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Germany honours Filipino sister for human rights work

DAVAO (UCAN) : Benedictine Sister Stella Matutina, known for her anti-mining advocacy in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, is this year’s recipient of the Weimar Award for Human Rights.

In their citation, the trustees of the award bestowed by the Catholic aid agency, Missio, say that Sister Matutina has been recognised for engaging “herself extraordinarily for the rights of the native population, despite being exposed to permanent threats to her safety due to her engagements.”

Forty-seven-year-old Sister Matutina said, “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 harassment and face risks and death.”

More than a personal recognition, Sister Matutina said the award acknowledges the collective sacrifices of freedom and environment defenders in the face of a systematic effort to limit democratic space and security threats.

Sister Matutina, who comes from a poor family in Mindanao, said her heart will always be with the poor and the victims of abuse.

“My life will always be dedicated to them,” she said.

Sister Matutina has been a vocal opponent of attempts to convert the farmlands in Mindanao to plantation crops like palm oil, pineapples and bananas.

She has also led a campaign against the entry of large-scale mining companies into tribal communities in Mindanao.

In 2012, the Philippine military tried to discredit Sister Matutina by labelling her a fake nun and accused her of being a guerilla in the New People’s Army.

In 2009, soldiers detained Sister Matutina and two other anti-mining advocates in the town of Cateel in Mindanao for giving a lecture on environmental awareness to residents of an upland village.

Early this year, authorities charged her, other Church leaders and human rights advocates with kidnapping, human trafficking and illegal detention for taking care of displaced tribal people in the provinces of Davao del Norte and Bukidnon.

“These are proof that helping the oppressed, the poor, the abused comes with great risks,” Sister Matutina, who is the chairperson of the Sisters Association of Mindanao and secretary-general of the environment protection group, Panalipdan, said.

Since 1995, the Weimar Award has honoured individuals or groups engaged in the fight for freedom and equality, the prevention and condemnation of genocide, the right to free speech and the respect and preservation of political, ethnic, cultural and religious rights of minorities, among others.

The award will officially be presented in December.

Sister Matutina will receive 2,500 ($21,143), which she said will help support her organisation’s advocacy.