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Canadian parliament asked to probe role of mining companies in PH killings

MANILA, Philippines—The Canadian government is being asked to look into the role of Canadian mining corporations in the extrajudicial killings of environmental and human rights defenders in the Philippines.

Member of Parliament of Edmonton Strathcona Heather McPherson filed a petition in the Canadian House of Commons on Thursday, Feb. 25, accusing Canadian mining companies of being “irresponsible” in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world.

“Canadian mining companies are perpetrating quite incredibly serious human rights abuses and environmental degradation,” most of them against indigenous populations in the Philippines and other countries, McPherson said in a press conference after the filing.

In her petition, McPherson called out the Ombudsperson created by the Canadian government in 2018 to look into the reported human rights abuses.

“With no ability to compel testimony from witnesses, with no independence… and with no investigations conducted into the abuses, the Ombudsperson, despite the mandate and a budget, is just a figurehead,” McPherson said.

‘Canada is implicated’

The parliamentary petition was based on a signature campaign started last year by MiningWatch Canada and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP-Canada) that gathered a thousand signatures from concerned Canadians.

“Canada is implicated in the rights abuses through its security assistance to the Philippines and the role that Canadian mining companies play in the country,” MiningWatch Canada and ICHRP-Canada said.

MiningWatch Canada’s Catherine Coumans in a press conference after the filing said that in 2019, over half of all reported killings of rights defenders occurred in just two countries, the Philippines and Colombia.

“Mining was the deadliest sector with 50 defenders killed in 2019, Coumans said, citing data from international human rights organization Global Witness.

Coumans added the Canadian government must look into the operations of Canadian mining corporations in the Philippines as they function in a context of gross violation of extrajudicial killings, repression and human rights violations.

“At times, Canadian mining companies benefit from this context of oppression and impunity,” Coumans said.

OceanaGold in Nueva Vizcaya

Coumons cited OceanaGold operating in Nueva Vizcaya province she said stands accused of both human rights violations and of having degraded the environment – contaminating and depleting water resources around its copper-gold mine.

“OceanaGold faces strong and persistent opposition by local indigenous people in the village of Didipio, who are supported by their mayor and governor, as well as by provincial and national organizations,” she said.

Coumans added that many locals and their supporters abroad who are opposed to OceanaGold’s operations had been associated with the New People’s Army, including herself.  

Coumans also recalled the villagers had been violently dispersed, beaten and arrested for blockading the mine site when OceanaGold’s 25-year mining permit expired in June 2019.

ICHRP Canada’s Bern Jagunos for her part criticized the Canadian government’s role on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Jagunos said the Canadian government declines to speak publicly against the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, in violation of its own guidelines on supporting human rights defenders especially those who are in grave danger.

“Our organization, ICHRP Canada, has repeatedly requested the Canadian embassy in Manila to meet with defenders who are red-tagged and getting death threats, to visit political prisoners and indigenous communities under attack for their resistance to mining. These are among the tools of intervention in the government’s guidelines to support human rights defenders. Such requests have been ignored.],” Jagunos said.

Jagunos also condemned Canada’s continuing support through trainings of the Philippine military she accused of perpetrating human rights violations.

“ICHRP is calling on the Canadian government to review its relations and programs in the Philippines and to apply human rights criteria in making decisions on funding, bilateral relations and cooperation programs with the Philippine government,” she said.  # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

COVID-19 takes toll among Fil-Canadians

By Ysh Cabana

TORONTO, Canada–Several people were reported to have died from coronavirus in Canada, including Filipinos.

With the Canada death toll at 1,580 deaths, according to Public Health Agency of Canada as of April 19, the Filipino community is hard hit.

Many Filipino-Canadians are working in the health sector in roles including nurses, care aide, facility maintenance and as “front-line essential” workers during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Marie Christine Bacalocos Mandegarian, 54, succumbed to the virus on April 15 less than 24 hours after testing positive.

“I am a little bit scared, but duty calls,” she wrote on her Facebook account last month. “I can’t stay home, I’m a healthcare worker” she said. For 31 years, Mandegarian, worked as a personal support worker at Altamont Care Community, a long-term care center in Scarborough, Toronto.

Mandegarian was the first health worker in Toronto and second in the province of Ontario to die of COVID-19.

On April 9, Brampton Civic Hospital mourned the loss of their environmental services associate Ronald V. David. Uncle Ronald, 58, as he was fondly called, is believed to be the first known Ontario health-care worker to die after getting sick with the highly contagious respiratory disease.

Health-care staff make up about 11% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the province but make up only about three% of Ontario’s population.

The province is also reporting outbreaks of COVID-19 at long-term care homes where nearly half of total coronavirus-linked deaths in Canada happen according to chief public health officer Teresa Tam.

“We know that close to half of the deaths that we’re tracking are linked to long-term care facilities, but that ratio is actually different in different provinces,” Tam told reporters during her daily ministerial update on the virus.

Other Filipino victims of COVID-19 in Canada include Victoria Salvan, 64, who as a patient attendant. She immigrated to Canada from the Phillipines, and worked with senior citizens for 25 years.

Salvan, or Vicky to her colleagues, passed away April 17 just weeks away from retirement. She is survived by her husband and two children. One of Salvan’s sons said that she cared deeply for the elders in her care working overtime up to her final days of work at the understaffed Grace Dart Extended Care Centre, where nearly a quarter of the residents have been infected with COVID-19, according to public health records.

Warlito Valdez, 47, had been a residential worker at Pendleton House run by the Richmond Society for Community Living helping people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Valdez died April 5 despite being in self-isolation following a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. According to a GoFundMe page that Valdez’s co-workers started, he was a “tireless provider” who worked multiple jobs. His wife Flozier Tabangin, who also works as a frontline care worker, described her husband as “a hero”

According to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the total number of COVID-19 cases among overseas Filipinos across 42 countries rose to 990. The number of overseas Filipino fatalities is now at 143 as of its April 20 report.

“The DFA remains committed to ensure the welfare of our people and stands ready to provide assistance to the COVID-19 positive Filipino nationals as needed,” it said.

A number of others continue to fight for their livelihood where Covid-19 is believed to have been on an outbreak making a hard job perilous.

In the province of Manitoba, the first presumptive case of COVID-19 is a woman in her 40s from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. The province says she was exposed to the virus through travel to the Philippines.

More than 850,00 people of Filipino descent are living in Canada, with settlement primarily in major urban areas, according to the 2016 census.

The country’s supply of health care workers is impacted by government’s reliance on immigration making the Filipino community one of the major sources of Canada’s health care providers who may be registered nurses or unregulated workers, such as nursing aides and orderlies.

Some Filipino workers, however, have raised concerns of being discriminated against and unprotected from the virus due to a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

In the province of Alberta, Cargill Meat Processing Plant is vital to a bourgeoning immigrant community of Filipinos. Workers there tell Canadian media of poor working conditions and fears of viral transmission in an overcrowded “elbow-to-elbow” facility.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups, including Tulayan Filipino Diaspora Society, Sulong UBC, and Migrante BC, have penned an open letter calling on all levels of the Canadian government for “increased and timely resources” to be available for Filipino workers.

“The general feedback we are getting from our community is the lack of accessible information regarding the pandemic in Filipino languages. While we are doing our best as a community to translate and offer support to each other at this difficult time, we would like to ensure that Filipinos in Canada are getting direct and accurate information from the proper health authorities,” the groups said in the letter. #

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This report also appeared on The Philippine Reporter.