By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
Did President Benigno Aquino get financial support from mining firms? If not, then why is he against regulating the operations of said companies?
This was the question raised by an environmental activist during a protest against the Mining Act of 1995 on the occasion of its 15th anniversary. Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (PNE), the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) and indigenous people’s groups Kalipunan ng mga Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP) and Katribu Party-list staged a rally in Mendiola denouncing the mining law, saying that it was long-overdue that the law be repealed given the destruction it has wrought on the environment and the health and livelihood of thousands of Filipinos.
CEC executive director Frances Quimpo criticized President Benigno Aquino III for his silence on calls for the repeal or at least review of the Mining Act of 1995. She said there were rumors that Aquino received financial support from said corporations in his May 2010 presidential bid, which explains his soft stance on the mining industry.
“This could be a defining reason why Aquino is very hesitant against even supporting calls for the mining law’s repeal. He has called for the cancellation of some 300 mining contracts, yes; but what Malacanang didn’t say was that these contracts were all ‘sleeping’ or inactive. The destructive operations of big mining corporations continue even as we speak,” she said.
During the campaign, Aquino told reporters that he was against amending or repealing the mining law. Salvador Zamora II, the owner of the country’s largest nickel mining company, was one of his most important supporters.
Based on reports, Zamora founded Nickel Asia Corporation and served as its president and chief executive officer. He served as president of Cagdianao Mining Corporation since 1997, president of Hinatuan Mining Corporation since 1987 and president of Taganito Mining Corporation since 1980. He is a property developer, resort and hotel operator in the Philippines. He serves as the chairman of Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp, and a director of Baguio Leisure Corp.
Quimpo also pointed out that Aquino has even questioned the move of former South Cotabato governor and now representative Daisy Avance-Fuentes to ban open-pit mining in the province.
Avance-Fuentes signed the province’s new environment code banning open-pit mining two days before her tenure ended in June 2010. According to reports, the new code is against the operations of global mining giant Xstrata in Tampakan town and San Miguel Corporation’s coal mining project in Lake Sebu.
Based on reports, Xstrata had offered a compromise deal with Fuentes to block the code. It allegedly argued that the Tampakan copper-gold project was world class with an estimated content of 13.5 million tons of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold.
The company also sought to win support for its project by promising to invest over $5 billion, employ up to 9,000 people during construction and up to 2,000 people during operations. Xstrata had expected to start actual mining in 2016.
“Aquino has questioned the ban saying that it should be lifted. The least he could’ve done before opposing the ban against open-pit mining in South Cotabato is to find out if the damaging effects of open-pit mining are true,” she said.
In the meantime, Quimpo said the CEC and Kalikasan-PNE are not completely against mining because, she said, the mining of mineral resources is an important component in building a stronger economy.
“What we are against is unregulated, uncontrolled mining for the sole profit of transnational mining corporations and their local partners. We are against mining that destroys the environment, displaces communities, and leaves thousands sick, unemployed and devastated. We want the country’s mineral resources to benefit the Filipino people and to help build an industrialized economy,” she said.
CEC, Kalikasan-PNE and Defend Patrimony recently helped bring an alternative mining bill to congress through the office of Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino
Militarization Against Indigenous Peoples
Kamp spokeswoman Piya Macliing Malayao said the last 16 years under the mining law have wrought extensive damage on indigenous Filipinos’ ancestral lands. She said that despite this, the Aquino government has not seen it urgent to call for the law’s repeal.
Malayao said environmental groups and indigenous peoples have already called on Aquino to revoke the National Minerals Policy of the previous regime under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, “But he appears bent on outdoing the last administration’s supposed achievements in mining. This bodes ill for indigenous groups and the Philippine environment,” she said.
The Mining Act of 1995 has long been denounced for its alleged partiality to mining investors. Under the law, full ownership of Philippine land is allowed to investors. This, Malayao said, goes directly against the Philippine Constitution’s provisions against foreign ownership or land restrictions to 60-40 percent sharing in businesses between local companies and foreign firms.
“It’s an outrage that despite the inherent unconstitutionality of the law, it continues to be upheld and implemented,” Malayao said.
She asserted that because of unscrupulous mining practices and the government’s liberal policy when it comes to mining firms, many human rights violations have been committed against indigenous peoples. She cited the repeated evacuation of Lumads in Andap Valley in Surigao del Sur.
The continued military operations in the province are said to be because of the province’s rich land, where valuable minerals such as coal and gold can be found. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau (DENR-MGB) has been studying the area since the 1970s. The Andap Valley Complex, which spans the municipalities of Barobo, Lianga, San Agustin, San Miguel, Marihatag, Cagwait and Tago, is a prime area for extraction of coal and other minerals.
Malayao also cited other mining-affected indigenous communities in Compostela Valley and Gambang, Bakun in Benguet ).
“There is intense militarization in these areas. Residents are being forced to give way to mining corporations,” she said.
Recently, a congressional inquiry was conducted in Bakun regarding reports of false acquisition of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the indigenous community. An FPIC is required before any development by mining firms can be allowed on ancestral domains.
The investigation revealed that the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) was guilty of “irregularities” when it acquired consent from the communities on behalf of the Royalco Mining Corporation.
Royalco has since forged a contract to transfer its Royalco’s exploration project to Vale Exploration Philippines Inc., a subsidiary of the world’s second largest multi national mining company. Vale Exploration would continue the ongoing exploration in Gambang.