The boon and bane of Aquino’s new mining policies

“EO 79 lacks in social justice. It claims it’s good for the mining industry, but it’s very half-baked.” — Ateneo de Davao University President Joel Tabora

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Barely a week before President Noynoy Aquino’s third State of the Nation Address, mining stakeholders in the Davao region press their stand on the government’s new mining policies.

“EO 79 lacks in social justice. It claims it’s good for the mining industry, but it’s very half-baked,” Ateneo de Davao University President Joel Tabora said in a recent roundtable discussion.

According to the Jesuit priest, protection is an essential part of social justice. And like RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act, Aquino’s new mining policy “does not protect our mineral resources and the environment; and those who own the society’s minerals, the people, do not have a just part in the resources.”

Signed on July 6 by the President, EO 79 aims to institutionalize and implement reforms in the Philippine mining sector and to provide policies and guidelines to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining in the utilization of mineral resources — a new policy that has received a lot of flak from various sectors and institutions.

“If we look at the policy closely, it puts emphasis on the economic aspect, how the government could earn from the mining industry,” lawyer January Faye Risonar, Ateneo’s Assistant to the President for Research and Advocacy, said.

Risonar said the EO has “questionable provisions” and therefore “must be reviewed,” adding that like any other laws, EO 79 “must be humanized and its aspects considered for the common good.”

The Davao Association of Catholic Schools (Dacs) said they accept the changes in the mining industry but only if it’s “for the common good and social justice.”

“We see a problem because even though there are those who get rich (from mining), there are also those who get killed, get ill and are dislocated from their homes and livelihood,” said Dacs’ Father Danny Montano.

A number of environmental advocates have been killed in the country, most of them from Mindanao. Indigenous peoples and peasants are also displaced due to large-scale mining operations apart from the health hazards brought by chemicals used in mining industries.

The EO has also alarmed chief executives in 41 provinces that have ordinances against mining in their areas and now stand to be dissolved once the EO takes effect.

“If we don’t want mining (in our area), we hope the national government would respect it,” laywer Joseph Felizarta of the City Environment and Natural Resources Office said.

Davao’s top officials, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, have been vocal against mining, especially large-scale mining operations, in the city. Mining operations here are limited to limestone and aggregates (sand and gravel).

Lawmaker Isidro Ungab has authored a bill that bans mining in Davao City while local councilors also proposed a local ordinance that prohibits mining.

While the EO drew widespread opposition, its signing generated praises from government agencies and mining companies.

“It’s a middle ground that addresses more on the environmental concerns of the people. Additional areas are closed to mining like prime agricultural lands, Carp (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) areas and eco-tourism sites,” said Engineer Constancio Paye, Regional Director of the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) in Socsksargen.

With the new EO, “the world of the country’s mining industry has gotten smaller,” according to Edilberto Arreza, Regional Director of the MGB in Southern Mindanao. He said additional requirements on mining have to be complied, aside from the no mining areas.

“But despite that, the EO states that mining is still allowed in the country,” Arreza said.

Large-scale mining company Sagittarius Mines Inc. in South Cotabato said that the EO is “a positive step towards promoting a responsible mining industry in the Philippines,” adding they are pleased that some of their positions “were seriously considered and inputted.”

SMI’s John Arnaldo said they are serious in doing responsible mining and invited other stakeholders to see their project and to “talk to the Blaans, the people and the LGU,” as this is “the only way to know what SMI has been doing seriously.”

In the 2012 International Conference on Mining in Mindanao held here last January, Robert Goodland, President of the International Association for Impact Assessment in America presented his study on why SMI’s Environmental Impact Assessment in its Tampakan project should be rejected. Eight reasons were underscored, including SMI’s arrogant disdain for the indigenous peoples; stakeholders’ opposition; its impact in Mindanao’s conflict areas, and its effects on food production.

“A law will only be meaningful if it’s based on the principle of justice. If it lacks that, then it should be replaced with a new law,” Tabora said.

(Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/

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