Mining, regardless of scale, contributes to the structural instability of land, making it prone to landslides especially when triggered by other natural hazards such as earthquakes or heavy rainfall, or both in recent events, said the activist scientist group AGHAM. The Aquino government thus cannot but appear one-sided in favor of large-scale mining companies when it puts the blame on the landslide solely to small-scale miners.
“Pres. Aquino not only failed to address the plight of small-scale miners, he has also allowed large-scale mining operations in the area. In the first place, it is clear is that the Aquino administration, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and local government units failed to institutionalize proactive disaster response measures such as landslide warning systems and conduct preemptive evacuations in lieu of impending rains in Pantukan and other disaster prone-areas,” said Mr. Leon Dulce, convenor of Kalikasan Partylist.
Small-scale mining is not the only cause, and is not even the biggest cause, of the destruction of Pantukan’s erstwhile forest lands, the Information Bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines said. It pointed out that large-scale commercial logging operations from the 1950s to the 1990s, and large-scale mining operations of the past 30 years, have resulted in the massive denudation of the mountains of Compostela Valley.
Damages of Aquino’s mining liberalization
Filipinos have long aired demands to stop the “unbridled plunder under mining liberalization, especially of large-scale foreign mining firms.” But President Aquino and his administration only pursued economic plans to increase by four-fold foreign mining investments, targeting an additional P18 billion ($418 million) in foreign investments. Scraping at the bottom of the country’s mineral resources, Aquino has continued to impose the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, the law much excoriated by many Filipinos for having opened the Philippines’ finite resources to plunder by few huge mining companies.
Due to Aquino’s focus on maximizing the country’s mining, more permits for mining exploration and operations have been awarded to big foreign firms. As it is right now, a third of Philippine lands are covered with mining applications.
All these had not benefited the ordinary Filipinos nor the Philippine economy in the long run. “Amidst the glaring liberalization of the country’s mining industry, the Aquino administration lacks a genuinely sustainable program for national development and it has failed to uplift the plight of the people, particularly the small-scale miners and the indigenous peoples,” said Panalipdan, an alliance based in Southern Mindanao.” On the contrary, the arrival of mining companies have often also meant dislocation of communities in the mining sites, extensive and long-lasting damages to agriculture and fishing due to toxic mine wastes and worsened flooding, and the various perils of militarization brought in to protect the mining companies.
Although the Aquino government extols the big mining companies and although the latter has been spending billions in ads to present themselves as saviors of the Philippine environment and economy, it is not being borne out by reality. “The Aquino government has only continued the economy’s dependence on exportation of raw materials and other natural resources. The national economy and the people continue to suffer from a bankrupt and poverty-riddled economy marked with the decreasing availability of agricultural lands for farming,” Panalipdan said. Also, the plunder of Philippine resources drains the Philippines of raw materials for genuine industrialization in the future.
More deaths and destruction if Aquino mining policy remains
In Congress, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael V. Mariano said he will push for a congressional probe that will thoroughly look into the socio-economic situation of small-scale mining communities in Pantukan and other areas and the implementation of small-scale mining laws in the country.
“The Pantukan landslide is like deja vu. We have seen this tragedy before and it will likely happen again if the local and national government will not immediately address the socio-economic needs of families engaged in precarious work like small-scale mining,” the progressive solon said.
Three years ago (on May 18, 2009), at least 27 people died and 18 people were injured in a landslide at Sitio Mangangapis in Napnapan village and only last year (on April 22, 2011), a landslide occurred in Kingking village, also in Pantukan, that killed more than a dozen people. The villages of Napnapan and Kingking are part of a 30,000-hectare watershed that has been scarred by landslides over the years. According to geologists, the site was “highly susceptible” to landslides that could occur anytime.
Small-scale mining communities are constantly exposed to life-threatening disasters and work place accidents because of the nature of their work. “Despite the dangers of unregulated small-scale mining, small-scale miners and their families risk their lives and continue with the very dangerous mining activities to provide for their basic needs,” Mariano said.
The landslide area was reportedly cleared by the local government unit authorities after the April 2011 landslide but residents keep coming back during ‘gold rush’ period because it is their only source of livelihood. “The main livelihood of residents in the landslide-prone area includes digging and panning of gold.”
The solon called for a reorientation of current national policies on the ownership, management and governance of metallic and non-metallic minerals, quarry resources, and gemstones towards national industrialization and local development.
“Mining liberalization advocated by previous and present administrations laid open to foreign and private control our vast mineral reserves and natural resources. There must be pro-people, pro-genuine development reorientation in the onshore and offshore, large-scale and small-scale mining operations and their conservation, exploration, development, utilization, processing and transportation.”