(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
The power of the truth to set free the public from ignorance, indifference and apathy is what arouses public outcry and brings about civil and political action for human rights. Journalists, priests and pastors are frequently giving voice to the long oppressed aspirations of the indigenous people and it provokes violent retaliation. Another outspoken journalist, Christopher Guarin, 41, publisher and editor-in-chief of the daily tabloid "Tatak" was killed in General Santos city in the Southern Philippines last week. He had foretold his own assassination on the radio the morning he was set upon by gunmen and shot dead as he fled wounded from his car saving his wife and child.
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists and broadcasters. As many as 150 have been killed since the fall of Marcos and the restoration of democracy in 1986. Chris Guarin is the 10th media person murdered since president Aquino won the election in May 2010. It’s dangerous, deadly, and difficult to expose the injustice and exploitation of the poor and denounce the environmental destruction that causes much death and destruction as seen in the smashing of villages by floods and rampaging logs.
The recent slogan of the Department of Tourism – "It's more fun in the Philippines" has got it wrong. Everyone is asking and guessing what is more fun, life or death? Sex tourism is no fun at all for the hundreds of thousands of hapless trafficked and exploited women and children and it's no fun to be receiving death threats for speaking and writing the truth. As a writer and journalist myself, I have received a few death threats in my time and it's no fun what-so-ever. Nor is the culture of impunity that allows the killers to go free since local and corrupt politicians and big corporate interests are suspected to be the masterminds behind the killings.
Pastors and priests, the prophets and practitioners of justice and the social teachings of the Church are not spared. Father Fausto "Pops" Tentorio was brutally murdered last 17 October 2011 in his Church compound. With his brave and courageous fellow missionaries of the PIME Italian missionary society, he defended human rights and stood with the indigenous people of North Cotabato in Mindanao against giant international and local mining companies. The indigenous people see the corporations ready to rip and tear the forests and river valleys apart to get at the mineral deposits on their ancestral lands. Most of these mineral riches, which belong to the people, will go to the corporations, a tiny 5% portion to the national government but a big share to the wealthy families and business people. The local government officials who sign the permits will get their payoff too.
There are few, if any benefits, for the people who have true ancestral claims to the mineral rich lands that are loaded with gold, silver, nickel, copper and many more worth an estimated US$840 billion. Former President Gloria Arroyo's government gave generous incentives and tax holidays to foreign mining corporations and their local mining partners, an open invitation to gouge and exploit.
She gave mining corporations an income tax holiday for 4 to 8 years and a special low 5% tax rate when the 8 years are up. They also get tax-free importation of equipments and exemption from paying the 12% value-added taxes. There are exemptions from wharfage dues, and lots more privileges that Filipinos cannot enjoy. The minerals can be exported even without refinement and processing. It's a virtual give away of the national wealth. In stark contrast, the Australian government has just passed a law that imposes a whopping 30% mining tax on all corporations extracting minerals in Australia.
Great are the riches at the end of the mining rainbow for the international corporations in the Philippines with their local cronies if they can defeat the fierce opposition of the indigenous people supported by the church and the non-government people's rights organizations.
Last week the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) identified a big businessman and a senior police inspector as the masterminds in the killing of Father Tentorio, according to an arrested hit-man. The slain priest and many others have given their lives in the struggle for the rights of the people and the environment. END