By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Resume the peace talks and discuss the damage mining companies wreak on the environment.
This was the call of environmental activist group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) in the aftermath of the recent successful operations of the New People’s Army (NPA) against three mining corporations in Claver, Surigao del Norte. Last October 3, NPA guerillas destroyed the mining facilities and equipment of the Tag-anito High-Pressure Acid Leaching (THPAL-Sumitomo), Tag-anito Mining Corporation (TMC), and the Platinum Gold Metal Corporation (PGMC), as part of what it said to be its implementation of its policy related to the protection of the environment and natural resources and the defense of the rights of the Lumad people, peasants, and workers.
Kalikasan-PNE said the Government of the Philippines (GPH) should immediately resume formal peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and together find a peaceful resolution to the environmental degradation and community conflicts brought about by large-scale mining.
Kalikasan national coordinator Clemente Bautista said the intensified NPA attacks on mining operations signify the need for the government to immediately address the long-standing negative impact of large-scale mining in the Philippines.
“The immediate resumption of the NDFP-GPH peace talks is necessary to push forward the environmental agenda of the people,” he said.
Clemente pointed out that in recent years, two opposing views on mining have strengthened, with one camp calling for increased liberalization of the mining industry, and the other demanding an immediate moratorium on the destructive operations of big mining firms.
“While investors claim that an estimated $20 billion worth of investments over the next five to six years stand to be lost because of permit delays and policy discord, the actual contributions of mining to the economy remain minimal. Mining contributes only one percent to the GDP (gross domestic product) and an even smaller and 0.5 percent to employment as of 2010,” he said.
Bautista said mining investments have not translated into jobs and domestic growth. He said mining has resulted in massive community displacement, pollution and plunder of mineral resources.
Destroyers of the environment
In a statement released by the NDFP- Northeastern Mindanao Region (NEMR), spokesperson Maria Malaya said Tag-anito Mining Corporation (TMC) has ravaged the area for nearly 30 years and throughout that period wrought massive environmental destruction in the province.
Malaya said the company is responsible for ruining both fresh water and marine sources, destroying mountains as well as committing countless human rights violations against its own workers, and farmers. She also charged the company of deliberately failing to pay taxes to the local government unit in the region.
“Instead of remitting P 400 million in taxes, through sheer bribery the company is now only paying the local government P 40 million. It is only right to punish this company,” she said.
TMC is one of three mining companies of the Nickel Asia Corporation in Surigao del Norte owned by former executive secretary of the Joseph Estrada regime and former congressman Manny Zamora.
The NDFP-NEMR in the meantime said the Platinum Gold Metal Corporation (PGMC) has also committed massive environmental havoc and is guilty of labor rights violations.”
“Millions of tons of nickel ore have already been plundered and shipped to imperialist countries, which has resulted in the total effacement of forest and mountains within its concession, as well as the destruction of rivers and seas. Almost all workers in this company are employed on a contractual basis, and the company is brazenly violating even basic bourgeois labor laws. It has also violated the rights of the Lumads. It is only right that its operations must stop,” Malaya said.
PGMC is mining nickel ore for foreign buyers with a permit to operate under the name of a certain Mr. Atayde, but is currently operated by one Mrs. Tata Dasmarinas Marahomsar.
Finally, the NDFP-NEMR said the nickel-processing company Tag-anito High-Pressure Acid Leaching Plant (THPAL) while owned by the Japanese Sumitomo Mining Corporation operates in coordination with Zamora’s Nickel Asia Corporation. Malaya said the processing plant was ” a menace to the population and the environment.”
“First, it uses, in massive quantities, sulfuric acid that is highly toxic to both humans and the environment. Second, this is a coal-fired plant that spews out tons upon tons of highly toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Third, the said plant only processes millions of tons of low-grade nickel ore coming from different mines from the four provinces of Caraga, as they prefer to export high grade nickel ore to foreign countries,” she said.
Malaya said if the company’s mining of both low and high grade nickel ore continues, the region’s environment will be completely destroyed.
Include environmental issues in peace talks
Environmental advocates have been calling for the inclusion of an environmental agenda in the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations, saying that environmental concerns should be included in the draft of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (Caser).
In a roundtable discussion and workshop on the Caser environment agenda organized by Defend Patrimony and other green groups earlier this year in May, the groups called for a moratorium on large-scale mining.
“The government must immediately suspend large-scale mining operations and impose a moratorium on the approval of applications during the course of the peace process. Not only will it temporarily stop further destruction of the environment, but will also protect communities near and inside mining concessions,” Bautista said.
Kalikasan-PNE is also calling for the passage of House Bill 4315, dubbed “the People’s Mining Bill” authored by Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino. The proposal aims to reorient the country’s current policy on the ownership and management of the industry toward national industrialization and local development.
Malaya of the NDFP-NEMR said the NPA and the NDFP are not opposed to mining so long as it benefits the Filipino people and will lead to national industrialization. She also said revolutionary groups are open to talks with all mining companies regardless of whether they are foreign or local for as long as they are willing to fully recognize and comply with revolutionary policies.
“On the other hand, we warn other giant mining companies that the revolutionary movement is determined to defend the interest of people, including that of the environment. We also warn contractors who are working for these abusive giant companies that we will not hesitate to disable their mining equipment if they refuse to terminate their contracts with said companies,” she said.
Death anniversary of anti-mining activist
Meanwhile, environmental groups and residents of Sibuyan Island commemorated the death of anti-mining activist Armin Rios Marin through a mass and program, Oct. 3.
Marin was murdered on October 3, 2007 by a security officer of nickel mining company Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation (SNPDC), while leading a protest against the survey and the approval of special permits to cut more than 70,000 trees. He was a trustee of the Sibuyan Island Sentinels League for Environment Inc. (Sibuyan ISLE), former local councilor and staff of World Wildlife Fund (WWF); and lay leader of a local parish church.
SNPDC is the local partner of Australia-based Pelican Resources Ltd. and implementer of a Mineral Productions Sharing Agreement (MPSA) permit held by Altai Philippines Mining Corporation (APMC) for an estimated area of 1,500 hectares. APMC is a subsidiary of Canada-based Altai Resources Inc.
“We remain united against the exploitation of our island. Before Armin died he showed us how to stand firm to protect the future of our children’s children. Justice for him is the revocation of Altai’s MPSA license,” said Domingo Marin, father of the murdered councilor.
“Mining in island ecosystems like Sibuyan and neighboring Tablas in Romblon is not sustainable as it endangers the livelihood and lives of communities, our voices should be heard – Romblon says NO,” said Msgr. Ernie Fetalino, chairman of Romblon Ecumenical Forum Against Mining (REFAM).
Jaybee Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina said Marin’s death was far from being an isolated case.
“It was a consequence of the insistence of large scale mining companies and the previous administration to exploit even the lives of communities. President Benigno Aquino III should consider the revocation of Alta’s mining permit,” he said. “Mining affected communities will always stand up for their rights because the issue at hand goes beyond economics, for them it is food security, disaster resiliency, intergenerational responsibility and carrying capacity of nature.”
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau recently issued a Cease and Desist Order to Altai due to complaints from local government units and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
An appeal to rationalize mining policy
Advocacy group Bantay Kita has also made an appeal regarding the mining industry, saying that the current policy on mining has not brought promised benefits to the Filipino people.
The group said the implementation of the mining law has been fraught with lack of transparency and numerous examples of poor governance and that the process of monitoring profits of the industry has too often served to misinform indigenous communities on the effects of mining projects.
“Instead of improved livelihoods and progress, mining has brought displacement and economic injustice to the so-called ‘host’ communities. Watersheds and forests have been encroached upon, endangering the health and welfare of both upland and surrounding downstream communities. Compared to the devastation caused by mining projects in their jurisdictions, local government revenue gains are too miniscule to be felt,” the group said.
Bantay Kita pointed out that the industry is plagued with under-declaration, tax avoidance and tax evasion.
“From 2000-2009, the under-collection of excise taxes was 65.5 percent. Among the many defects of the Mining Act of 1995, is that it contains provisions that do not allow the national government to get a fair share of mining revenues. Employing its more than generous gains, the mining industry has embarked on lobbying and media campaigns to mislead the political leadership and the public with statements and advertisements on the benefits of mining. It has even articulated a veiled threat that any obstacles to mining, such as environmental restrictions, will harm economic development,” it said.
Bantay Kita said that contrary to all the hype in the industry, local governments and communities have not felt the benefits but rather the the adverse effects of mining. It said the communities’ experience has led them to take action to protest against the encroachment of actually irresponsible mining projects and protect themselves from their devastating consequences.
Bantay Kita explained that according to the MGB, seven out of 16 mining projects in the advanced exploration and feasibility financing stages and 25 out of 28 projects in the development and expansion stages are facing opposition from local populations and their officials. It also said that over 20 LGUs have issued moratoriums and environmental regulations to prevent mining firms from causing further damage to the environment, to livelihoods and to lives in their jurisdictions.
“The facts speak for themselves. In the last decade, from 2000 to 2009, mining and quarrying together accounted for no more than 0.91% of Philippine GDP. In the same period, the industry’s contribution to total employment was a mere 0.376 %. Unnecessary incentives have also contributed to making the revenue effort of the mining industry to be slightly more than half of the revenue effort of the country,” the group said.
Bantay Kita said no comprehensive policy review of the country’s mining industry has been conducted. It also issued the following calls to the Aquino government:
1) Institute an in-depth review of the current mining regime, with special attention to the incentives granted to the industry, its practices vis-à-vis the rights of local populations and indigenous peoples and its long term effects on the environment ;
2) Prioritize the passage of a new mining act;
3) Adopt the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and other transparency mechanisms;
4) Craft a policy statement on extractive industries; and
5)Effect a moratorium on new mining projects until a mining regime in which present as well as future generations of stakeholders receive their fair and just shares has become operative.