MANILA, Philippines - A Filipino priest has won the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for his campaign to protect Mindoro island and its people.
The Goldman Environmental Foundation named Fr. Edwin Gariguez as one of 6 winners worldwide who were recognized for their efforts to protect the environment and their communities.
The foundation said Gariguez is leading a grassroots movement against a large-scale nickel mine to protect Mindoro Island's biodiversity and its indigenous people.
The other winners are Ikal Angelei of Kenya, Ma Jun of China, Evgenia Chirikova of Russia, American Caroline Cannon, and Sofia Gatica of Argentina.
The Goldman Environmental Prize, which now in its 23rd year, is awarded annually to grassroots environmental heroes from each of the world's 6 inhabited continental regions, according to the foundation. It is considered as the largest award for grassroots activism with an individual cash prize of US $150,000.
Thsi year's winners are awarded the prize April 16 at the San Francisco Opera House.
Another ceremony will be held at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. on April 18.
Gariguez, who is known as "Father Edu," has been serving as a pastor of the Mangyan Mission Catholic Church in Mindoro.
He is also executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Philippine Catholic Church.
"Motivated by his religious beliefs and a strong desire to uphold the will of the people to protect their environment, Father Edu co-founded the Alliance Against Mining (ALAMIN), a broad coalition of Mindoro residents, elected officials, civil society groups, church leaders and indigenous peoples who oppose mining on the island. He is not opposed to mining per se, but believes measures to safeguard the environment, protect indigenous communities’ rights and ensure a fair distribution of economic benefits should be required," the Goldman Environmental Foundation said.
Gariguez was key in uniting thousands of indigenous peoples, farmers and local and provincial political leaders in numerous protests against mining on the island.
"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," the foundation said.
It added that in 2002, the local government responded to strong public opposition to mining by passing an island-wide moratorium that required , Norwegian mining company 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," the foundation said.
"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," it added.
"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,'" it added.
"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," it added.