Monday, June 11, 2012


The issue of lack of access to justice by the poor and vulnerable communities in the Philippines has shown its ugly face to me when I visited Marinduque a week ago. I accompanied a lawyer friend who was handling one of the cases (torts and damages) filed by a local community against Marcopper Mining Corporation.

The case arose out of an environmental disaster that struck in the 90's: a landslide of mine tailings from the mining corporation's dam went to the Mogpog River. Since river systems are interconnected, the incident affected even the Boac River and nearby waterways. To help you imagine the extent of the disaster, imagine a heart (well, that's how Marinduque looks like on a map) with its veins and arteries (those are the polluted rivers), the heart is pumping toxin into itself and spreading it all over the body.

Scary? Yes, it is. Especially if you were to consider the fact that the entity responsible for it has gone scot-free. Well, at least that's how I look at it --- the case against Marcopper has been pending since 2001 --- at the pre-trial stage! The reason for the delay? I don't know but 11 years is surely a long time! Also, I was told, Marcopper is only a shell of a corporation with no assets anymore --- the community will have to go against its successor-in-interest --- whoever that is! From my friend I also learned that there is a lack of lawyers willing to handle the case because of the time and effort it would take to travel from Manila to Marinduque.

Indeed, we had to take a 4-hour bus ride from Manila to the RORO port and a 4-hour RORO trip (once daily! If you miss it, you wait another day!) to Cawit Port in Marinduque. We arrived at 3a.m. and had no place to go (there was no funding to our accommodation) so we slept at the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) waiting area/office until 6a.m. to freshen up at the PPA's comfort room (we were not able to take a bath!). How could a high-paying lawyer want to be ina situation like this? Well, that lawyer, like my friend, should have a genuine concern for their client's interest to be able to withstand the travel to and from Marinduque.

The only reason I went with my friend is because I wanted to go to Marinduque out of curiousity --- it was one of those Philippine Islands that I have not yet visited.

Access to justice. What does it mean? For the communities in Marinduque, it is but a dream. For it to be real, the people must wake up and demand for government action. Demand for "justice" not "just tiis".*

Unfortunately, our government, too, is sleeping (or pretending to be asleep). With our present government's policy on mining I am afraid that the Marcopper incident may happen again. Our President should visit the communities where mining companies operate so that he can see for himself the damage caused by such activities. The community where we went was once a farming community. They were planting sweet, juicy pineapples, among others. Now, no pineapple can grow on their land. What grows on the land are bananas (the kind with the many seeds which is neither fit for selling nor consumption if you're a picky eater) and "gabi." To our President, try to eat the banana and the "gabi". Go there not in your yacht or in your Presidential watercraft. Go there the way we did so you can see for yourself the effort it takes for us to defend these communities from the mining companies whose activities you encourage.

Why protect the mining companies, Mr. President? They are not your principals (or are they?) The people are your principals. It is them that you must protect. It is them that you must favor. If you were to ask me, this is a case of betrayal of public trust --- an impeachable offense?

*"tiis" - suffer in silence or endure without complaining.