By Giovanni Tapang, PhD
With the simultaneous attack of the New People’s Army against certain mines in Surigao del Norte, the issue of mining has come to fore in the national dailies and in discussion groups. We have seen video documentaries, news reports and community interviews that show how terrible the rape of our mountains and lands has been in Claver due to the mining activities. To quote Presidential Adviser on Environmental Protection Neric Acosta in a documentary, as he was shown the footage of the destructive large-scale mining operations in the area, ‘My God, anu yan?’.
Yet heaven must have had already been barraged by similar expressions of shock and dismay from all over the country as this type of operations is not unique to Surigao del Norte. From the Cordilleras, Bicol, the Visayas islands and in large parts of Mindanao, our mineral resources are being dug up and shipped out of the country. Large amounts of gold, copper, nickel, chromium, and now even our sand, has been mined and exported to other countries. In the past 16 years, with the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (RA 7942), mining activities have in general brought about poverty, human rights violations, community conflicts, and environmental destruction.
People and communities have been calling to scrap and replace RA 7942 with a pro-people and pro-environment mining policy. Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) have recorded 31 cases of extrajudicial killings since 2001 involving anti-mining activists. Five out of the eight extrajudicial killings under the present Aquino regime involved mining. Military detachments are usually deployed near and within mining-affected areas, ostensibly to provide “security”, but more often than not becomes a threat to communities that oppose these mining activities.
The reaction of the President to the NPA attacks is to consider adding more security forces in mining investment area. This effectively transforms our military into glorified security guards for these foreign-owned multinationals involved in mining extraction. If the export oriented nature of mineral extraction in our country continue, we would not be surprised that mining related conflicts will rise.
On top of this, destroying literally whole tracts of forests and lands in order to access these minerals subject our indigenous peoples who live in those areas to mass dislocation, dispossession of ancestral lands which would lead to their lives and culture forever being lost.
Two of the mines recently attacked by the NPA were part of a petition for a writ of Kalikasan by indigenous groups to stop Taganita Mining Corp., Platinum Group Metals Corp., Oriental Synergy Mining Corp., Shenzhou Mining Group Corp. and Marcventures Mining Development Corp. from operating in Surigao. The irreversible damage to marine resources, mangroves, corals and the serious health risks to the tribes and other inhabitants of Surigao prompted these groups to call for the mines closure.
Even our church people have been active in resisting large scale mining in the country. Recently, Roman Catholic and protestants bishops called for an immediate moratorium on large scale mining in the country and the scrapping of the government’s current mining policy. At a regional conference of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF) in Legazpi City last week, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said that mining in Bicol region have affected so many people like the polymetallic mining in Rapurapu island. Bishop Deogracias Yniquez said that “destructive mining is blatantly unethical, unjust, and senseless for it exacerbates poverty, causes dislocation of livelihood of the people, and even threatens the base of life and life itself. This is a result of mining liberalization of the government.”
The EBF anti-mining statement was signed by Most Rev. Deogracias S. Iñiguez, Jr., UCCP Bishop Elmer M. Bolocon, Albay Bishop Joel Z. Baylon, UCCP Bishop Arturo R. Asi, Sorsogon Bishop Arthuro Bastes, IFI BishopThe Right Revd. Ronelio V. Fabriquer, IFI Bishop The Right Revd. Joselito T. Cruz, and UCCP Bishop Gabriel A. Garol. In their statement, they also called for the demilitarization of mining communities and the passing of House Bill 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill.
The People’s Mining Bill provides a mining policy framework that ensures the protection not only of the environment but more importantly our people’s basic rights and welfare. Unlike the current mining policy, the said bill will lead to the resolution of mining conflicts in the mining-affected communities as it promotes the wise utilization of our mineral resources for the benefit of Filipinos and our nation.
The Philippine is rich in mineral resources which, if properly utilized, can provide raw materials for a self-sufficient and progressive domestic industrial economy. Allowing foreign capital a free hand to pillage our resources and leave destruction in their wake would surely elicit worse expletives than what Sec. Acosta had uttered.
Utilization of these minerals for our own industrial development is an issue deeply intertwined with our national patrimony and sovereignty as these minerals should be for our own use—for our own industrial future– yours and mine.
Dr. Tapang is the Chairperson of AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the Philippines and is part of the Kalikasan PNE.