Catholic campaign in Philippines undermined by Church of England

By staff writers
February 16, 2009

The Catholic Church in the Philippines is having significant success in its campaign against mining in its country, reports the Wall Street Journal, although the Church of England is seeking to profit from the companies who operate there.

The Journal reports that mining in the Philippines is being hamstrung by the Roman Catholic Church.

When the Church began campaigning against mining in the 1980s, more than 50 mines operated in the Philippines, contributing a fifth of the country's exports. The number of mines declined to 12 in 2003 as opposition increased.

Environmentalists and activists such as Jaybee Garganera, of the Philippines' Anti-Mining Alliance, credit Bishop Bastes and other Church leaders for turning mining into a mainstream issue. "It's debatable whether we would have gained the same traction without the Church," Ms. Garganera says.

Over the past few years, Bishop Arturo Bastes has spearheaded the Catholic church's campaign to shut down a gold and copper mine in Rapu-Rapu island, in the central Philippines. Bishop Bastes who has the support of the Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines hounded the mine's Australian developers after a chemical spill at the site, and now is working on shutting down the new owners -- a consortium led by South Korean industrial giant LG International Corp.

Bishop Bastes is following a tradition of Catholic clergy taking on mining, especially in Central America. Priests in Honduras, for instance, have protested open-pit mining techniques and mining-rights laws which they say grant too many benefits to foreign miners.

"It's written in the Bible," Bishop Bastes told the Wall Street Journal, quoting the book of Numbers, chapter 35, verse 34: "Do not defile the land where you live and I dwell."

Industry leaders say the Church's opposition plays a bigger part in preventing the growth of mining in the Philippines than many other factors. Benjamin Philip Romualdez, president of the Philippines Chamber of Mines, said at a mining forum this year that while Philippine-based banks were willing to lend to miners in the country, Church-backed anti-mining activists had discouraged companies from setting foot there.

In recent years, Church officials have stirred protests against other mining projects, including the Tamapakan site in the southern Philippines led by Xstrata Copper, a division of Xstrata PLC.

But this brings it into conflict with the Church of England, which has a £80 million combined investment in Xstrata and another company operating in the Philippines, BHP Billiton.

Both companies were criticized in a report which was launched at the House of Commons last week. The report which called for a moratorium on new mining in the Philippines, and disinvestment in the companies, was supported by UK Bishops and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

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