An anti-mining nun in Davao City was the recipient of the 2015 Weimar Award for Human Rights.
More than a personal recognition, Sr. Stella Matutina said the award acknowledges the collective sacrifices of all freedom and equality fighters and environment defenders in the face of a systematic effort to limit democratic space and security threats.
“This highlights the situation of Mindanao and the Philippines in general — where the poor, the farmers, the indigenous peoples, the human rights activists and defenders of the environment endure harassments and face risks and deaths,” said the 47-year-old Benedictine nun.
The Award paper said Matutina was being recognized for “her engagement, despite threats to her life, for the rights of residents of the Philippine Island of Mindanao.”
The Weimar City Council said Matutina “engages herself extraordinarily for the rights of the native population, despite being exposed to permanent threats to her safety due to her engagements.”
“Being a daughter of a poor family in Mindanao, my heart will always be for the poor and the victims of abuses. My life will always be dedicated to them,” she said.
She was always vocal against the conversion of farmlands to plantation crops like jathropa, pineapples, Cavendish bananas, and oil palm. She has also led the campaign against the entry of large-scale mining companies in the mountains of Southern Mindanao.
In 2012, Matutina was labeled a ‘fake nun’ by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines stationed in Davao Oriental. She was accused of being a member of the New People’s Army, a communist guerrilla movement.
Around this time, Matutina has been active in consultations with communities in areas being eyed by large-scale mining companies, the same areas where soldiers are massively deployed.
In 2009, armed soldiers detained Matutina and two other anti-mining activists in Cateel town. Before that, Matutina conducted an environmental education with the residents of an upland village.
The murdered Italian priest Fr. Fausto Tentorio was also called a rebel before he was killed in Arakan town in North Cotabato in 2011.
Recently, Matutina was among the number of community leaders, church officials, human rights workers who were charged with kidnapping, human trafficking and illegal detention by the police and military. The complaint stemmed from the displacement of tribal people from the hinterland communities of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.
“These are proof that helping the oppressed, the poor, the abused comes with great risks,” said Matutina.
The Weimar Awards, supported by aid organization Missio , will confer the recognition to Matutina in December. She will also receive 2,500 Euros as cash prize.
Matutina , however, said the cash award will be spent to further advocacies of the organizations she is representing.
The nun is currently the chairperson of the Sisters Association of Mindanao (Samin) and the secretary general of the environment protection group Panalipdan Southern Mindanao.
In 2012 and 2014, Samin, composed of around 350 Catholic nuns all over Mindanao region, was among those who joined the Manilakbayan Mindanao People’s Caravan for Peace, Justice, and Human Rights.
“The Filipina nun pits herself against serious human rights violations in her homeland that occur in connection with the gold extraction of international companies in the Philippine Island of Mindanao,” said the Weimar City Council. “The number of violations against the human rights of indigenous peoples of Mindanao, caused by military and paramilitary units, have increased dramatically in the past two years with over one hundred killed.”
Since 1995, the Weimar Award honors individuals or groups who are engaged in the freedom and equality of all human beings, the prevention and condemnation of genocide, the right to free speech of individuals to free information, the participation of human beings in the public affairs of their states, the right of assembly and the right of organization as well as the implementation of free, secret and regularly recurring elections, the respect and preservation of political, ethnic, cultural and religious rights of minorities.”
The award is also for those who are “helping people persecuted for political, gender, religious or racial reasons, and who open for them possibilities of human flourishing in their homes or in the countries which are their new homes, the repeal of the death penalty, minimizing arms and armament exports into areas of crisis and to non-democratically legitimate governments, the implementation of political and ethical principles that show the way for the future, and the rights of victims of war and other victims of violence.” | Jefry M. Tupas, NewsDesk