The 19th anniversary of the passage of RA 7942 or Mining Act of 1995 was “greeted” with nationally-coordinated protest actions across the Philippines. The day was dubbed as Green Flag Day, and protesters launched their call for the revocation of Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s mining liberalization policies and projects.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – “If we use our mineral resources correctly, we would not be this poor.” This was one of the conclusions shared by Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares at a forum last week discussing the 19 years of mining liberalization in the Philippines. Colmenares and the Makabayan bloc of legislators have filed a bill in Congress proposing a reorientation of the mining industry in the country, as embodied in the “Peoples Mining Bill.” They are critical of the export orientation and lack of industrialization component in the current mining law.
The Philippines is rich in mineral deposits of metallic and non-metallic resources, globally ranking high in terms of resources. But 19 years after passing the Philippine Mining Act or Republic Act 7942, and 10 years “after its unconstitutionality was subverted by corporate greed,” the said mining law’s promise of bringing development and employment has not happened at all. Instead, amid rising production values and exports of metallic and non-metallic resources, all the people got are environmental destruction, landgrabbing, human rights violations, loss of traditional livelihoods and its replacement of low-wage, insecure jobs, Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan-PNE, said in a statement.
Millions of dollars in investments have poured into mining especially since 2006, after the Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling and eventually declared the Mining Act as constitutional. Based on data from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, investments increased to thrice its amount in 2006 (from $190.3 million in 2006 to $708.4 million in 2007, and $604.2 million in 2008, and $719.5 million in 2009).
In 2010, investments breached the billion dollar mark. Amid snowballing protests, which the Aquino government tried to dampen with promises of reforms in mining policy, investments fell back to almost $800 million in 2012. All these investments apparently paid itself back at least twice in export receipts alone every year since 2006. Export of the country’s irreplaceable metallic and non-metallic resources remained at $2 billion to almost $3 billion since 2006.
But the communities and provinces hosting mine sites, such as those where the largest TNCs are operating in South Cotabato, Compostela Valley, Zamboanga del Norte and Surigao del Norte in Mindanao, Eastern and Central Visayas, Bicol and Cordillera where there are gold, copper and nickel mines, to name a few, still remain as some of the poorest in the country.
Aquino’s ‘reforms’ in mining abet mining liberalization
President Benigno Aquino III signed Executive Order 79 late in 2012 supposedly outlining reforms, but, according to protesters and environmentalists, it only worsened the provisions of the Mining Act.
“Pres. BS Aquino’s Executive Order 79 further reinforced the sell out of our lands rich in mineral resources and has done nothing to arrest the growing incidences of environmental destruction, land-grabbing and human rights violations,” said Bautista of Kalikasan PNE.
EO 79 was criticized for its provision that ‘harmonized’ all environmental and governance policies in line with existing mining policies. This provision gives the national government the authority to veto local ordinances banning large-scale and other destructive modes of mining, which, during recent years, have been increasing.
Kalikasan-PNE said the biggest example today where Aquino used EO 79 to override local opposition is in the largest mining project in the Philippines, Glencore-Xstrata, located in Mindanao. This mining project has long encountered fierce opposition from the locals. From the time it was under Western Mining Corp in 1992, the mining project had met with resistance from the people and the church who had united to hold caravans and file charges up to the Supreme Court. In 2006 Western Mining transferred the project to Xstrata, which was taken over last year by another global mining giant Glencore.
A long-standing environmental code by the South Cotabato local government banning open-pit mining has been stalling the operation of Anglo-Swiss mining giant Glencore-Xstrata. But the Aquino government has repeatedly signaled its desire for the largest mining investment to proceed. Its commercial operations have twice been delayed, so far.
The presidential uncle Danding Cojuangco and Manny Pangilinan of First Pacific, which has many Public-Private Partnership Projects with the Aquino government, reportedly have stakes in the mining project. They too have expressed a desire for the mining operation to proceed as planned.
Aside from usual mining-related harassments and rights violations (including diverting water resources, ejectment of small-scale miners and communities living on land set to be mined), this mining project is seen as the direct cause of the killings of 10 among the 30 killed environmental defenders under Aquino.
Data recorded by the Task Force-Justice for Environmental Defenders said the militarization of mining-affected communities under Aquino’s mine investment defense policies has resulted in at least 30 victims of politically-motivated killings, four cases of frustrated murder, and 27 victims of strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPPs.
Because of Aquino’s mining executive orders, pro-mining government officials are threatening the implementation of mining moratoriums. In Taisan, Batangas, the town’s local government and peoples’ organization have already issued a mining moratorium in 2012, “but mining exploration continues as if there’s no mining moratorium because the provincial government led by Governor Vilma Santos is pro- mining,” RJ Manalo, secretary-general of women’s group Gabriela in Southern Tagalog region, told Bulatlat.com.
The destruction being wrought by Aquino’s mining regime can be seen in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, the Kalikasan-PNE said.
“Mine exploration activities of the Royalco company have spurred human rights violations, including militarization and harassment law suits. FCF Minerals’ mine development has diverted water away from communities and demolished the homes of indigenous small-scale miners. Oceana Gold’s commercial operations have caused the massive siltation in its adjacent rivers, reduced the productivity of surrounding agricultural lands, and exploited its workers with low wages and lack of benefits,” said Bautista of Kalikasan-PNE.
Bautista said the government’s current mining policies not only cause destruction and rights violations while the mines are in operation, “it also encourages abandonment of un-rehabilitated mines.” As examples, Kalikasan-PNE cited the decade-long case filed by the people of Marinduque against Marcopper mining corporation, now owned by the Canadian Barrick Gold, which caused one of the country’s most severe mine spill disasters. The company came close to settling the case with a P20-million ($444 thousand) ‘take it or leave it’ offer, which would have exonerated it, Kalikasan-PNE said.
South Korean-owned Rapu-Rapu Minerals, which concluded its eight-year mining contract in the island of Rapu-Rapu in Albay, also reportedly tried to abandon the rehabilitation provision of its contract.
“The attempts of Rapu-Rapu Minerals and Marcopper-Barrick Gold to shirk from their responsibilities in rehabilitating their mine sites upon closure belie the claims of the mining industry lobbyists and the national government that the mine operations in the country are socially and environmentally responsible. Let us also not forget how Philex Mining Corporation has weaseled its way out of its 20-million metric-ton tailings disaster last 2012, when it has not also fully rehabilitated Balog and Agno Rivers and it has not fully compensated all the downstream communities they affected,” added Bautista.
Philex Mining Corporation, under the business conglomerate led by Manny Pangilinan, could have prevented the mine spill, given that the lifespan of the lone operating tailings pond was not unknown to them, some Philex employees previously told Bulatlat.com. Until today, the two unused tailings ponds of Philex have reportedly not yet been rehabilitated.
The 19th anniversary of the passage of RA 7942 or Mining Act of 1995 was “greeted” with nationally-coordinated protest actions across the Philippines. The day was dubbed as Green Flag Day, and the protesters launched their call for the revocation of Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s mining liberalization policies and projects. They demanded the repeal of both the Mining Act of 1995 and Aquino’s EO 79.
In the place of the current Mining Act, green groups and indigenous peoples groups from various mining-affected areas in the Philippines urged Congress to ratify immediately a new people’s mining policy, one that “would reorient the mining industry towards ensuring needs-based utilization, environmental safety and people’s welfare in the objective of ensuring genuine land reform, agricultural modernization and national industrialization.”