Written by Joel C. Paredes / Special to the BusinessMirror
THE river that runs near the slopes of the mineral-rich mountain ranges of Masinloc, Zambales, suddenly turned brown one fine day, forcing the mayor to temporarily stop mining activities in his town.
While mineral explorations were contributing to the municipal coffers, the local chief executive could not barter the future. The environment was deteriorating as fast as the backhoe dug deep into the earth. It wasn’t worth it, he thought.
Now, Salvador “Ka Dan” Dimain, a local community organizer among the Aeta hunters and gatherers in nearby Botolan and Cabangan towns, could only blame the flash floods and the sudden uncontrollable flow of lahar to populated areas to the large-scale mining activities being promoted by local officials.
“They keep on saying that it will bring good to my people, and they practice ‘responsible’ mining, but look at its backlash,” he said.
Ka Dan has joined nongovernment organizations (NGOs), calling themselves the Alyansa Tigil Mina, in asking the government to stop “Mining Philippines 2009,” a conference and exhibit of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines scheduled from September 15 to 17, until the so-called revitalization strategy of the Philippine mining industry is reviewed.
Conference organizers are already bullish on the prospects of mining, having rebounded to a double-digit growth of 21.4 percent from a negative 13.7 percent last year.
“The mining industry is expected to continue its rebound, defying a lot of skepticism that have hounded the commodities market in recent months,” a statement from the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines Inc. (COMP) noted.
At least 80 NGOs, however, criticized the Philippine mining policy as an “erroneous” development policy meant to lure foreign investors. Based on official statistics, the contribution of mining to the national economy is actually miniscule, the jobs generated are not even 1 percent, and even investments made are off-the-mark by 80 percent, according to ATM national coordinator Jaybee Garganera.
Worse, he said, the Philippines, being an archipelago, may not be suited to large-scale mining because of ill-effects caused by mining activities on the climate as forests are denuded and watersheds are turned into wastelands.
Civil society’s sudden outrage puts into question the viability of the so-called responsible-mining strategy being showcased by the Arroyo government and COMP.
This is supposed to abide with the principles of sustainable development, built-in protection for the indigenous peoples, the sharing of the benefits of mining among major stakeholders, and compliance with strict environmental and social provisions of the Philippine Mining Act, the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act and other laws.
Garganera said they were shown the “best practices” of various mining operations for responsible mining, but they have yet to be convinced that the companies have successfully closed or “looped in” in this model in one single operation in a specific area.
He said responsible mining has become a weak model since it relies on voluntary compliance of large-scale mining companies.
Mining operations in the country also depend highly on the ability of the government to enforce safeguards articulated in national laws and policies.
It doesn’t even address the issue of corporate and state graft and corruption, a scenario that is not totally insulated in the extractive industries.
Today, he warned, the industry’s track record has “earned social distrust, which does not adhere to the elements of responsible mining, proving that it does not exist in the Philippines.”
Civil-society groups have been calling for the scrapping of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, and the passage of House Bill 6342, the alternative mining bill, which is anchored on land and natural-resources management and human-rights-based approach.
In a statement, they said the existing law only “promotes the exploitation of raw materials without maximizing the benefits of such resources for the Filipino people.”