“Our land, our rights, our peace”

Nenita Conduz is small in stature and pregnant with her third child. She is also courageous and defiant.

This tiny mother is leading her Subanen people in the struggle to defend their ancestral land in the southern Philippines, where a Canadian owned mining company is harming their land, their community and their way of life.

Because of her commitment to speak truth, Nenita lives under constant threat.

Nenita Conduz

Nenita Conduz. Photo courtesy Antonio Nercua Ablon

Nenita recently visited Canada, as one member of a delegation of 5 leaders from the Philippines, bringing a message of how Canadian mining companies are harming their land and their communities. The delegation met with government officials on Parliament Hill and did a speaking tour of major cities, calling for respect of “our land, our rights, our peace.” I heard Nenita speak in Winnipeg.

The delegation’s visit was sponsored by KAIROS, an ecumenical social justice coalition, of which MCC is a member. KAIROS has been advocating for years for accountability mechanisms for Canadian extractive companies overseas as part of a wider Open for Justice campaign. Canada is a global leader in international extractive industry; but has very weak mechanisms to hold mining companies to human rights and environmental standards.

The Subanen people – one of numerous Indigenous groups in the Philippines – lives on the Zamboanga Peninsula of Mindanao Island in the southern part of the country. Zamboanga is rich in natural resources; it is also one of the most militarized regions in the country.

The Subanen have received certification of their ancestral domain, with the attending right of free, prior and informed consent to any extractive activities on their land. But this has not stopped foreign corporations from accessing the mineral resources or for using armed force to put down the resistance of the Subanen people.

Nenita focused her critique on Calgary-based TVI Pacific and its Philippine subsidiary TVIRD, which is extracting copper from Subanen land. According to her testimony, as well as the findings of a KAIROS delegation to the Philippines in 2014, the company began its operations without the due process of free, prior and informed consent.  Moreover, its arrival in the community coincided with the cancellation of business permits for small scale mining operations, the deployment of armed “security” personnel, and the escalation of widespread human rights violations.

Nenita 3

Philippine delegation with KAIROS hosts. Photo/KAIROS

The reported human rights violations include: extrajudicial killings, illegal detention, kidnappings, destruction of property, homes and livelihoods, forcible eviction, as well as threats, harassment and intimidation. Thousands of people have been affected.

Nenita herself is continually being watched and harassed and is currently not able to return to her home because of fears she could be assassinated.

But this courageous woman refuses to be silenced. “Defending our ancestral land is of prime importance to us,” she says. “We cannot live without our land.”

She notes that land is not just a place for the Subanen people to live. The land defines their life, their health, the social fabric of their community, and their very identity.

Nenita is aware that the struggle of the Subanen people is part of a global struggle by Indigenous peoples seeking to protect lands that are coveted by governments and corporations for their forests, waters and minerals.

“We are calling for respect for Indigenous peoples rights,” she insists. “We hope our efforts to expose what is happening in the Philippines will touch people’s hearts and minds and lead to support for the global struggle.”

open-for-justice-logo-temp-TRANS.PSDThe Open for Justice campaign, which MCC supports, urges the Canadian federal government to take action in two specific ways:

  • to appoint an independent ombudsperson mandated to monitor Canadian extractive operations overseas, to investigate complaints and to take action where needed to uphold human rights (current mechanisms are voluntary and ineffectual); and
  • to allow access to Canadian courts for non-Canadians who have been harmed by the international operations of Canadian companies.

The recently released federal budget failed to allocate funds for the creation of a human rights ombudsperson.

We owe it to people like courageous Nenita – and Indigenous peoples everywhere – to support their call for “our land, our rights, our peace.”

by Esther Epp-Tiessen, Public Engagement Coordinator for the Ottawa Office

Climate change: who pays?

This week’s  blog is written by Bruce Guenther, Disaster Response Director for MCC.

This week, governments, international institutions, and local civil society actors are participating in the 19th Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw Poland.

The meetings come on the cusp of Super Typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines last week — the worst recorded storm in the country’s history. Is climate change the cause of the extreme weather events we have seen in recent years? MCC’s partners continue to tell us that the changing climate is having a concrete impact on their communities. Those who have contributed the least to causing climate change bear the brunt of the harm.

In general, the research tells us that climate change will cause increased drought, flooding and extreme weather events. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the science of climate change indicates that it is “very likely” there will be more frequent and extreme precipitation events, particularly in tropical areas. It is also “very likely” that there will be more frequent heat waves and an increase in mean temperature. A further detailed report on climate change impacts and adaptation is due from the IPCC in March 2014.

HaiyanTo summarize: wet is wetter, dry is drier, and there will continue to be greater weather uncertainty and extreme events. We can already see many of those impacts. Protracted drought in the Horn of Africa (reaching a crisis in 2011), the Sahel region and in parts of southern Africa are consistent with climate change projections. Increased flooding events are also being observed in part of South Asia, most recently again in Pakistan. The recent Super Typhoon in the Philippines and Super Storm Sandy, which struck the Caribbean and the U.S. east coast, make one wonder if “super storms” are the new normal.

In Canada, we can also testify to an increase in extreme climatic events. In Manitoba, spring flooding risk has increased in frequency over the last decade, and the recent devastating flooding in southern Alberta is unprecedented.  The number of flooding events globally has been increasing over the last 20 years along with the cost of the damage.

But those who bear the greatest costs of increased climate risks are those that have contributed the least to climate change through carbon emissions. It is a global injustice.

MCC, as part of the Canadian Coalition for Climate Change and Development (C4D) is asking the Canadian government to commit additional funds to developing countries to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

A recent C4D report shows that the government’s commitment to “Fast Start Climate Finance” (the 2009 Copenhagen Accord) was primarily given to developing countries as loans and toward mitigating climate change, not helping countries adapt. While mitigation is an important objective, developing countries need immediate support now to adapt to minimize the impact they are already seeing from more extreme weather events. This includes greater disaster preparedness, increased support to small-scale farmers, and ensuring public infrastructure and shelter will protect communities from the next “super storm.”

Husbandandwife_EthiopiaMCC is helping communities adapt to a changing climate. A recent case study, from the Amhara region of Ethiopia, shows that climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity and unpredictability of climate-related hazards. MCC with the, Migibare Senay Children and Family Support Organization, has worked to increase soil and water conservation, restore biodiversity and increase food security in this watershed. As a result, local farmers are less vulnerable to climate-related shocks and stresses and have improved their food security.

MCC, in cooperation with Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is urging churches and individuals to write to their Member of Parliament asking the Canadian government to do more, including: 1) allocating new and additional funding to help developing countries address climate change, and 2) ensuring that more of these funds are spent on adaptation activities in order meet the immediate needs of vulnerable countries and communities.

The most vulnerable are paying the price for a changing climate. We need to pay our fair share.

On becoming an advocate

Years ago, when my husband and I were young MCC service workers in the Philippines, we visited Jose and Lita (names changed) in prison.   A married couple, the two Catholic lay leaders had been detained for their efforts to organize communities against the corrupt and violent dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos.

We had already visited a number of prisons and knew, as we arrived at the facility where Jose and Lita were held, that we would likely find them in decrepit surroundings – with inadequate food, crowded and harsh accommodations, and abusive treatment.

How surprised we were to find the couple in their own comfortable dwelling within the prison compound.

We asked them about their situation – so different from the prisoners we could see behind bars across the courtyard.  They explained, “It’s because Amnesty has taken up our cause.”

Amnesty International, the respected human rights organization, had indeed identified Jose and Lita as prisoners of conscience. It had urged its supporters to write Filipino officials, demanding the couple receive fair and decent treatment as they awaited trial. People had responded, and letters from around the world had made Lita and Jose’s prison stay much more comfortable than it might have been. Those letters also possibly played a role in the dismissal of charges against the couple later on.

This experience, among others, convinced me of the importance of calling authorities to account when their actions cause harm and injustice. It persuaded me of the importance of addressing systems which oppress. In other words, it converted me to the ministry of advocacy.

CandleThat experience, so many years ago, was transformative. It continues to inform my perspective on MCC’s ministry of service to those in need. I remain convinced that advocacy, undertaken in a spirit of Christian love, is an essential part of MCC’s mission. It is as important as donating money, volunteering in a thrift shop, or knotting a comforter.

In many situations, letters and other means of communication will not make such a sudden and dramatic difference as they did in the case of Jose and Lita.  Oftentimes, the work of advocacy is painstakingly slow, with few immediate results. Yet, advocacy remains an essential means of witness and service, with and on behalf of those who suffer, in keeping with the biblical call to seek justice.

What are the things that have called you to become an advocate? Is it a similar experience or encounter? A story? A new understanding of scripture? A compelling argument? Or, conversely, what are the things that keep you from becoming an advocate?

As public engagement coordinator for MCC Canada, my job is to help people become advocates. I welcome your thoughts on how I and my colleagues can best do this. Please send your comments to estherepp-tiessen@mennonitecc.ca.

Esther Epp-Tiessen is public engagement coordinator for MCC Canada and its Ottawa Office.