MANILA, June 11, 2016— The Catholic Church’s social action arm expressed solidarity with a faith-based group that is facing libel charges from a mining company.
Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Caritas Philippines executive secretary, described the case against the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) as pure “harassment for defending the environment from destructive mining.”
The complaint by Hinatuan Mining Corporation stemmed from a PMPI report in June 2015 that a barge of the company allegedly destroyed small fishing boats off the coast of Manicani Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.
The boats were used by fishermen in forming a barricade to keep the barge, which is carrying heavy equipments and trucks to be used for hauling nickel ore stockpile, from docking.
For Gariguez, the libel suit is a form of “strategic legal action against public participation” of an organization committed to help communities and protect the environment.
Charged for cyber libel are PMPI national coordinator Yoly Esguerra and staff members Candy Hidalgo, Primo Morillo and Edel Garingan.
Renewed tension gripped the island last month after the HMC, an affiliate of Nickel Asia, started removing the nickel ore despite strong opposition from many residents.
The operation of HMC has been suspended since 2001 for allegedly causing aquatic and soil erosion. It has since then sought permit to haul and load more than 150,000 tons of ore stockpiles.
In July 2014, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mines of Geosciences Bureau issued a permit for hauling and loading to the mining company.
Catholic diocesan officials, however, opposed the move and called on the government to reverse its decision.
The permit to transport, they said, contradicts the suspension order which include the cessation of exploration, operation, extraction, and disposal.
“We are here and barricading because we saw the mining’s bad impact to the environment and to the people.” Fr. Nino Garcia of the San Lorenzo Parish Church in Manicani, said.
Since early 2000, PMPI and the Borongan diocese have been helping the resistance put up by islanders led by the Protect Manicani Island Society, Inc., formerly the Save Manicani Movement.
PMPI is a network of people’s organizations, faith-based groups and Misereor, the overseas development agency of the Catholic Church in Germany. (CBCPNews with reports from Alren Jerome Beronio)