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Stop SLAPPing Filipino environmental defenders

by PESANTE-USA Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007 at 2:09 PM
magsasakapil@hotmail.com 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90026

-Green progressive watchdog Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) today noted the rise of lawsuits against environmment advocates, warning that this could be a dangerous precedent by large mining firms and landowning families to stifle opposition to their interests. In a press conference held at Quezon City, Kalikasan PNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista presented three case studies of non-government environmental advocates, including individuals and organizations, facing a variety of SLAPP lawsuits from foreign firms accused of engaging in environmental and anti-people practices in communities where they operate.

PRESS RELEASE

August 20, 2007

Stop SLAPPing environmental defenders

Manila---Green progressive watchdog Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) today noted the rise of lawsuits against environmment advocates, warning that this could be a dangerous precedent by large mining firms and landowning families to stifle opposition to their interests.

In a press conference held at Quezon City, Kalikasan PNE National Coordinator Clemente Bautista presented three case studies of non-government environmental advocates, including individuals and organizations, facing a variety of SLAPP lawsuits from foreign firms accused of engaging in environmental and anti-people practices in communities where they operate.

“SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are lawsuits ranging from libel to conspiracy used by powerful corporate entities against non-governmental individuals or groups defending issues of marginalized sectors, such as human, labor, peasant or consumer rights, environmental protection, national patrimony and the like,” Bautista said.

“SLAPPs are a form of litigation filed by usually powerful entities against less financially-capable critics with the intention of intimidating and silencing them in the course of a lengthy and costly legal battle. Environmental groups in other countries have faced SLAPPs by commercial real estate developers, companies, and the like. In the Philippines, these “powerful entities” using SLAPPs are usually foreign-owned mining or logging firms or elite land-owning families who control and extract resources from vast tracts of lands,” Bautista explained.

During the presscon, the following environmental advocates from various fields shared their specific experiences on being “SLAPPed” by large firms:

? Frances Quimpo, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils), a non-government organization (NGO) facing a P10 million libel suit from Australian-owned mining company Lafayette Philippines Inc. (LPI). LPI operated on the Arroyo administration's flagship mining project in the environmentally-critical island of Rapu-Rapu in Albay, Bicol, which incurred two mine tailing spills and an associated fish kill in 2005. A Presidential investigative commission headed by Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes later concluded that LPI engaged in irresponsible mining and recommended that the project be terminated. However, in February this year, the DENR allowed the company to resume fill commercial operations after previously allowing three extensions for LPI's “test runs”.

CEC-Phils is one of the NGOs actively involved in the campaign for LPI's closure and a moratorium on mining operations in Rapu-Rapu. LPI's Philippine partners, represented by Manuel Agcaoili, President of Rapu-Rapu Processing, Inc, and Bayani H. Agabin, Senior Vice-President of Rapu-Rapu Minerals, Inc., filed a complaint before the Pasig City Prosecutor's Office on July 9 against CEC-Phils' trustees, to answer for libel in their publication entitled "Rapu-Rapu A Struggle Against Mining Liberalization And Plunder In the Philippines". The publication was distributed when CEC-Phils visited and lobbied before Lafayette's financial shareholders in Australia last June 8.

Quimpo and the other trustees are scheduled to submit their counter-affidavits and attends the preliminary investigation tomorrow, August 21, at the Pasig City Prosecutor's Office at 2 p.m.

? Lucas Buay, an Ifugao leader and chairperson of the Council of Leaders of the Kasibu Inter-tribal Response Towards Ecological Development, narrated how at least 24 indigenous leaders in Nueva Vizcaya, representing the Ibaloi, Ifugao, Kalanguya, Bugkalot, Kankaney, and Bontoc communities, are facing the threat of arrest for opposing the entry of mining company Oxiana Philippines Inc. and its foreign partner RoyalCo, Ltd. Of Australia for mineral exploration. After hundreds of tribespeople successfully held up a barricade against the entry of the mining firm's drilling equipment last month in Barangay Pacuet, Kasibu, Oxiana filed for a temporary restraining order or/and an injunctio.

Kasibu Mayor Romeo C. Tayaban said that the preliminary injunction was issued last August 17 by Executive Judge Godofredo Naui of the South District Regional Trial Court in Bayombong, Nueva, ordering the dismantling of the barricade and allowing the entry of Oxiana Philippines and its equipment to conduct exploration operations. Kasibu's communities are currently defending the barricade and possible showdown between the community and state police and military forces assisting Oxiana looms. Two other mining companies are also trying to get a foothold into ancestral lands in Nueva Vizcaya: Oceana Gold in Barangays Didipio and Papaya in the Municipality of Kasibu, and FCF Mining, Inc. in Bgy Runruno in the Municipality of Quezon/Runrun

? Ilang-Ilang Quijano, a young journalist working for Pinoy Weekly, and a finalist for the 2004 Jaime Ongpin Awards for Excellence in Journalism, and toxicologist Dr. Romeo V. Quijano are awaiting the verdict of a civil case filed by the Lapanday Agricultural & Development Corporation (LADECO) in Davao, owned by a large landowning family and an exporter of Cavendish bananas to Japan. The Quijanos conducted studies and interviews in the pesticide-affected community Kamukhaan, a barangay of 15O families in Davao del Sur, Mindanao, and published a report on the detrimental effects of LADECO's pesticide use on the environment and people's health.



Also present at the press conference was a representative from environmental lawyer Howard Calleja's law office, and Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino, who would be looking into possible legislative actions regarding the SLAPP cases and the environmental issues outlines in the case studies.

“We deplore and condemn SLAPPs against environmental advocates. These lawsuits threaten perfectly lawful actions and constitutionally protected rights. These furthermore deflect scrutiny of the real environmental and people's issues that the respondents to the cases are fighting more,” Bautista said.

The SLAPPs, Bautista added, come at a time when human rights violations and extrajudicial forms of harassment against environmental activists are also on the rise. “Kalikasan PNE documented at least 21 cases of extrajudicial killings of environmental advocates under the Arroyo administration, from 2001 to present. Usually, the victims are peasant or indigenous leaders who led the opposition to giant mining, large dam, or logging operations in rural areas,” he said.

The Nicanor delos Santos Hall, where the press conference was held, was named after the Secretary-General of the group Makabayang Samahan ng mga Katutubong Dumagat and a strong critic of the Laiban dam project in his homeland of Rizal, Nicanor delos Santos, who was killed by suspected military troops on December 8, 2001, Bautista said.

“Kalikasan PNE and its sister organizations and networks will continue to support the legal battles faced by the SLAPP victims. More importantly, these lawsuits will not in any way douse or stifle the campaigns to expose and oppose the anti-people and anti-environment projects by these powerful corporations. We will continue to work for a national policy where national industrialization and genuine land reform will yield projects that will judiciously utilize and protect our national patrimony and work for the welfare of the marginalized sectors in Philippine society,” Bautista ended. ###

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