Activist priest wins prestigious environmental prize

religion | Apr 18, 2012 | By CRS

Fr. Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action-Justice and Peace (NASSA–the Philippines branch of Caritas) and a prominent activist against mining in his country, has been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. The Prize recognizes individuals for “sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.” Each winner receives an award of $150,000, the largest award in the world for grassroots environmentalists.

Fr. Edu, as he is affectionately called by most who know him, has been a longtime partner of Catholic Relief Services, along with NASSA, the Caritas agency he leads. We most recently worked together closely during the devastating flooding caused by Tropical Storm Washi this past December.

Fr. Edu co-founded the Alliance Against Mining (ALAMIN) in Mindoro, a major island in the northwestern Philippines, to oppose the opening of an open-pit nickel mine that opponents feared would cause major environmental damage. He and his organization are best known for conducting an 11-day hunger strike in 2009 in which they demanded an end to the nickel-mining project. Here is a quotation from the Goldman Prize citation:

Uniting thousands of indigenous peoples, farmers and local and provincial political leaders, Gariguez and his ALAMIN coalition led Mindoro communities in numerous protests. Undeterred by threats of violence and verbal harassment from mining officials and the military—and reeling through the loss of a colleague at ALAMIN who was murdered because of his activism—Father Edu went on to broaden the grassroots movement beyond Mindoro.

In 2002, the local government responded to strong public opposition by passing an island-wide moratorium that required Intex to stop any activities related to large-scale mining. Intex ignored the local ordinance and continued business as usual. This egregious violation of the people’s rights led Father Edu to take his fight overseas, traveling to Europe to address Norwegian parliamentarians and Intex shareholders. In conjunction with a Norwegian NGO, Father Edu filed a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

 Due to the negative international attention Father Edu brought on the mining project, nervous Intex shareholders began asking detailed questions about the mine. At the same time, Father Edu put pressure on his own government to uphold its laws and maintain better oversight of the mine project. In 2009, he led an 11-day hunger strike until the federal Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) finally agreed to conduct an investigation into the mine’s environmental and social violations. DENR indefinitely revoked Intex’s permit, halting the mine. As a result, major funders, including Goldman Sachs, divested of their funding, leading Intex to make an unsuccessful attempt to sell the $2.4 billion project in 2010. Shortly after the botched sale, Intex’s CEO resigned due to “severe setbacks.”

 Meanwhile, the Philippines’ president, who took office in June 2010, has stated that he will fight corruption and take a comprehensive look at mining. Father Edu has made it clear that he will sustain pressure on the government to follow through with its pledges.

Fr. Edu’s prize is big news in the Philippines.



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