Development Free of Fear by Rev. Desmond Jagger-Parsons
Rev. Desmond Jagger-Parsons, BA LLB MDiv, is the Head of the Philippine Learning Tour, a delegation organized by KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, with representatives from KAIROS member churches, CUPE, MiningWatch Canada and Indigenous people in Canada. Rev. Jagger-Parsons is also the Chair of the Board of KAIROS and a United Church minister in the Newtown-Lumsden Pastoral Charge in Bonavista North, Newfoundland and Labrador.
We are no strangers to fear. Fear pervades some of the work we do – in the communities we try to help and situations we sometimes find ourselves in.
Nothing, though, prepared us for the level of fear expressed by those in the villages and communities in the Philippine Zamboanga del sur region that we visited. The fear was ever present, consuming and at times overwhelming.
We were part of the Philippine Learning Tour early this month to learn about the impact of mining, particularly Canadian mining operations, in that country. KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives, along with representatives from MiningWatch Canada, CUPE and Idle No More, participated with more than 100 Filipino delegates in four locations. Two people on the tour are from Indigenous communities in Canada, and are the children of residential school victims. One person is a former aide worker in Uganda and another accompanied Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank.
The causes of the fear experienced by Filipino communities coincide with the commencement of mining, some of it Canadian-led, in the Zamboanga Peninsula of the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. We heard testimonies from more than 30 witnesses of attempts at bribery, intimidation, threats, harassment, arbitrary detention by non-state actors, torture, house demolition, and extra judicial killings.
We heard allegations of corruption among elected officials, and allegations that the process of free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in the region is being undermined.
Some allegations such as detention and torture would, in a Canadian context, have adequate evidence to proceed to trial. In some situations, however, it is unclear if accusations are connected to private or public operations because there is no power of investigation into elected bodies or corporate enterprises.
We have sat at night in hotels and church halls and wondered how this happens. Do officials say “get it done” and lower level actors respond? Is there really an operating mind behind this abuse? Are some of these claims motivated by economic losses by small scale mining operations which are illegal under Philippine law? Is there at work a kind of caste or class system which says that at the top of the hierarchy are investors such as Canadians and at the bottom are Indigenous people? Or is fear simply the cost of doing business in the Philippines?
As Christians, spiritual Indigenous people, NGO staff and activists, we say this cost is too great. If Canada is going to advocate for investment opportunities overseas with the intention of meeting goals of Philippine development – a worthy goal in a country filled with staggering poverty – it needs to do so with the integrity for which Canadians yearn to be known.
We hope that the Canadian mining company, TVI Resource Development Philippines Inc., with which we have engaged, will continue to work with us. We encourage ongoing dialogue to ensure that their work in resource extraction in the Philippines continues in keeping with Canadian and Philippine mutual recognition of the rights of Indigenous Peoples to free prior and informed consent, and with respect for human rights and the environment.
We want, and frankly need, TVI’s help in ensuring the safety of Philippine communities and organizational partners from actors who may be corrupting their business goal of fair profit. This includes working with TVI Pacific officials in Canada.
As a group called together by churches, this isn’t just our demand, it’s our prayer. To this end, we don’t seek an end to mining operations or to particular corporate or partisan interests. We seek what faithful people have always sought: that perfect love casts out all fear.
This article originally appeared in the Hill Times, September 1, 2014.
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