An Alternative Mining Law, NOW!

Eight years ago, on March 3, 1995, Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was signed into law by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, aiming for the revitalization and liberalization of the mining industry to foreign investment. Mining in the country was further strengthened by the Arroyo administration with EO 270 and 270-A which pushed for the revitalization of the mining industry as a pillar of growth and declares that the vast mineral resources of our country should be utilized for economic development and poverty alleviation especially in the rural areas.

There is a very pressing need to address the devastating effects of mining on the environment and the communities, as even the mining sector acknowledges the fact that mining is an “intrinsically dirty” and we add “wasteful and destructive” industry. In the Philippines, the Marcopper disaster in Marinduque is one of the most notorious examples dramatizing the Philippines’ own struggle with the hazards of mining. In 1993, the collapse of the Maguila-guila dam at the Marcopper mine of Placer Dome, a Canadian owned mining firm, released a flood of metal-enriched silt into Mogpog river. “The flood killed two children, destroyed homes, downed livestock and contaminated farmlands. In 1996, a drainage tunnel to the Boac river burst, filling the river with four million tons of toxic sludge which rendered the river biologically dead.” [1] In less than 20 years, more than 200 million tons of mine tailing were directly spilled into the waters of Calancan Bay.

Not far from my very own home in Bikol, In Rapu-Rapu island, Albay, poor environmental safeguards contributed to at least two cyanide-laden spillages and fish kills within six months of mine commencing operations in 2005. “This had a significant effect on local fisherfolk’s livelihoods, as well as causing fear among communities about eating locally-caught fish.”[2] In addition, neighboring communities consistently raised their concerns about the Rapu-Rapu mine both before and during the period in which it operated.

Philex Mining Corp. (PMC) in Padcal Benguet, which was always hailed as the standard bearer for mining companies, presumed ‘responsible’, recently showed its vulnerability as 20.6M metric tons of tailing spillage drained down the Balog and Agno rivers last August 2012. According to a fact-finding mission report led by CBCP-NASSA (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace), “the spillage is massive. It is 1,300% higher than the Marcopper accident in Boac, Marinduque in 1996.”

The history of Marinduque, Rapu- Rapu and Padcal mines record the failure of mining corporations to hear and address the grievances of local communities who vehemently protest the impacts of the mine on their environment, their livelihood and their lives.

Yet, despite these statistics and experiences, our policy-makers have championed mining as “the virtual savior of our economy” and made it a “pet project” of different administrations and even local governments, working in light of illusory  high revenues for the government. But the so-called “resource curse,” means that many of the world’s most resource-rich are its poorest economically. Adeline Angeles, Chair of the Committee on Environment in the Marinduque Provincial Legislative body, graphically describes the myth of sustainable mining when she mentioned in an interview that, “lots of people can’t think of any possibility for such thing as “sustainable mining” in our island, first because of the geography, we not only believe, we know that it is beyond the carrying capacity of the island. We became the third most denuded province in the entire Philippines because of mining. Out internal water, rivers and lakes have become polluted because of large scale mining for 30 years.”[3]

In developing countries, like the Philippines, mineral-rich provinces continue to have higher poverty incidences despite the operations of mining companies. Instead, mining has exacerbated conflicts, resulted in the displacement of indigenous peoples and other rural communities, heightened the numbers of extra-judicial killings and of human rights violations, and caused and intensified pollution and depletion of natural resources which for generations have sustained livelihoods and defined our people’s ways of life (Macdonald and Southal 2005). We have to mention here the recent violence against the B’laan communities in South Cotabato, Sarangani and Davao del Sur (in the vicinity of the SMI-Xstrata mining proposed site) perpetuated “supposedly” by the military, OUR own military. The cold and brutal murders of Juvy, John Mark and Jordan Capion of Tampakan, South Cotabato, along with Rudy Yalon-Dejos, 50, and his son Rody Rick, 26 of Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur all linked to the conflicts brought by heavy militarization in the other – militarization in support, in protection, of the mining investors’ interest.

The promotion of mining, therefore, in this time of crises and conflicts, exacerbated with the reality of anthropogenic climate change, will translate not only to bad investment but also to the waste of what little resources we have remaining. There is an obvious and urgent need to shift our present framework on mining.

Since the passage of the Philippine Mining Act on March 1995, revitalization of the mining industry was enforced shifting government policies from tolerance to aggressive promotion of large-scale mining. Many from the Academe, Indigenous communities, NGOs, POs and environmentalists see the Act as inherently flawed[4]:

–       It promotes the exportation of raw materials without maximizing the benefits of such resources for the Filipino people;

–       It prioritizes exploration, development and utilization of resources over and above human rights, food security and environmental conservation;

–       It grants too much power for decision-making to the President, when resources are the only heritage of the Filipino people, meanwhile disempowering local communities through participatory mechanisms;

–       The law is not consistent with sustainable development;

–       It grants too many incentives for investments, including confidentiality of information, return of investments, tax-breaks, etc.;

–       It lacks systems that would ensure payment and compensation of affected communities and local government units;

–       It lacks systems that would ensure payment and compensation of affected communities and local government units;

–       It fails to provide for punishment and accountability on social impacts, including human rights violations;

–       It fails  to provide a rational and comprehensive benefit-sharing among the stakeholders;

–       It fails to consider the physical characteristics of the Philippines that is not conducive to industries like these, despite the claims that the Philippines has a rich mineral resources, when the country, in fact, is also a rich agricultural country; and

–       It allows 100% ownership and control of natural resources to foreigners.

The policies, principles and provisions contained in the Mining Act of 1995 sorely lack what is needed to effectively respond to the needs of the Filipino people and to survive the current economic and environmental crisis that we together face. House Bil 3763 is proposed to take the place of the current mining law and among others:

–       Guarantees that the exploration, development and utilization of mineral resources are primarily for the benefit of the Filipino people;

–       Prioritizes more viable and more sustainable livelihood choices for communities, giving utmost importance to food security and livable conditions for the peoples;

–       Ensures that the gains from the mining industry would be maximized while preventing or mitigating its adverse effects of the same;

–       Recognizes that the issue on the environment is local and prioritize local participation in decisions surrounding mining; and

–       Protects human rights of communities and individuals and impose harsh penalties for the violations thereof.

House Bill 3763 or the Alternative Minerals Management Bill takes into consideration the decades-long issues, experiences and analyses of different individuals, organizations and communities affected by mining in the Philippines. “It is a tool to elevate the marginalized and impoverished communities through the legal system to force government, transnational corporations, international finance corporations and other countries to face communities, to address the loopholes of the Mining Act of 1995 and stop unjust mining regime and practices in the Philippines”.

We  call for a Pro-Filipino, Pro-Environment Law on Mining!

[1] Ingrid Macdonal and Katy Southal, “Mining Ombudsman Case Report: Marinduque Island,” published 2005: Victoria Australia, p. 3.

[2] Shanta Martin and Kelly Newell, “The Mining Ombudsman Case Report: Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic Mine,” published 2008 , Victoria Australia, p. 2.

[3] Macdonald and Southal, p.12.

[4] Culled from the Alternative Mining Bill: In Brief leaflet of the Alyansa Tigil Mina.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s