This is the unedited version of my latest article from the OY! Project.
The 18th anniversary of RA 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995’s passage was greeted with protests by environment groups last March 3 with pronouncements of an ‘all-out war’ of environmental activists, indigenous peoples, religious groups and other progressive groups against the current mining regime.
Indeed, recent major events have heightened the growing criticism and outcry against the national mining policy continuing under the Aquino government.
A public forum conducted last February 15 by the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Advocates of Science & Technology for the People and Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines presented findings of separate environmental investigation missions or EIMs conducted in Itogon, Benguet and Sofronio Española, Palawan to verify the socio-economic and environmental impacts of large-scale mining operations in those areas.
Laboratory findings conducted confirmed that there was massive heavy metal poisoning that led to the biological death of the Balog River due to the tailings dam failure in the Philex Mining Corporation’s Padcal gold and copper mine project in Benguet. Meanwhile, the report on the effects of Citinickel’s nickel mining revealed levels of nickel contamination 250 times greater than the acceptable standard. Farmers and fisherfolk also reported significantly reduced fish catches and harvests.
Meanwhile, the collapse of a large-scale coal mine in Semirara, Antique that led to the death of five miners and five more missing was a grisly reminder to the public of the grave occupational hazards that large-scale miners are unable to address for its workers. But as early as 2009, a national consultation on coal mining already reported environmental and health problems the Semirara coal mine has brought to adjacent communities.
Amidst all this, Pres. Benigno Aquino III, and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources immediately thereafter, granted an environmental compliance certificate to Xstrata-SMI’s Tampakan Project in South Cotabato despite extensive opposition from communities and the progressive scientific community.
This has been the story of large-scale mining under the auspices of RA 7942 – which was and still is purported by its proponents as among the best mining policies in the world that strikes a balance between environmental protection and economic development.
The Politics of Destructive Mining
But we know better. The Mining Act was authored by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she was still a senator in the early 90s through the guidance of the International Monetary Fund-World Bank and the Asian Development Bank’s structural adjustment programs towards the goal of globalization.
This means that our national mining policy aims to completely liberalize or open up the country’s mining industry for foreign investment and dominance. A mining industry dominated by foreign transnational corporations is extractive in nature, focused on harnessing raw minerals for the cheapest price in the fastest time possible to fuel their respective economies, not our own.
It is also historically unsustainable, with no violator ever paying due negative external costs and with no roadmap whatsoever for the forging of domestic downstream industries that would make our economy self-reliant. For instance, there have been at least 21 mine tailings dam failures recorded involving these large-scale mining operations in the past 25 years, and little or none of these have been sufficiently addressed.
Why has this atrocious mining practice persisted? A political system dominated by big businessmen and landlords who are themselves moneyed by mining is one important factor – and there is no better example than the current Aquino administration.
In the 2010 elections, it was revealed that Aquino’s electoral campaign received significant contributions from mining magnate Zamora (P5 million) and former environment secretary and known pro-mining consultant Fulgencio Factoran Jr. (P20 million). Two years into his presidency, we are already seeing the fruits of the mining lobby’s investments: mining companies were exempted from the Executive Order No. 23 or the log ban. We also saw the passage of Executive Order No. 79 or the mining EO, which green groups assailed for overriding local mining bans and accelerating the process of liberalizing the industry.
The Politics of People’s Mining
It is said that the 2013 mid-term elections is a referendum on the direction the Aquino government has taken. Clearly, Aquino’s policies on mining have exacted extensive damage on the integrity of our critical ecosystems and grassroots communities. All those instrumental to Aquino’s mining regime deserve our protest votes against them.
We must scrutinize the track record and platforms of every candidate based on standards of a People’s Mining Policy. The Defend Patrimony Alliance have long pushed for a policy agenda on mining that involves reorienting the industry from a liberalized to a domestic-oriented development pathway, pushing for more stringent environmental and socio-economic regulations and penalties for violators, and a genuinely democratic management and utilization of our mineral resources, especially for the mining-affected communities.
But the people’s mining as a platform agenda in the current electoral arena is, unfortunately, lacking. There is Edward Hagedorn, running as an independent senatoriable with a pro-environment platform and a track record in opposing mining projects in Puerto Princesa, has given little detail on his plans to address large-scale mining legislative-wise and on a national scale. Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros, while consistent in pushing for the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, continues to be silent on the EO 79.
The consistent voice so far is Makabayan’s lone senatorial bet Teddy Casiño, the principal author of the People’s Mining Bill in Congress directly formulated from Defend Patrimony’s policy agenda. Casiño has a long-standing track record since in addressing the issue of mining way back in 2002 as one of the original signatories of the Dapitan Initiative, a declaration pushing for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995 and the formulation of an alternative ‘People’s Mining Act.’
Beyond these, we hear too little about the plans of our future leaders on mining, especially from the dominant coalitions of LP and UNA. If these candidates refuse to talk and much less walk the public’s cry for a People’s Mining, make sure to leave them out of your ballots. We owe that much to our future generations.#
Leon Dulce is the campaign coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and a grassroots new media trainer for the Computer Professionals’ Union. He casually blogs and tweets in his spare time.