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Today is a red-letter day for grassroots mining activists around the world: Father Edwin Gariguez is awarded the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize for his work to stop irresponsible mining development on Mindoro Island in the Philippines.

I’m looking forward to seeing Fr. Edwin receive his award at the San Francisco Opera House this evening, along with 5 other amazing Prize recipients from around the world. (By the way, if you can’t be there, make sure you watch this video clip about Fr. Edwin, narrated by Robert Redford.)

Father Edu, as he is affectionately known, is being recognized by the Goldman Prize for working to defend the Indigenous communities and biological diversity of Mindoro from a giant nickel mine proposed by Intex, a Norwegian mining company.

The mine would be built in two key biodiversity areas, and within one of Mindoro’s major watersheds, which provides drinking and irrigation water to many lowland communities. If developed, the nickel mine would destroy vast swaths of tropical forests, and would produce several million tons of toxic waste. Mindoro’s Mangyan Indigenous communities would also be hurt by the mine, as the proposed mining area is within their ancestral land. As Fr. Edu has said, “For the indigenous Mangyan people living on Mindoro Island, the struggle to protect our threatened ecology is a matter of survival.”

Fr. Edu is a remarkable individual who is motivated by his religious beliefs and strong sense of social justice.

For over a decade, he worked to organize and lead a diverse, grassroots coalition of Indigenous communities, farmers, residents, religious leaders, students, and elected officials opposing the mine. He did so while facing considerable personal risks, including threats and harassment. In 2009, Fr. Edu put his life on the line by leading an 11-day hunger strike, which finally persuaded the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to conduct an investigation into the mine’s environmental and social violations, which in turn led to DENR indefinitely revoking Intex’s permit to mine. 

Thus far, the mine is on indefinite hold, but with metals prices at historic highs, Fr. Edu and his colleagues worry that mining interests won’t stay away too long from Mindoro.

Fr. Edu points out that 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 Prize is the largest award in the world for grassroots environmentalists. Earthworks is proud to be one of the organizations that nominates candidates to the Goldman Prize. Every year, we work hard to prepare our nominations for incredible individuals, knowing that the odds of one of our nominees winning is slim: only one environmental hero per region can win, and the Goldman Prize team receives dozens of nominations per region. Fr. Edu’s victory this year is even more gratifying to us, knowing that our nomination helped bring his remarkable story to the Goldman Prize’s attention.

I’ll be going to the Goldman Prize ceremony this evening with a huge smile on my face. I’ll cheer as loudly as I can – on behalf of everyone working to ensure that mineral development does not come at the cost of community rights and environmental protection. As 2005 Goldman Prize winner and colleague Stephanie Roth says, “Fr. Edwin Gariguez’ struggles are the shared struggles of those who fight destructive mining all around the world.”

Salamat, Fr. Edu, and congratulations on this well-deserved recognition.

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