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Goldman prize for anti-mining priest

HE AND Mangyan leaders put their lives on the line and went on a hunger strike in 2009 to protest mining operations in Mindoro. I saw this for myself and wrote about their do-or-die move. Their sacrifices paid off.

Filipino Catholic priest Fr. Edwin “Edu” Gariguez, 49, was one of the six recipients of the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize awarded last April 16 in San Francisco. These green heroes’ collective efforts are indeed crucial to the survival of our common home, Earth. In distant places out there, as well as here, individuals without much wealth and lofty positions can make crucial changes. Here are the “fearless emerging leaders working against all odds to protect the environment and their communities.”

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Edwin Gariguez, Philippines. This Catholic priest is leading a grassroots movement against large-scale nickel mining to protect Mindoro island’s biodiversity and its indigenous people.

Ma Jun, China. He is working with corporations to clean up their practices with an online database and digital map that shows Chinese citizens which factories are violating environmental regulations in their country. (I had written a front-page story on him in 2009 when he came to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award.)

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Ikal Angelei, Kenya. Risking her life, she is fighting the construction of the massive Gibe 3 Dam that would block access to water for indigenous communities around Lake Turkana.

Evgenia Chirikova, Russia. Challenging rampant political corruption, Chirikova is mobilizing her fellow Russian citizens to demand the rerouting of a highway that would bisect Khimki Forest, Moscow’s “green lungs.”

Caroline Cannon, USA. She is bringing the voice and perspective of her Inupiat community in Point Hope to the battle to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling.

Sofia Gatica, Argentina. A mother whose infant child died as a result of pesticide poisoning, Gatica is organizing local women to stop indiscriminate spraying of toxic agrochemicals in neighboring soy fields.

The prize includes a whopping $150,000 for each one of them with “no strings attached.” Established by philanthropist couple Richard and Rhoda Goldman in 1990, the prize is the first and largest award in the world for grass-roots environmentalists who often work at great personal risk.

The Philippines’ own green hero is the pastor of the Catholic Church’s Mangyan Mission in Mindoro and now executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace. Born in Quezon province, Gariguez has been working in Mindoro for decades. He cofounded Alliance Against Mining (Alamin), a coalition of Mindoro residents, civil society groups, church leaders and indigenous peoples who oppose mining on the island.

Uniting thousands of Mangyans, farmers and even political leaders, Gariguez and Alamin led protests that led to the island-wide moratorium that stopped Norwegian mining company Intex from operating.  The company had proposed an open-pit nickel mine close to a biodiversity area and within Mangyan ancestral domain. It was within the watershed that feeds the island’s four major rivers that provide drinking water and irrigation.

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The priest even went to Norway to address parliamentarians and Intex shareholders. That was a watershed moment. A Norwegian group helped Gariguez file a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Gariguez’s continuing advocacy and leadership to protect the environment and the indigenous communities are inextricably woven into the essence of his priesthood. Gariguez said:  “I do this because of my faith. When I try to bring about change, I do it in fidelity to the social teachings of the Church in a way that is responsive to the challenges of the times, including poverty, mining and corruption. Through our work on Mindoro, we are not trying to impose our faith on others, but are trying to be credible witnesses on how to bring about social change.”

A long Q & A with Gariguez is in the April-May 2012 issue of World Mission Magazine (a very well-edited church magazine, I must say) whose cover story is on harmful mining. Editor Fr. Jose Rebelo writes: “The Philippines is ‘one of the world’s most highly mineralized countries,’ says a US Department of State report. Its estimated untapped mineral wealth is worth more than $840 billion—in copper, gold and chromate deposits; other available minerals include nickel, silver, coal, gypsum, sulfur, clay, limestone, marble, silica, and phosphate, according to the same report. This is one of the reasons mining has become a very hot issue.”

Gariguez and Alamin are in dialogue with government officials and in the process of finalizing the Alternative Mineral Management bill which provides for safer and more just alternatives. “The passage of the bill,” Gariguez says, “would be a landmark bill for all mining regions throughout the Philippines. We are not asking for a complete ban on mining altogether; we are making sure we do not sacrifice the rights of the indigenous people and the environment…”

In his prize acceptance speech, Gariguez paid tribute to the Mangyans: “I was taught by the Mangyans to care for the earth. For them nature is likened to a womb that sustains us with life. One of the leaders is Badang, a Mangyan woman who went on hunger strike with me. She was ready to die to save the watershed threatened by mining. For her, once the forest is destroyed, we too will perish. She helped me understand that what is at stake in the campaign is the survival of our planet, of which we are merely a part.”

To you, too, Badang, hugs and congratulations.

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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