Connecting The Dots: Mining, the Philippines, and Canada

I am not a gold person.  This didn’t start with any activism, or with any real reason other than the fact that I’m just not a jewelry person period.  I simply have never felt the desire for shiny that most people seem to possess.

Now that I know how the extractive process affects people (including those that look like me), I consider myself lucky.

But it’s not that easy is it?  Not wearing gold, or diamonds, or whatever doesn’t really change much when that which sparkles is the cornerstone of world economies.  While none in my family live or have ever lived near a large scale mine, in fact most Filipinos I know here in Toronto don’t have family near mines, but whether we realise it or not we remain deeply affected.

As Filipinos, and as Canadians, our lives would be radically different if foreign multinationals (including mining companies) never operated in the Philippines.

As you may or may not know the Philippines is one of the most gold rich countries in the world.  We have the second largest gold deposit (after our sister country Indonesia), while Canada is one of the top mining nations (with 75% of all mining companies being traded out of the Toronto Stock Exchange).

When the Spanish arrived they discovered that the locals all had gold rings, necklaces, and decorative art.  But already having possession of the El Dorado that is Latin America, and the fierce resistance they met outside of the ports they held (the Spaniards never controlled the majority of the Philippines beyond a few kms from the coast) they never really hunted for it.

The natives of the Philippines, in turn, never extensively mined gold.  They mined enough to make personal jewelry but never hoarded it or extensively used it as a form of currency.

It was the Americans (after they slaughtered 1 in 10 Filipinos) who saw the economic potential (for themselves) of their new possession.  Mining began in earnest.  It has been downhill since.

You’d think that having so much of this covetous metal would be good for the Philippines, but of course that would mean that you think that Filipinos are making the money.  No, because the Philippines was (when the Americans came) a feudal nation, there was not enough capital for a large scale mining operation.  So it was the Americans that exploited these riches.  They did help to generously provide the people with poverty and displacement from their land.

Today not much has changed.  Foreigners (many proudly wearing the maple leaf) set up the mine, make the money.  The people get kicked off their land, and are forced to endure violations in their human rights and a toxic environment.

Throughout our history since the coming of the Spanish, land has been the premier issue.  Our revolts against colonial powers have always had land as a central issue.

The stories are similar around the world.  Where there are open pit mines, there are accusations of murder, forced displacement, the destruction of livelihood, environmental destruction, illness, disrespect of indigenous rights, political and economic corruption, and other serious offences.

The government of the Philippines currently provides attractive incentives for multinational companies including allowing 100% foreign ownership, 100% repatriation of profits and capital, and long tax holidays.  Clearly the people don’t see much, if any, of the wealth, but they bear full brunt of the damage.

The Philippine government not only provides financial and political support, but also provides the muscle to back it up.  Where there are mines, there are soldiers.  And where there are soldiers there are deaths, disappearances, and fear.

Since 2001 over 1200 activists have died fighting for the rights and welfare of people like those affected by Canadian mining.

As a Filipino I grieve openly.  As a Canadian, I know that a good part of this adopted nations wealth is bathed in the blood and tears of my brothers and sisters.  I know that some of my relative wealth comes off the back of my brethren.  It’s a bit of a dilemma.

And as depressing as that is on its own, that’s not even the end of the story.

There are about 400,000 Filipinos in Canada, 250,000 in Toronto.  We started arriving in the late 60s and this has only accelerated.  Why did we come?  Well it wasn’t because we all wanted to take up hockey and strap sticks to our feet so we can slide headlong down a frozen hill (sorry I’m a bit of a hater when it comes to winter).

We left our tropical islands because there was no work.  The Americans set up industry, but it wasn’t for the benefit of the Filipino.  When the American government ‘left,’ its industries remained.  And they invited their friends to the party.

Today the nation remains semi-feudal (agriculture still being the main form of livelihood despite the fact that less than 5% owning land).  A few foreign industries here and there take our raw materials and our desperate poverty and convert it into prosperity for people far away.  So, of course, being a rational people we packed our bags and moved to those prosperous countries.

The Philippine government calls it’s overseas foriegn workers (OFWs) “Modern Day Heroes” as it’s their remittances home (approx US$15bil/year) that keeps the economy afloat.

We came because we had to if we wanted to feed our family and have some hope for our children.  Today 3500 to 4000 people left the Philippines to work abroad, tomorrow and the day after a similar number will do the same.

When I visited mining communities I was surprised to see Canadian flags everywhere, on homes, on jeepneys, on signs.  ‘What’s going on,’ I wondered, were the people actually happy to have a Canadian mine in town?  Could I have so drastically misunderstood the mood of the people?

The answer was simpler.  The people were merely showing respect to the source of their funds, or their hopes for a better future.  No it wasn’t the mine wasn’t redistributing wealth, the people were simply thankful for the remittances sent by relatives that were forced to migrate to places like Canada.

Signs were everywhere advertising agencies that sent people to Canada (though they didn’t advertise the exorbitant fees or the rampant corruption of their practice).

Oh what a wonderful and honourable place that Canada must be to take in these people in need, a people to whom they have a debt since their multinational had taken so much.  To give these migrants equal economic potential with people who were the descendants of migrants from Europe would be a small but wonderful gesture.   Sadly no, that Canada does not exist–but I still hope one day it will.

Today most of the Filipinos entering the country do so on a temporary work basis.  Thousands come as caregivers every year to help Canadian families.  Our women (and some men)sacrifice their dreams to ensure a future to their families, and so that Canadian women can be free to pursue their dreams.  We come to work in the factories, fast food outlets, and other low paying temporary jobs, so that Canadian businesses can maximize their profits in places like Alberta (where Canadians refuse to work for the miniscule wages paid at Timmies or McDonalds) or in the north (where few wish to go, at least not for minimum wage).

Even if you don’t care about these individuals, as Filipinos who have been in Canada for awhile we are still affected by the destructive forces of Canada and it’s Western partners whether we know it or not.  Our relatives suffer either directly from the mine or from the cycle of increasing poverty they ensure.  Our people are forced to leave their families because of them.  And we that are established must support those that stay.  And the negative stereotypes and the belittling of our collective self-esteem that results when, for example, we are called “a nation of servants” by others is in no way to our individual or communal benefit.

That’s why we have to act.

That’s why we have to take advantage of this moment in time when there is a rising consciousness about Canada’s role in the world, especially around the extractive industries.

Every person should be concerned, open pit mining is responsible for countless human and environmental rights violations.

Every Canadian should be concerned, over 70% of all mining companies IN THE WORLD are traded out of Toronto.

Every Filipino should be concerned, the Phils has the SECOND largest gold deposits (for it’s land area) in the world.

I hope you will consider getting involved.


alex felipe
>>> Toronto spokesperson for BAYAN-Canada, and organizer with Anakbayan-Toronto


* this is an older piece originally written in 2009, stats for extrajudicial killings were updated, the rest is as it was written.

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