Jun 24, 2024 Last Updated 5:50 AM, Jun 24, 2024

Church-based resistance to mining in Manggarai

In a forest clearing, a group of villagers surround a priest, listening to his sermon.


Resistance is a way of defending local people’s rights in dealing with mining policy


On September 13, 2014, Father Simon Suban Tukan, a Catholic priest from the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD) congregation, suffered injuries after experiencing violence at the hands of police officers. This happened when he and local people turned away the mining company, PT Aditya Bumi Pertambangan, which had attempted to enter Tumbak village, in Eastern Manggarai District.

More recently in January, some Catholic priests, including Father Simon and Father Marthen LP Jenarut from the Catholic diocese of Ruteng, as well as members of a Catholic student movement and other activists met with legislative members in Ruteng, the capital of Manggarai. At this meeting, they criticised the government and demanded that it ban mining in the district. They criticised and rejected the government’s plan to give a new permit to the Materlong Mining Resources Company to operate in Nggalak Village in the subdistrict of Reok. These recent examples indicate the importance of the Church’s involvement in resistance to mining in Manggarai, Flores.

Determining the main issues

In mid-2007, based on its investigation of the destructive effects of mining in the Manggarai district, the Indonesian Franciscan Congregation Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation Commission (JPIC-OFM) in Jakarta began to protest mining in Manggarai. The commission wrote a position letter to inform people about the destructive effects of mining on their land and on the sustainability of the ecosystem. The general aim of the letter was to encourage people to resist mining and to remind the local government about the negative effects of mining. Church representatives held intensive meetings and consultation with local communities, government and related actors in Manggarai.

Mining companies in Manggarai employ an open-pit mining process that threatens the ecosystem at the mining site. Since the beginning of its protest, the Church has proclaimed the sustainability of the ecosystem to be one of the central standpoints of resistance. Since 2008, three JPIC members, the Franciscan Congregation, SVD congregation and Ruteng Catholic diocese, have acted against mining together.

For example, in April 2008, the diocese issued a post–Easter meeting ‘special pastoral letter’ to emphasise their position and to criticise, challenge and protest mining policies in the Manggarai district. For now, the church movement in Manggarai, which also refers to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si on the integrity of ecology, also addresses the main issues concerning environmental destruction and ecological degradation.

Locations of general exploration of manganese reserves in Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara. (Pusat Sumber Daya Geologi)

The Church has also pointed to mining companies’ ‘long-term’ accumulation of profit since the 2000s. VIVAT International – an organisation formed by the SVD international congregation and the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit – asserted that ‘mining corporations unfairly distribute profits, often by completely bypassing indigenous communities rights to the profits’. The Church confronted the issue by asking about the ‘wellbeing’ and prosperity of local people.

The Church has also critiqued the government’s legal justification for mining activities. For example, although the district head of Manggarai suspended PT Sumber Jaya Asia in 2010 due to the destruction of protected forest areas, the Church argues that the local government is still in overall support of mining, regarding it as one of the best strategies for local development.

Forms of resistance

The Church helps local communities around the mine site. They actively share information and educate local people on their political, social, cultural and economic rights in dealing with mining issues. JPIC aims to strengthen the position of local communities in defence of their rights, in particular for the survival of their lands as the main source of livelihood. Through this resistance, the Church aims to educate people about mining; support them directly in their protestation against mining policies and activities; and bring mining issues to broader public attention. 

The Church and other religious organisations have organised several protest movements between 2009 and 2015; members of the resistance have worked hard to mobilise resources to build a strong movement. In mid-October 2014, hundreds of priests, congregations of sisters, laypeople, Catholic students as wells as activists staged the largest-ever demonstration against mining in three different locations: Labuan Bajo, capital of West Manggarai; Ruteng, capital of Manggarai; and Borong, capital of East Manggarai. For the first time, these protests were directed at the local government.

Manggarai and surrounding districts. (Geo Edu)

The Church has also met with people in the mining sites. For example, Monsignor Hubertus Leteng, Bishop of Ruteng diocese, has celebrated Mass with people at mining sites. Such activities aim to build community-based peaceful resistance. The Church empowers people to perform and negotiate their positions (and thus, future lives) through peaceful protest. For instance, JPIC has guided villagers from Star Punda and Jengkalang in building their own resistance against existing and new mining policies and activities. 

Challenges and prospects

Through resistance, the Church promotes several main philosophical principles such as ‘pro-life’ development, ecological sustainability, the survival of local cultures, economic prosperity and social justice. An important aspect of this resistance movement is the effectiveness of the Church in building and guaranteeing non-violent resistance. Even though the Church has its own network through which they can voice concerns about effects from mining, and also has the potential to raise issues which affect the local natural, social and cultural landscapes, it needs support from national and international actors. 

In closing, resistance is a way of defending local people’s rights in dealing with mining policy. But the Church now needs to identify an effective model of resistance in the current context, in which decision-making power for mining permits has shifted from the head of the district to the governor based on the new Law No. 23/2014 on local government. In this new political climate, the Church’s resistance against mining in Manggarai and other parts of Indonesia offers a site for ongoing research. 

Max Regus (max.regus73@yahoo.com) is a priest from the Catholic diocese of Ruteng, Flores, who has been concerned with the issue of mining on Flores since 2008. He is presently pursuing a PhD in the School of Humanities at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. 


Inside Indonesia 130: Oct-Dec 2017{jcomments on}

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