Responding to the Cry of the Earth
By Sr. Anne Carbon, SSC
Sr. Anne Carbon is the new leader of the Sisters of St. Columban. She is from Cagayan de Oro, and has previously served on missions in Peru and Pakistan. She is now based in Ireland
Working with the Subanen people in the southern Philippines granted me the privilege of immersing myself in a culture that embodies purity, sustainability, and a profound connection with nature. The Subanen community practices the use of natural fertilizers and adheres to an annual crop planting tradition, driven by their belief in the necessity for the land to rejuvenate.
The arrival of settlers made the majority of the Subanen population succumb to the temptation of selling their ancestral lands. Consequently, the newcomers introduced chemical-based farming techniques and increased the frequency of crop cultivation to two or three times a year. The consequences were devastating. The government’s deforestation efforts and rampant illegal logging decimated the region’s biodiversity and triggered severe soil erosion during the rainy season. As a result, agricultural yields dwindled, leading to widespread food scarcity, malnutrition, and the tragic loss of innocent lives, particularly among infants.
Since the 1990s, a group of dedicated Columban Sisters has been tirelessly championing the cause of the Subanen people in the face of mining activities. In my role as a nurse at a local health center at the time, I had the opportunity to immunize children across numerous villages and converse about their deep-rooted connection to the land and the encroachment of foreign mining companies. By the time these companies sought to visit, accompanied by government representatives, we had already gathered thousands of signatures to thwart their endeavors.
Despite promises of infrastructure development, the Subanen land was left barren, water sources were contaminated, the rivers ran dry, and communities suffered from the effects of cyanide poisoning. Unfazed by the underhanded tactics employed by mining companies, including company name changes and bribing individuals to advocate on their behalf, we remained steadfast and resolute towards our cause. For 15 years, we protested, picketed, lobbied, wrote letters, signed petitions, embarked on hunger strikes, and even travelled to the headquarters of the Rio Tinto Group in London.
When a woman assumed leadership of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), she recognized the inadequacy of existing laws in safeguarding the rights of indigenous communities and protecting the environment. Through her efforts, new standards were implemented, effectively halting mining applications. However, the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejected her appointment amidst issues over her controversial policies and alleged incompetence. This has led to the former President lifting the mining moratorium, thus presenting us with renewed and formidable challenges.
Based on my experiences, I firmly believe that education and networking play pivotal roles in successful advocacy. Heeding the Pope’s call to respond to the cries of both the Earth and the poor, it is imperative that we unite and fervently advocate for the future of our precious planet, the only home we share.