The human rights impact of mining transition minerals in the Philippines

IUCN NL partner organisation Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) works with its partners and members in various locations in the Philippines, where Indigenous peoples and local communities are faced with large-scale mining operations that threaten their lives and livelihood. The organisation has been documenting and reporting issues surrounding mining in the Philippines for almost two decades now and is deeply concerned about the effects the explosively growing demand for metals and minerals will have on the country.

The Philippines is one of the world’s most richly endowed mineral resources countries. The country is estimated to hold mineral deposits worth at least $1 trillion, mostly copper, gold, nickel, aluminum and chromite. At least 9 million hectares of the country’s total land area of 30 million hectares are known to hold high mineral deposits. As of July 2021, nearly 764,000 hectares are covered by mining concessions[1]Source:

Globally, more than half of the mining required for the energy transition is located in Indigenous peoples’ territories[2]Source: This is also the case in the Philippines[3]Source : In Tampakan in the Philippines, for example, Indigenous communities are resisting the opening of South-East Asia’s largest copper and gold mine in a vulnerable river basin.  And on Palawan Island, nickel mining is causing deforestation and pollution in Indigenous territories.

The Tampakan copper-gold mine: a huge mine with a huge impact

The Tampakan mining project is situated in the south of Mindanao, about 50 km north of General Santos City. The project seeks to exploit one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits. It is estimated that the mine would yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per annum over 17 years[4]Source :

Tampakan will be the largest copper-gold mining project in South-East Asia. It will cover four provinces, six watersheds, five ancestral domains and 8,000 hectares of forest, including over 2,000 hectares of primary forest and 4,000 hectares of secondary forest. Furthermore, it would impact about 40,000 hectares of prime agricultural land and at least 20,000 farming households.

A key area of concern regarding the Tampakan project is the situation of Indigenous communities and the effects mining projects have on their lives. The mining project would dislocate over 1,000 Indigenous families and potentially trigger clan wars. Although the Tampakan mine has not opened yet, already 8 Indigenous people were killed.

Rising incidents of human rights violations

Next to copper and gold, the extraction of nickel, one of the essential components of electric vehicle (EV) batteries, is a particular area of concern in the Philippines. The Philippines is among the countries from which large amounts of nickel ore are extracted. Research shows a rising number of incidents of human and environmental rights violations associated with the nickel supply chains[5]Source:

Mining operations in the Philippines reportedly have direct negative effects on the health and welfare of communities. Concerns have been raised over lack of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of local communities and Indigenous peoples, loss of food security and destruction of rainforests. Environmental groups have also raised concerns regarding water contamination due to mining in the area[6]Source:

Jaybee Garganera, director of ATM, has been witnessing, documenting and reporting issues surrounding mining in the Philippines for almost two decades now. ‘Forests and watersheds are being destroyed by open pit large-scale mining projects, fragile island ecosystems are directly threatened reducing the fish catch and destroying marine ecosystems, food production is affected as lands are converted and irrigation is reduced by the huge demand of water for the large scale mining projects, explains Garganera. ‘Conflicts in mining areas also increase, affecting the peace and security in communities’, Garganera continues. ‘And more and more, environmental human rights defenders are harassed, threatened and even killed[7]More information: Women, young people and Indigenous peoples are experiencing marginalisation.’

Watch a video message by Jaybee Garganera about the impacts of mining in the Philippines and his vision on a just energy transition:

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A just energy transition

Local and Indigenous communities in countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa have been confronted for years with the major ecological and social impacts of large-scale mining. Too often mining is accompanied by human rights violations[8]See: The scale of these violations is likely to increase as a result of the explosively growing demand for metals and minerals to produce batteries, solar panels and wind turbines for the energy transition.

The majority of raw materials needed for the energy transition are extracted from the global South for meagre pay and under poor working conditions and are exported to the North. Meanwhile, communities in the South suffer from deforestation, environmental degradation, exploitation and health damage. Added to this is the disproportionate impact of climate change, caused mainly by the fossil footprint of Western countries. Women, girls and Indigenous people are particularly hard hit in this regard.

There is no doubt that we need to accelerate the transition from fossil to renewable energy. But we need to ensure that we make this shift as fairly as possible, while minimising the negative impact on people and nature.

Bottom Line!

With Bottom Line!, a coalition of Dutch and international civil society organizations is working towards a just energy transition with the least possible impact on people and nature. Both in the Netherlands and in the countries where the raw materials are extracted. 

Green Livelihoods Alliance

Through the Forests for a Just Future programme by the Green Livelihoods Alliance, we contribute to more sustainable and inclusive governance of tropical rainforests, in a way that promotes climate mitigation, human rights and preserving the livelihoods of indigenous and local communities.

More information

Maartje Hilterman
Project Leader – Forests for a Just Future