Catholic priest hailed as environmental hero | Inquirer News

Catholic priest hailed as environmental hero

By: - Deputy Day Desk Chief / @TJBurgonioINQ
/ 12:50 AM April 23, 2012

Environmentalists celebrated Earth Day on Sunday remembering the unyielding stand that a Roman Catholic priest took to protect the rights of the Mangyans to a habitable spot of the earth in Mindoro three years ago.

Fr. Edwin “Edu” Gariguez, then pastoral adviser of the Mangyan Mission Catholic Church in Mindoro, took the cudgels of a grassroots movement fighting a Norwegian mining company. He spoke about the degradation of the environment in the Mangyans’ ancestral land not only from the pulpit but also in European capitals where he tried to call the attention of officials and politicians to the plight of Mindoro’s indigenous people.

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It was a dangerous advocacy. Great wealth was at stake, not only for Norway’s Intex Resources, which proposed an open-pit nickel mine in Mindoro in the early 1990s, but also for Filipino civilian and military officials who backed the project. A member of Alliance Against Mining (Alamin) that Gariguez led was murdered, and Gariguez himself became a target of harassment, even death threats.

Intex Resources and its local backers were tough opponents. Many protests failed to force the mining company to fold its tent and pitch it in some other part of the globe.

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11-day hunger strike

But Intex and its supporters miscalculated the will and courage of Gariguez and his Mangyan followers. In November 2009, Gariguez led the Mangyans to Manila and staged a hunger strike in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) building to force the government to look into the perils that Intex had exposed the Mangyans by bringing its operations to Mindoro.

The action lasted 11 days. Gariguez and the Mangyans were reduced to flesh and bones, but it was worth it. The DENR investigated Intex’s operations in Mindoro. Soon the company was gone.

Gariquez, 49, has since been reassigned to Manila as executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action (Nassa)-Justice and Peace of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. But his colleagues remember him with fondness and admiration for the courageous stand that he took to save the environment for the Mangyans of Mindoro.

Goldman prize

For his advocacy and heroism, Gariguez received the Goldman Environmental Prize at invitation-only ceremonies at the San Francisco Opera House on April 16. Gariguez was honored together with five other “environmental heroes” waging their own battles against commercial enterprises that potentially harm natural resources and public health in Kenya, Russia, China, the United States and Argentina. The award came with an unconditional cash prize of $150,000.

By fighting mining, Gariguez became the “voice” of the indigenous peoples in Mindoro and deserved the Goldman prize, his colleagues said.

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“With Father Edu, it’s not simply a fight against mining, but a fight for the rights of the Mangyans,” said Judy Pasimio, former executive director of Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center.

“Father Edu was part of the voice pushing for the Mangyans’ right to self-determination.”

Pasimio, who had worked closely with Gariguez, agreed that the highlight of his advocacy was the 11-day hunger strike he and the Mangyans mounted against Intex.

She said Gariguez did not “think twice” about the hunger strike, and when confronted with a proposal to bring the campaign to Mindoro, he “took his cue” from the Mangyans and stayed on until environment officials took real action and suspended the project’s environmental compliance certificate.

European campaign

The revocation of Intex’s permit stopped the company’s operations in Mindoro. But Gariguez’s European campaign had already created shareholder doubt about the project. Eventually, major financial backers, including investment bank Goldman Sachs, pulled out from the $2.4-billion project, forcing Intex to drop it in 2010, a failure that led to top-level resignations in the company.

Pasimio welcomed the award for Gariguez which, she said, was a recognition of “Father Edu’s voice and commitment.”

“That’s really something important because it represents the cause that Father Edu has been carrying for more than a decade,” she said.

She described Gariguez as a “real barefoot priest, living with and serving the people, particularly those whose voices are often unheard.”

“While the Goldman award is significant, I think his greatest reward is the fact that he can always go back to the Mangyan communities and he will feel safe, will be fed, and will have a roof [over] his head for the night,” Pasimio said.

Pol Sevilla, a community organizer in Calapan who participated in the hunger strike, said Gariguez deserved the award because “he’s sincere in all that he’s doing.”

Catalyst

“As a priest of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan and member of the Mangyan Mission, Father Edu was a catalyst in his leadership role of protecting and empowering the rights of the Mangyan Cultural Communities and their shared vision of ensuring stewardship and ecological sustainability of their ancestral lands for future generations,” Fr. Archie Casey of the Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation said in a statement issued after the announcement of the Goldman prize for Gariguez.

Jon Sarmiento, a member of Alamin from Mindoro said: “Father Edu is truly deserving of the Goldman award. [The] people of Mindoro are proud of him and will forever be grateful for his sacrifice and efforts in his support in the struggle against Intex Resources. He is not a legitimate Mindoreño but he selflessly offered his life for our struggle. He is a real servant-leader and activist.”

As executive secretary the Nassa-Justice and Peace, Gariguez plays a bigger role for all the indigenous and rural communities, opponents of mining said.

“He is also one of our champions in advocating the passage of a new minerals management policy that will ensure the rights of the people and protection of natural resources,” said Jaybee Garganera, the national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina.

The Goldman award, Garganera said, “should signal the need for the Aquino administration to issue a new mining policy that reflects the principles and advocacies that Father Edu stands for.” With reports from Jocelyn R. Uy and Madonna Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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TAGS: Earth Day, environment, Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Goldman Environmental Prize, Mangyan Mission Catholic Church, Mindoro, Mining
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