The whole ecosystem has been adversely affected. The island is greatly denuded. Sources of potable water have been near-depleted. In addition there is an ongoing social impact: the local community is deeply divided. The government should cease ignoring the fact that Homonhon, being a historical island as the site of the first Philippine landing of Ferdinand Magellan the first circumnavigator should be a protected area. Another illustration of our point is the Island Manicani’s condition. The mammoth crater and pollution of the sea are among the legacy by the mining company that operated there. As in Homonhon, mining has also made the local community divided. Meanwhile the patrimony for the future generations is in doubt.

Third, mining in the country is a gross violation of the Church’s teaching on the “universal destination of goods”. Vatican II affirms that “God destined the earth and all it contains for…all peoples so that all created things would be shared fairly by all mankind under the guidance of justice tempered by charity” (The Church in the Modern World, GS 69). It is clear that only very few capitalists/investors and some people in government get the lion’s share of mining profits. Locals may be temporarily employed or benefited. But the long-term consequence of a devastated landscape is also incalculable and irreversible.

Fourth, Samar Island, the country’s third biggest island is hilly and mountainous. Mining in this area, therefore, means residents in the lowlands become more susceptible to flooding and pollution from mining operations. Bagacay, Homonhon and Manicani cry out this truth.

Above all, God’s written Word teaches clearly: “The Lord God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15). As Pope Francis points out, nowhere does this tell us that human beings should dominate and abuse God’s creation. Rather this reminds us that we humans have “the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations” (Laudato Si, n. 67). Otherwise, we are warned: “He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a saltwaste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there” (Ps 107:33-34).

We then urge you, our People, including people in government, our lawmakers, politicians, our DENR, our LGUs and all Stakeholders in the future of our province, country and planet to stand against mining and the lifting of the moratorium on all mining. We call on President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to issue again an Executive Order for mining moratorium in the Philippines. We call on all duty-bearers to take the appropriate legal action in support to our call to the President on the said issue. On our principled stand depends the survival of our children’s children.

May Mary the Mother of Our Lord and Savior, together with St. Joseph the Savior’s Foster Father, Patron of the Universal Church, together with all angels and saints, intercede for our deliverance from Covid-19 and the evils of mining.

Sincerely in Christ Jesus the Risen Lord,

+ Most Rev. Crispin B. Varquez, DD
Bishop of Borongan
26 April 2021

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