“Small-scale miners actually attempted to apply for regulations via an application for a ‘Minahang Bayan.’ But Benguet Corp., as tenement holder of the area, opposed this to maintain their control over the area’s mineral resources.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The Philippines has for years been recorded as one of the most dangerous countries for environmental defenders. That fact is highlighted in Manila today as members of the Philippine National Police demonstrated one of the scourges typically complained of by communities with large mining companies: the government armed troops serving as defenders of mine companies’ interests.
Today members of the Philippine Police with the help of security personnel serving the Chamber of Mines’ exhibition in Sofitel arrested and detained nine scientists and environmental activists after they held a lightning rally during the International Conference of the Chamber of Mines. The event is being billed by the Chamber of Mines as “the most prestigious mining event in the country.” It was held from September 18 until today at the upscale Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila.
Environmentalists said the mining operations of members of the Chamber of Mines have proved deadly and hazardous to ordinary Filipinos, environmental defenders and the mining-affected communities in the country. The record shows locals are being displaced, killed, maimed, or injured in the course and after-effects of mining. They suffer from toxic mine spills, landslides, flash floods, dried out or poisoned waters, deforestation, and sinkholes. As if these are not enough, they have to live with harassments, threats, and even death at the hands of the military deployed in defense of mining investments.
This Thursday the protesters marched to the venue of the Chamber of Mines’ exhibit hoping to engage the wealthy, conferring miners in a discussion about its practices. The environmentalists were highlighting the latest example of the deadly result they ascribed to large-scale mining: the landslide in Itogon, Benguet where rescuers are still digging for survivors as of this writing.
Prestigious mining chamber excludes itself from blame for the Itogon landslide
The environmentalists put the blame on Benguet Corporation, one of the members of the Chamber of Mines, which have been mining in Benguet for more than a hundred years now.
Perhaps in a bid to forestall such recrimination against one of its biggest members, and seek to benefit even from the disaster, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines on September 17 has blamed small-scale miners instead and asked the government to intensify the crackdown on small-scale mining.
Their move is self-serving and unfair, said the Cordillera People’s Alliance in a statement.
“The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is using the Itogon Tragedy to stop small-scale mining and pave the way for big mining corporations to take over.” – Bestang Dekdeken, Secretary General of the Cordillera People’s Alliance
Along the Chamber of Mines’ call, Environment Secretary and former military general Roy Cimatu has ordered to stop all small-scale mining in Cordillera. He was mum about the operation of large-scale miners or the fact that the DENR’s Mines and Geosciences Bureau is processing more than 100 large-scale mining applications, the Cordillera People’s Alliance said.
As early as February, Secretary Cimatu has already declared a crackdown on small-scale mining operations. These benefit only the large-scale miners, the Cordillera People’s Alliance said.
The crackdown is being implemented by the National Task Force Mining Challenge composed of the DENR, the Philippine Army and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
“Clearly, the declaration of DENR Sec. Roy Cimatu to ban small-scale mining operations is not meant to protect the environment or ensure the safety of mined-out communities but rather to opportunistically advance the interests of big mining corporations,” Dekdeken concluded.
The Chamber of Mines claimed that “illegal” small-scale miners do not employ the same stringent safety practices required of “legitimate” large-scale mining operators. But according to Kalikasan PNE, it is the Benguet Corporation’s abandoned mine that has a track record of geological risks.
In 2015, Benguet Corporation’s abandoned mine caused a sinkhole that swallowed six houses and displaced 166. In November 2016, its unrehabilitated Antamok open-pit mine figured in a 50,000 metric-ton tailings leak.
Similar to the Cordillera People’s Alliance, Kalikasan PNE rejected what they call as “the chorus of the Chamber of Mines and the Duterte government in victim-blaming the small-scale miners who died in the Itogon disaster.”
Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, scored Benguet Corporation’s “criminal neglect” of its obligation to rehabilitate their abandoned mine site.
‘Benguet Corp sabotaged the small-scale miners’ attempt to self-regulation’
Who would want to place themselves and their families at risk? Or work in risky mine site? Dekdeken said the locals of Itogon and other provinces have been forced to small-scale mining because of lack of livelihood opportunities due to the destruction of agricultural lands, lack of government support to agriculture, poisoning of rivers from toxic mine wastes, and lack of available jobs.
“Our people and communities are the victims in this disaster, and not the cause as being claimed by Cimatu or by the Chamber of Mine,” she said.
These small-scale miners have tried to regulate their operations, but it appears the Benguet Corporation had thwarted their effort.
“Small-scale miners actually attempted to apply for regulations via an application for a ‘Minahang Bayan.’ But Benguet Corp., as tenement holder of the area, opposed this to maintain their control over the area’s mineral resources,” Dulce of Kalikasan PNE explained.
Even among the small-scale miners, the Benguet Corp continues to have a stake. They contracted some of the small-scale miners, the CPA said.
Benguet Corp has yet to answer for the rehabilitation of parts of the vast lands it has mined through the years. Kalikasan PNE blamed Pres. Duterte for the fact that it had dodged the responsibility despite the order issued it by former Environment Sec. Gina Lopez.
The members of Katribu-UP Manila who joined the protests Thursday at Sofitel explained that the environmentalists staged the rally “to express their opposition to the exhaustion and exploitation of resources and the rampant land-grabbing, and threats of the military to the national minority for the sole benefit of international mining corporations.“
Another group called SnT (Say No to Tyranny), said the community of nationalist scientists and engineers has challenged the Chamber of Mines to be transparent about their practices and profits. “Tell us squarely in the face who truly benefits from all these mining operations.”
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines introduces itself as an association advancing the interest of companies into mining, quarrying, mineral processing “for efficient exploration, development and utilization of minerals in consonance with sound economic, environmental and social policies.” But, as the Kalikasan PNE points out, Benguet Corp. is just one of its member mine companies that’s supposed to have been suspended.
There are orders for the mining closure or suspension of 28 big mines found violating environmental and socio-economic regulations, but the orders were stayed by the Office of the President itself.
Harassments, illegal arrests and detentions, trumped-up charges, and extrajudicial killings abound in at least 20 of these 28 mines, Dulce said. When nine of his fellow environmental defenders who took part in the protest outside the Chamber of Mines’ Conference were arrested and detained by the Philippine National Police, he asked:
Is it a crime now to peacefully protest the fact that 100 are feared dead from a mining disaster caused by the abandoned mines of Benguet Corporation (a Chamber member)?
“Major sponsors of the Chamber’s conference such as Filminera in Masbate and OceanaGold in Nueva Vizcaya have a plethora of human rights violations monitored in their mine sites. At least nine killings involved peasants in Masbate who were from communities that mobilized against Filminera’s destructive operations,” Dulce added.
Contrary to the “sound economic, environmental and social policies” claimed by the Chamber of Mines, Dulce said their big mines have blood all over their hands.
“Duterte’s inaction over these mining atrocities makes him as guilty as these plunderers,” he concluded. The Cordillera People’s Alliance, for its part, called on the Duterte regime to “stop the impunity of mining companies, investigate the operations of Benguet Corporation Inc. and hold it accountable for the Itogon Tragedy.”
To more effectively protect the communities and environment from plunder and destruction, the alliance proposes yet again to scrap the Mining Act of 1995. In the meantime, they are calling for donations for relief missions, medical missions, and the rehabilitation of damaged houses, irrigation systems, farmlands and other livelihood destroyed by mining operations.
Update as of Sept. 21, 2018, 2:oo am: The nine environmental defenders were freed later on the same day. They thanked the swift legal help of lawyer Josa Deinla, and the outpouring of support including the quick reaction picket outside of the Pasay police station.
They are apparently intent on holding other protest actions, since the issues they have brought to the Chamber of Mines’ conference, highlighted by the landslide in Benguet, continue to put Filipino lives in danger. Even as rescuers have yet to finish searching for all the bodies of the landslide victims, another landslide occurred, this time, in Cebu.