These large foreign-controlled mining firms, in hopes of surviving the mining crisis, would intensify land grabbing of mineral-rich areas and extraction of mineral wealth. At the same time, it would cut production expenses. – Kalikasan PNE
MANILA — Members of the police force and some security guards blocked parts of a public road at the CCP Complex on Sept. 11 to bar protesters from marching in front of the luxurious Sofitel, site of the three-day mining conference and exhibition organized by the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP). The mining association of large mining companies operating in the Philippines gathers this year “high caliber speakers in the world of mining, financiers, investors, developers, legal and consultancy firms.”
The confab is set to discuss “key issues and questions facing the Philippines’ mining industry.” But absent in the program are concerns aired by groups that were barred a few blocks from the confab’s venue. The roadblock forced a traffic rerouting in that part of the CCP Complex, irking some commuters and requiring hotel employees to show identification cards first to the police before being allowed to pass.
For the protesters, the blocking of a public road just so the mining bigwigs can start discussing their investment prospects without disruption is just another example of the mining firms’ objectionable practices.
The Defend Patrimony! Alliance against Mining Liberalization and Plunder (Defend Patrimony) and the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) condemned the human rights violations happening in mining communities when they held a picket near the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in time for the opening of the said mining confab.
“While the Aquino government and the large-scale miners are set to discuss who gets the lion’s share in the trillion-dollar mining industry’s revenues, the impacts on the environment and people’s rights have been eased out of the discussion. The spate in mining-related killings and other human rights violations and outstanding cases of mining disasters were met with either glossy greenwashing or outright silence,” said Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE.
If these large mining companies were allowed to continue operation, the mining-affected communities will likely suffer even worse in the coming months, warned the progressive environmentalists. They said that the large miners would attempt to ride out the ongoing global mining crisis with profits intact or even higher. They foresee that the miners would pass on the impact of the mining crisis to their host communities.
Miners fear for their profits, communities fear for their lives, livelihood
What the Chamber of Mines members refer to as “Philippine mining industry,” and what the Defend Patrimony refers to as the export-oriented extraction of minerals in the country, is currently facing problems of weakening global demand. China continues to dominate the demand side of the market, consuming 40 percent of global metal production, but as the Defend Patrimony noted, China is now faced with a continuing slowdown in its economy.
On the second day of the mining confab, based on their volunteers’ social media posts, speakers reportedly said: “Metal prices are down; drilling activity continues to decline; new resources estimate continue to decline; mergers and acquisitions are down significantly; capital raisings are declining , cash fund has decreased,” among other problems.
“The gold market ‘bubble’ and the slowdown of the China-driven demand for metals that we have predicted years ago have come into fruition,” the Defend Patrimony said in a statement. The group said this is precisely the problem when mining regimes develop mines with an export and profit-driven production instead of a domestic needs-based one.
“Are we in the beginning or end of a bull run?” was one of the mining companies’ optimistic ways of tackling the situation. Subsequent topics revealed that despite the threats on mining profits posed by an increasingly bearish market, the mostly large-scale miners with the chamber are still looking for ways to prolong the bull run. From their discussions and previous statements, these ways include thwarting the moves to change or replace the Philippine Mining Act, or tweak the sharing of revenues from mining.
Defend Patrimony and Kalikasan PNE warned that these mining companies, in their effort to cope with the mining crisis, would further cause sufferings to Filipinos and the environment.
As a result of this global mining crisis, “the promise of jobs and revenue generation by large-scale mining industry is always on shaky ground,” Defend Patrimony said. They cited as examples the cases of Anglo-Swiss mining firm Glencore Xstrata-SMI which recently announced the 85 percent downsizing of its work force, affecting 300 regular and project employees and 620 contract workers.
The Philex Petroleum Corporation owned by big businessman Manny V. Pangilinan also shut down its coal mine in Zamboanga because of high operational costs and negative profits.
Oceana Gold Corporation, owner of the Didipio Gold Mining project in Nueva Vizcaya, has totally shut down their gold mining project in New Zealand after losing more than US$70 million. They fired around 300 mine workers.
Philippines as battleground
Mining companies with the chamber, all large, have been battling moves by communities and people’s organizations against their operations. They have been lobbying for government support and incentives, and they are actively campaigning against the mining ban as well as legislative moves to replace the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, a law the chamber describes as “world class and at par” with other similar legislations in other countries.
The Chamber of Mines has been warning against proposed legislations replacing the Mining Act, and against petitions in Supreme Court questioning portions of the mining law. They call this “threat to mining industry” as “resource nationalism.” They also sounded leery of talks that would hike the percent share of Philippine government in mining revenues.
On the second day of the mining conference, their call to “move forward” revolves around urging the government to make mining policies and fiscal regime “competitive.”
Justin Hillier, executive vice president of Sagittarius Mines Inc, partner of Xstrata that has been found to be funding paramilitary groups operating in their mining areas, angled for a “competitive” fiscal regime. He echoed an IMF study that claimed the “FTAA is a tough regime for investors,” and that it is “not competitive.”
Hiller reportedly cited the “very high mineral potential” in the Philippines, but said it “ranks way behind mining countries in terms of policies.”
The chamber wants the Aquino government to “adopt more attractive environment for investors” in mining. Horacio C. Ramos, former DENR Secretary and MGB Director and one of the panelists in the conference, said the “government must move fast to stabilize the virtual stand still of the mining industry.”
Based on the conference topics and previous statements, the miners’ desired additional perks include “rationalizing small-scale mining in the Philippines;” “harmonizing national and local laws” (experience shows that this reads as subverting local resolutions vs large-scale mining); limiting no-go zones for mining; and giving mining companies more incentives to invest on mining here.
“Mining companies like the idea that mining areas will be declared as mineral economic zones, we like that,” Chamber of Mines spokesperson Jimbo Gulle said during a press conference on the first day of their confab. The idea of a mineral zone sounded similar to the derided no-union, no-strike, incentive-rich, export-oriented special economic zones, except it would take into account the “peculiarities” of mining industry.
“These large foreign-controlled mining firms, in hopes of surviving the mining crisis, would intensify land grabbing of mineral-rich areas and extraction of mineral wealth. At the same time, it would cut production expenses,” Bautista of Kalikasan PNE said. These actions, he warned, will result to “more environmental destruction, human rights violations, and exploitation of mine workers.”