Fredericton – On October 21st, Forest Hill United Church was host to Vernie Yocogan-Diano of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a federation of grassroots-based indigenous people’s organizations in the Philippines. The CPA is an organization dedicated to the protection of the Cordilleran peoples whose lives, cultures and lands are threatened by transnational mining companies, including Canadian mining companies. Yocogan-Diano represents United Church overseas partners on the United Church Partners in Mission Committee. The presentation also featured Connie Sorio, a Toronto based coordinator at Kairos Canada, an organization that, in their own words, “unites eleven churches and religious organizations in faithful action for ecological justice and human rights.”
In her presentation, Yocogan-Diano highlighted how more than 60% of the region of the Philippines she hails from, the northern Cordilleran region, is covered by either mining operations or mining applications and that the areas under pressure from mining are predominantly indigenous. As she pointed out, indigenous communities have had a history of resistance to colonization and mining. “(We have been) colonized for more than 300 years. Ancestors resisted colonization by Spaniards. Americans established the first mines (in the early 1900s). There are more profits for corporations but they are destroying lives of communities.”
When communities have resisted mining in the Philippines, the response has been repression of these communities and militarization of the region. Yocogan-Diano explained, “People become targets. There have been killings of indigenous leaders and members of peoples organizations. Since 2010 in the Philippines, thirty community leaders have been extrajudically killed, many women and children included.” Most of these killings were in response to mining resistance.
Despite the heavy repression, communities have persevered. As she put it, there is an unbreakable connection between indigenous people and “the land, life and resources.” When this relationship has been under threat, resistance has followed. “With resistance we know that there is hope,” she added.
A key strategy in the resistance has been building alliances. The CPA has established working ties with national indigenous and environmental organizations. Additionally, they have made strong links with a perhaps unlikely group, mine workers. “(We were) not trying to create a clash, but make each other understand. (It) began as solidarity between indigenous farming communities and workers. At the beginning, the workers (were not supportive) and it was difficult to reconcile the interest of mine workers for work and ensuring the survival of farming communities.” Over time and from their own experiences, the mine workers and the communities came to a better understanding of each other. “They would realize that there was no (job) security. There were layoffs, dismissing of workers. When mine workers were on strike, communities supported it. Legitimate issues of mine workers are being supported by the farming communities.”
The CPA have not just built their links nationally, but internationally. “In January 2012 a (church) delegation from Canada visited the Cordillera to get stories and a survey the destruction. They talked to elders, women, youth and leaders of organizations, churches and local governments. They brought stories back to Canada and their churches.” The presentation also made the connection with recent events in Rexton and Elsipogtog. Said co-presenter Connie Sorio, “Violent confrontation with First Nations (here) is a wake up call. It’s happening right here. Linking communities here to communities in Philippines and Guatemala (is important). In resistance there’s hope. It makes us stronger, helps us face what is in front of us.”
As an expression of solidarity to the people of Elsipogtog and allies resisting shale gas development Yocogan-Diano said, it’s “their right to defend their resources. Cordillera indigenous people through the CPA extends the warmest solidarity greetings. It’s not a sin to protest, it’s a right. It’s (an expression of) dignity.
Yocogan-Diano related some more context from the Philippines that no doubt resonates with indigenous people in Canada. “Some members of communities listen to false promises of (companies) . With poverty, economic crisis, members of communities are enticed by money, scholarships, jobs, (etc). Leaders for the community become dealers for the corporations. One tactic used by mining companies is to say that they have acquired the (consent) of the communities. A group of fake leaders or a fake organization are used by companies to get ‘consent’ from communities.”
The tour continues through the Maritimes with presentations in St. Andrews at 7:00pm, October 23rd at the Wesley United Church Sanctuary; Whycogamah, Cape Breton, at 2:00 pm on October 26th at Cameron Hall; and, in Sydney at 10:00am on October 30th at Cape Breton University, CE 265.
Asaf Rashid writes for the NB Media Co-op.