The law against libel is being misused once again to silence critics. This time, it was filed against environment groups by a mining company, Lafayette Mining.
BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Vol. VII, No. 23, July 15-21, 2007
A form of harassment and intimidation, this was how environmental activists view the libel suit reportedly filed by Lafayette Mining against the Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils), a non-governmental organization (NGO) engaged in research and advocacy on environmental issues.
Reports said that Lafayette Philippines, Inc. filed a P10 million ($218,579,234 at an exchange rate of $1=P45.75) libel case at the Pasig City Prosecutor’s Office on July 9 against trustees of CEC-Phils, and its executive director Frances Quimpo.
“This threat of penalization is trying to promote self-censorship among environmental advocates and people’s organizations,” said Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) national coordinator.
CEC-Phils is a member of Kalikasan PNE.
According to reports, Lafayette Philippines, Inc., a Philippine subsidiary of Lafayette Mining Ltd., an Australian firm operating the controversial Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Project, regarded libelous the NGO’s statements quoted as “engaging in the illicit sale of Philippine natural resources,” being “deceitful in reporting its production,” “epitomize(s) irresponsible mining,” “causing fish kills” and causing various ailments in the community.
The mining form was quoted in reports saying, “Their brand of irresponsible and unprincipled advocacy employed a systematic pattern of lies and hate-mongering to pressure the government to close down the company.”
“We are taking this unprecedented defensive measure to protect the company and the thousands of people we employ directly and indirectly, and to force these anti-mining groups to be a positive force through a moral, honest, and responsible advocacy,” said Lafayette president Carlos Dominguez.
The company is also preparing to file a similar case against other groups, including a Rapu-Rapu Island resident who flew to Melbourne and distributed anti-Lafayette handouts to the company’s bankers. Bautista identified the resident as Tony Casitas, the president of the Sagip-Isla, a multi-sectoral organization committed to oppose and fight the operations of the mining company Lafayette Philippines, Inc. and other mining activities on the island. He said Casitas, went to Australia with Quimpo in June to do lobbying work against the company.
Dominguez said, “These groups want Bicol region’s biggest investor and job creator to close down under the guise of protecting the environment.”
Dominguez admitted the anti-mining advocates succeeded last year in making people believe that the company caused a mercury spill off the coast of Sorsogon, when the company allegedly does not use mercury at all.
In 2006, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) temporarily suspended the Discharge Permit of the foreign-funded P1.4-billion Rapu-Rapu polymetallic Project after the two mine spills on Oct. 11 and 31, 2006 that allegedly caused cyanide contamination and fish kill in nearby waters. The suspension order was based on a joint investigation by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) and the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), both under DENR.
On the other hand, Quimpo said that her group’s statements are “duly-supported as they are by no less than the findings of the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission (RRFFC), which President Arroyo herself convened following the public outrage.”
Among the RRFFC’s findings was that Lafayette Philippines Inc. (LPI) is guilty of irresponsible mining having started operations prior to the completion of environmental protection infrastructures; that the LPI Group violated 11 out of the 29 conditionalities in its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC); and that RRPI has been operating without an ECC. Despite the findings, DENR secretary Angelo Reyes ordered on February 8, 2006 the lifting of the suspension, saying the company has fully complied with all the conditions set by the DENR.
Quimpo said that their group has always referred to the RRFFC’s findings and recommendations to support their calls to stop the mining operations on the island.
In fact, added Quimpo, it was the RRFFC which noted that Lafayette’s project epitomized irresponsible mining and greed for profit – as shown in their violation of 10 of 29 conditions of its Environmental Compliance Certificate, anomalies in their tax payments, and more importantly, their insensitivity to the suffering of the Rapu-Rapu folk, who continue to live in extreme poverty,” she said.
But instead of charging the RRFFC chaired by Sorsogon bishop Arturo Bastes, Lafayette “was keen on harassing us,“ she said.
Despite the charges, Kalikasan PNE’s Bautista said they will not be cowed by “the threat of a costly and lengthy lawsuit” against their member NGO.
“This move to harass CEC-Phils will only generate more popular opposition to Lafayette Mining on the provincial, national and international levels,” said Bautista, noting that many of their networks and allies have sent in their messages of support.
He added that they will “face this libel suit in the legal arena and beyond,” and will continue their information dissemination campaign and call to “close the Lafayette mine in Rapu-Rapu, uphold a mining moratorium on the island, and work for genuine and sustainable program for the people’s livelihood and welfare based on genuine land reform.”(Bulatlat.com)