More than 8,000 people marched to the mining site of SNPDC during an island-wide protest. photo: SAM/Sibuyan ISLE

More than 8,000 people marched to the mining site of SNPDC during an island-wide protest. photo: SAM/Sibuyan ISLE

Sibuyan, dubbed the Galapagos of Asia, is a small island in the central Philippines of just 44,500 hectares. Approximately one third of it is a protected area of environmental interest. It is a biodiversity hotspot with flora and fauna threatened by extinction. It is the location of the world’s densest forest and the Philippines’ cleanest inland body of water. Ever since mining was proposed on the island, there has been widespread opposition because of the potential ecological impacts, led by Sibuyanons Against Mining/Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment Inc. (SAM/Sibuyan ISLE) and the Catholic Church.

On October 3 2007 environmental activist and municipal councillor, Hon. Armin Rios-Marin, was shot dead during a protest against mining on the island.28 Hundreds of people had gathered in the town of San Fernando that day to rally against the activities of several mining companies in the area and the issuance of a special permit to cut 69,709 trees granted to subsidiary companies of Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation (SNPDC), All Acacia Resources Inc. (AARI) and SunPacific Resources Philippines Inc. (SRPI).

A confrontation occurred between the protestors and Mario Kingo, the head of security for SNPDC. At the time, BHP Billiton had an agreement to purchase 500,000 tonnes of nickel from SNPDC in exchange for a loan of US$250,000 for exploration activities.

Kingo was armed, despite a total gun ban imposed by the government’s Commission on Elections ahead of local elections. Witnesses report that Marin tried to disarm Kingo and the resulting altercation led to the fatal shooting of Marin.

Kingo, now charged with murder, is presently in jail and the family of Armin Marin reported that a representative of SNPDC offered them money in exchange for dropping the charges against Kingo.30 But the family stressed that they want to see justice done, and this will only happen if mining ventures pull out of the island. Amazingly, 85 residents, including teachers, farmers and church workers, who joined the protest have been counter-charged with the crime of “grave coercion”.

The killing of Marin has further galvanised public opinion against mining in Sibuyan, with residents and environmental NGOs now calling for the complete withdrawal of mining firms and the cancellation of all exploration and mining permits on Sibuyan Island.

During BHP Billiton’s Australian AGM in 2008, after an intervention by a local leader from Sibuyan, Company CEO Marius Kloppers said that “All our supply agreements are consistent with all legal requirements. You are correct in saying that we got an ore agreement with the local party. It seems to have contraventions.  That ore supply agreement is indeed suspended and we are not taking any ore from that party. We obviously are always aligned wherever we operate that justice is served and laws are obeyed.”

Further, Kloppers said that, “We do have responsibility to select responsible suppliers.” However, this has not stopped the company making further off-take agreements on other islands on the Philippines. Given the dire record of mining in the Philippines, and its notoriety for human rights abuses and corruption, has the company done the necessary due diligence to ensure that its local partners are operating to the standards to which BHP Billiton claims to adhere?  Are there similar tragedies waiting to happen on other islands?

The Sibuyan killing demonstrates the importance of applying social, environmental and human rights standards to joint venture partners, suppliers and contractors, however difficult. A vital challenge for BHP Billiton is how to ensure all partners and actors in the supply chain meet the highest standards of corporate behaviour.