An ecumenical group of Catholic and Protestant bishops said at the end of a five-day gathering that US military personnel stationed in the Philippines and some US companies have caused harm to both host Filipino communities and the environment.
The Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum (EBF), formed in 1984 among Catholic and Protestant prelates to protest the dictatorship of then-Ferdinand Marcos, said at the concluding day of their summit here that the US “has not stopped in their intervention in the internal affairs of the Philippines and other sovereign nations.”
“We are condemning this policy of the United States in continuing to dictate in the affairs of our government,” retired Caloocan Catholic Bishop Deogracias S. Yniguez told the BusinessMirror shortly before they finalized the joint statement they would be presenting to local media reporters.
Yniguez is the co-chairman of the EBF, along with Bishop Felixberto L. Calang of the Cagayan de Oro City diocese of the Iglesia Filipino Independiente, or the Aglipayan Church.
Yniguez said the statement would also collectively demand for the Philippine government to review its relation and dealings with the US government in light of what the EBF said were repeated reports and complaints of abuses caused by US military forces, and even by Filipino military personnel providing security to US mining and agricultural plantation companies.
In its statement, the EBF said it was “calling the attention of the Philippine government and the representatives of the USA in the Philippines that serious harm is daily being caused to the people in the Philippines and to our environment by the activities of the US military and US-linked transnational corporations.”
“We offer as recent evidence these examples, which we heard through personal testimony,” the statement said, as it enumerated testimonies of plantation workers of an American-owned pineapple plantation outside General Santos City, residents and local officials of a mining company in Pantukan, Compostela Valley, and the women in towns and cities where US troops were stationed.
Plantation workers, for instance, told bishops who visited them on field on Tuesday that they were hired on contractual arrangement “with low wages and little security.”
“Its agricultural practices are damaging the environment and endangering people and the land by using GMO [genetically modified organisms] technology, which has been insufficiently tested on human beings and is strongly questioned by reputable scientists.”
The operation of the American-owned mining company, the EBF said, “is causing serious loss of land, work and income to small-scale miners in the places where it operates.”
On the US military forces stationed in various places outside the US, the EBF said “this presence has various impacts on the local population, not least by exploiting local women and girls for the recreation of US personnel.”
“We conclude that the above abuses by business organizations are not isolated mistakes but systemic harm done to the people,” the group said, adding that the practice stemmed “from conducting businesses in ways that are short-sighted and mainly profit-based without long-term vision that considers the common good of the local people or of the nation.”
The EBF sent many of its 44 participants, including visiting Catholic and Protestant bishops from Canada, Sri Lanka, South India, Norway and Australia, to the Pantukan mining area of an American company, the pineapple plantation in Polomolok, South Cotabato, and to the alleged US facilities in General Santos City.
The other bishops were unable to meet with this city’s Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, but the EBF extended its “full support” to the earlier position of the mayor rejecting the purported plan of the regional office here of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to rent US spy drones to take aerial photographs and visual mapping of the areas damaged in December 2012 by Typhoon Pablo.
The DENR later belied the story and clarified that it was using the remote-controlled miniature drones developed by the Ateneo de Manila University.
The EBF urged the Philippines “to stand firmly on the principle of sovereignty and move toward excluding all US military activity in the land and sea, saying that the repeated rejection by Davao City to any joint military exercises should be emulated.
The EBF asked US and other foreign companies “to abide by the principles and legal restrictions in their countries of origin.”
Yniguez also told BusinessMirror that the Philippine government “must review its position and policies relating to the US military forces by the mere fact that the nation already removed the bases by Senate action.”
“It should respect that move,” he said.
Bishop Dhiloraj of the Anglican Church of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, told the BusinessMirror that he found “inspiration in the move of the EBF in confronting the interventionist action of the US.”
“I feel connected with all the people here,” he said. “If we analyze how bishops here are reacting to it, I can also see similar scenes in my country, where the US is accusing and polarizing its relation with my government.”
“The US and my government are not in good terms, because how can it accuse my country of human-rights abuses when it is committing the same complaints of human-rights abuses in the other countries of the world?” he said.
He said his government has since issued a policy of seeking amicable relations with other countries “that do not have good relations with the US.”
He said the US may not look approvingly at Sri lanka’s foreign relation with Iran and Libya, “but our government is trying to send the US a message.”
“I felt inspired, and it is encouraging to note how the Catholic Church [in the Philippines] is responding and trying to find a solution,” he said.