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Edwin Gariguez

2012 Goldman Prize Winner

Edwin Gariguez

Drilling & Mining
Islands & Island Nations
The Philippines

A Catholic priest in the Philippines, Father Edwin Gariguez led a grassroots movement against an illegal nickel mine to protect Mindoro Island’s biodiversity and its indigenous people.

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Meet Edwin Gariguez

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A Catholic priest in the Philippines, Father Edwin Gariguez led a grassroots movement against an illegal nickel mine to protect Mindoro Island’s biodiversity and its indigenous people.

Open Pit Mining Threatens the Philippines

Mindoro is a major island in the northwestern Philippines. Spanning 11,000 square kilometers in area, the island is home to several species of endangered plants and animals, as well as tribes of Mangyan people who have lived sustainably from the island’s natural resources for generations. Mindoro also houses large deposits of nickel, an in-demand metal used for manufacturing stainless steel, among other things.

In the late 1990s, Norwegian mining company Intex (then known as Mindex) proposed an open-pit nickel mine on Mindoro. The proposed mine area is near two key biodiversity areas and within the watershed that feeds the island’s four major rivers, which provide drinking water to lowland communities and irrigation for Mindoro’s rice fields. The Intex mine would use a process known as acid leaching to access the nickel ore, producing several million tons of toxic waste, contaminating the island’s water resources and destroying the tropical forests. Mindoro’s Mangyan indigenous communities would also be heavily impacted by the mine, as the proposed mining area is within their ancestral land. During an exploration phase of the project, indigenous burial grounds were desecrated, in violation of laws protecting indigenous peoples.

Despite broad public opposition to the mine and extensive laws in place to protect against mining in watersheds and indigenous areas, the permit was shepherded through—likely by a corruption-prone national government supporting mining as one of the most lucrative and growing industries in the country.

A Voice for the Community

Edwin Gariguez, affectionately known as “Father Edu,” is a Catholic priest, and pastor of the Mangyan Mission Catholic Church on Mindoro Island. Originally from Quezon Province on the island of Luzon, Gariguez has lived and worked on Mindoro for decades. He serves as executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the Philippine Catholic Church.

Motivated by his religious convictions and a strong desire to uphold the will of the people to protect their environment, Gariguez 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 supports measures to safeguard the environment, protect indigenous communities’ rights, and ensure a fair distribution of economic benefits.

Uniting thousands of indigenous peoples, farmers, and local and provincial political leaders, Gariguez and his ALAMIN coalition led Mindoro communities in numerous protests. Undeterred by threats of violence and verbal harassment from mining officials and the military—and reeling from the loss of a colleague at ALAMIN who was murdered because of his activism—Gariguez went on to broaden the grassroots movement beyond Mindoro.

Gaining Anti-mining Momentum

In 2002, the local government responded to strong public opposition by passing an island-wide moratorium that required 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 Gariguez to take his fight overseas, traveling to Europe to address Norwegian parliamentarians and Intex shareholders. In conjunction with a Norwegian NGO, Gariguez filed a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Due to the negative international attention that Gariguez brought on the mining project, nervous Intex shareholders began asking detailed questions about the mine. At the same time, Gariguez 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 Indonesian 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. 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.”

Meanwhile, the Philippine president, who took office in June 2010, stated that he will fight corruption and take a comprehensive look at mining. Gariguez has made it clear that he will sustain pressure on the government to follow through with its pledges.

Father Gariguez is now Executive Secretary of the Catholic humanitarian organization, Caritas Philippines.

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