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Filipino bishops seek solidarity from Australian Church

from CathNews, (2006)
In a statement timed to coincide with the Australian Church’s Social Justice Sunday this weekend, Filipino bishops have called on their Australian counterparts for support in safeguarding the human rights of Filipino Indigenous people under pressure from Australian mining companies.

November 5,2009 -(Left to Right) Kasibu Mayor Romeo, Elmer Lawagan owner of the house burnt in Didipio and CHR Chairperson Leila M. de Lima during in an on field investigation conducted by the Commission on Human Rights regarding illegal demolition and dispersal operations involving Australian mining company, OceanaGold Philippines Inc.. Photo by Roslyn Arayata

Roslyn Arayata

While mining in the Philippines has gained in value, a statement by Bishop Ramon Villena of Bayombong diocese entitled “The threat to Indigenous rights and environment by mining” says that “the environmental degradation it has caused has also increased”.

This environmental degradation is “the principal trigger of the continuing wide opposition against mining as an economic activity in the country”, according to the Bishop.

Social, ethical, religious and ecological concerns are magnified because of the environmentally sensitive land, the presence of Indigenous people and the social demands of a rising population, Bishop Villena says.

The nine Australian companies that have entered into financial and technical assistance agreements are also implicated, he adds.

Bishop Villena accuses these companies of having an adverse impact on human rights and sustainable development in his country, singling out Australasian Philippines Mining, which operates the Didipio copper and gold project in the Bishop’s own area in Nueva Vizcaya, some 200 km north of Manila.

According to Bishop Villena, “the company claims that it has ‘strong local community and government support’.”

But “this could not be farther from the truth,” he says, adding that “the people have resisted the entry of the mine from the beginning of the mid 1990s”.

He says mining has displaced several Indigenous tribes and peoples who continue to resist their presence, adding that local people make allegations of intimidation, verbal harassment and even bribery of local government officials.

The Bishop says the Philippines Catholic Bishops seek the active support of the “Australian Bishops, institutions and civil society actors for the protection of democratic processes, local governance and adequate safeguards for the human rights of Indigenous peoples, the poor and marginalised, as you celebrate Social Justice Sunday on the 24th of September.”

“We are also calling for stronger control and safeguards over the activities of corporations based in the Philippines and Australia and operating around the world with particular attention to the extractive industries sector, which has such a large impact on the environment and such a poor record in its dealings on issues of human rights and sustainable development,” he continued.

Bishop Villena also notes his appreciation of the Australian Bishops’ Committee for Justice, Development and Peace pastoral statement “Christians and their duty towards nature”.

“We must consider very carefully the ways in which we can help other nations not to harm the environment. Richer nations can criticise the poorer ones for destroying their forests and ravaging their land, even though the more affluent nations contribute to that destruction. Existing international economic structures are such that nations in the third world are forced into using up their natural resources,” he said, quoting from the Australian document.

“We pray for your support and understanding in the struggle against irresponsible mining and blatant exploitation of Indigenous Peoples,” Bishop Villena said.

Bishop Villena’s statement comes a month after nine bishops and 234 priests signed a statement calling for a halt to mining operations by the Australian company, Lafayette Mining, on Rapu Rapu Island.

This year’s Social Justice Sunday focuses on dignity and justice for Indigenous Australians.

Publish What You Pay:


A global campaign for revenue transparency in the oil, gas & mining industries

Despite billions of dollars of incoming revenues from oil, gas and mining extraction, citizens of more than 50 resource rich countries  around the world remain steeped in poverty. If governments managed these revenues transparently and effectively, they could serve as a basis for successful economic growth and poverty reduction. This has proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

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Governments and other institutions that manage these resources are often weak and, in practice, unaccountable to the parliaments and citizens of their countries. Many resource-rich countries are kleptocracies, where officials rule by force to steal from the proceeds of natural resource extraction. The extractive industry is associated with high levels of corruption . Oil and mining companies have, on occasion, engaged in corrupt practices (e.g. payment of bribes) in order to secure contracts or to gain influence over public officials. Revenues from resource extraction are very often not disclosed by the governments or the companies involved; in some cases this information is a state secret. This lack of accountability facilitates embezzlement, corruption and revenue misappropriation. In extreme cases, access to resources can fuel and sustain national and regional conflicts, thereby weakening governments and institutions furthermore. Such disorder is exploited to facilitate further large-scale misappropriation of state assets.

The call for companies to “publish what you pay” and for governments to “publish what you earn” is a necessary first step towards a more accountable system for the management of natural resource revenues. If companies disclose what they pay, and governments disclose their receipts of such revenues, then members of civil society in resource-rich countries will be able to compare the two and thus hold their governments accountable for the management of this valuable source of income. Revenue transparency will also help civil society groups to work towards a democratic debate over the effective use and allocation of resource revenues and public finance in order to meet development objectives, improve public services, and redistribute income.

Mining, gas and oil companies cannot control how governments spend taxes, royalties and fees. But they do have a responsibility to disclose the payments they make so citizens can hold their governments accountable. Companies that fail to do so are complicit in the disempowerment of the people of the countries to which the resources belong. Transparency will strengthen companies’ social “licence to operate”, by demonstrating their economic contribution to society, and increase the likelihood that the revenues they pay to governments will be used for sustainable development – which creates a stable business environment – rather than being wasted or diverted by corruption, which exacerbates social divisions and can lead to weak and unstable states and conflict.

There is now wide international consensus in favour of increased transparency in the extractive sector as evidenced by, for example, the immense support from governments, companies, investors, financial institutions and civil society for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) . Mandating disclosure of payments and revenues is consistent with this consensus and can be achieved by way of simple and logical adjustments to existing company law, accounting standards, stock exchange disclosure rules, and the lending conditions of international financial institutions, regional development banks, export credit agencies and private sector banks.
Accordingly, the Publish What You Pay coalition calls on:

•    Multi-national, private and state-owned extractive companies to disclose a net figure for all types of payments (royalties, taxes, bonuses etc) made to governments for every country of operation in their annual financial accounts, and to disclose to which level of government payments are made;

•    Governments of resource-rich countries to:
o    Require disclosure of payments by all extractive companies operating in their territory on a company-by-company basis and by payment type;
o    Publish What You Earn, i.e. disclose fully revenues from resource extraction;
o    Independently audit and verify this information in line with best international practice. This can be achieved by way of full implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and compliance with international codes and standards on natural resource and fiscal transparency, such as the IMF Guide on Resource Revenue Transparency;
o    Put in place mechanisms for sub-national reporting of payments and revenues;
o    Establish open, participatory and transparent budget processes at national, regional and local levels in order to consult with civil society on the effective allocation and management of revenues from resource extraction and public finances in order to promote broad-based economic and social development;

•    Governments of OECD countries to require country-by-country disclosure of payments of all extractive companies registered or listed on financial markets in their country;

•    Bilateral and multi-lateral financial institutions, including the World Bank Group, IMF, regional development banks, export credit agencies and private sector banks, to require extractive companies to comply with the Publish What You Pay requirements on transparency of payments as a pre-condition of all project support, and governments to have in place a functioning system to account for and independently audit revenues from extractive industries in return for non-humanitarian/non-emergency development, technical and financial assistance;

•    Donor organisations to promote the empowerment and capacity building of civil society organisations across resource-rich countries in order to allow citizens to hold their government accountable for the management and expenditure of revenues received from the extractive industries.

In addition to these measures:

•    Extractive companies and local authorities should disclose information about social investments and payments to local budgets made by extractive companies. These payments and investments can be important factors of sustainable social and economic development and thus the public should be involved in the process of managing these revenues;

•    To promote full accountability of companies and governments in the management of resource revenues we also call for the public disclosure of extractive industry contracts and for licensing procedures to be carried out transparently in line with best international practice. As contracts typically include schedules, formulas and other determinants of the government’s potential revenue streams (such as revenue sharing arrangements, taxes, royalties, bonuses, social benefits, etc., and exemptions from any of these) fulfilling the public’s right to access these contracts (with exemptions for provisions that are genuinely commercial confidential information) will help inform citizens about how much their government is supposed to receive from resource extraction, which can then be compared with how much the government actually receives. Contract transparency can thus help civil society understand whether governments have struck deals with extractive sector projects that are in the public interest, and then whether promised revenues actually materialise.

Promoting transparency of revenues and of extractive industry contracts is a vital first step towards alleviating the crushing poverty of ordinary citizens in many resource-rich developing countries around the world. It is fully consistent with internationally agreed objectives of good governance, corruption prevention, corporate accountability and sustainable development. Transparency is in the best interests of everyone concerned – citizens, companies, governments and the wider international community – and so we call on all relevant stakeholders to play their part in making it a reality.

Learn more at the PWYP website

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