The Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao held at the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) on 15th-16th November 2012 gathered together various stakeholders of the small-scale mining sector coming from different parts of Mindanao and Luzon, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), government functionaries and instrumentalities, local government units (LGUs), people’s organizations (POs), faith-based organizations (FBOs), mass media, international and local technical experts, environmental advocates and the academe. The two-day confab was ADDU’s continuing bold engagement, after hosting the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao (“Mina para sa Nasudnong Interes sa Katawhang Pilipino?”) in January of this year, to generate a minefield of ideas that extends a far wider discursive arena in understanding both the practical and theoretical truths about mining as an industry, and its impact on the environment and on the lives of various stakeholders. This appropriate form of academic exercise is a concretization of ADDU’s mission as a Filipino, Catholic and Jesuit university that is committed to “engage(s) vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of biodiversity, and the promotion of renewable energy” (cf. ADDU Vision-Mission Statement). To the extent that this conference is convened by the ADDU itself (as a university that seriously wants to engage “…in robust research, excellent instruction and formation, and vibrant community service” (cf. ADDU VM), it therefore proceeds with a core understanding of the specific role that it plays in society―that of a corporate change agent that promotes education as a leverage for effecting social transformation.
Among the more prominent issues that surfaced and were highlighted during the conference were the following: The question of mining in the greater context of environmental justice and the pursuit of the common good; the contribution of mining to the complex problem of environmental degradation; the relationship between large-scale mining (LSM) and the artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM); the economic, social and human costs of mining; the mining of extractable mineral resources vis-à-vis the question of national patrimony; the impact on national laws and local ordinances relative to mining as an industry; and mining as an indigenous practice in areas covered within ancestral domain.
The conference became a venue where critical issues about ASM, as a specific sector of the mining industry, were brought to the fore, discussed by a phalanx of experts and advocates who presented not only pertinent issues on ASM but also cutting-edge technology on how to better improved safety measures on industry practice. Highlighted in these discussions were concerns pertaining to the use of more modern and safe technology, as well as the ill-effects of using mercury and other toxic substances. It also provided opportunities for the presentation of case studies on current best operational practices of ASM not just in Mindanao, but as far as Benguet and Camarines Sur in Luzon, notwithstanding the showing of some flagrant practices that wantonly disregard concerns for human rights and the environment, as documented in other mining areas in Mindanao. But inasmuch as these presentations opened more avenues for thorough discourses on the floor, especially during a series panel discussions after each presentation by a group of discussants, there were pressing and recurrent issues which critically defined the collective sentiments among those who attended the conference. These issues, as agreed and concurrent to by the participants themselves, thus form part of the statement which ADDU, as convenor, declares as a concrete by-product of the two-day conference.
The following twenty-point statements and/or declarations articulate the conference’s corporate position in its bold stance to bring the important concerns pertaining to ASM to greater public consciousness.
- The conference declares the need to formally organize the federation of small-scale miners. This move for a more organized confederation hopes to address the greater clamor towards the formal recognition of small-scale miners as a sector.
- The conference clamors for the legalization of the ASM industry. This call is born out of the concern that small-scale miners are often perceived as illegal, as compared to large-scale mining corporations (whether local, multinational and transnational) which―because it operates, by and large, through export-driven economy―is generally perceived as a legitimate sector.
- The conference expresses desire to create a nationalized mining industry that will look at the best interests not just of miners but of all stakeholders, including stringent measures to protect the environment from hazards, risks and natural and man-made calamities.
- The conference calls for a thorough review of the Central Bank policy on the sale of gold, especially as it applies to transactions made by small-scale miners.
- The conference calls for a review of the taxation system of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and its bearing on ASM.
- The conference expresses the repeal of the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942), to be replaced with an Alternative Mining Bill or a People’s Mining Act. This controversial law is said to have favored large-scale mining, notwithstanding its weak mechanisms in protecting the environment from wanton destruction caused by irresponsible mining.
- The conference calls for a thorough review of the questionable provisions of Republic Act 7076 or the law on Minahan ng Bayan, and the recently signed and promulgated Executive Order (EO) 79 as this is perceived to be anchored on RA 7942, and therefore, unsupportive of ASM.
- The conference calls for assistance extended to Zamboanga and other similar militarized mining areas, and to call for an investigation on human rights violations experienced by members of the local community in these militarized areas.
- The conference similarly demands for an end to blatant forms of militarization within mining sites and tenements, and calls for the disbandment of private armies of both LSM and other “big lords” of ASM.
- The conference declares its support for small-scale mining operation that is mercury-free. Corollary to this, the conference also expresses the need to find alternative technologies relative to ASM that are safe and environmentally friendly.
- The conference calls for continued lobbying for assistance from line agencies in the government such as the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) and the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), as these are appropriate agencies that are better able to assist small-scale miners both in practice and in law.
- The conference calls for the recognition of the rights of the indigenous peoples (IPs) in the new and proposed legislation(s) on mining.
- The conference demands for the recognition of an authentic free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) instrument issued by members of the IP communities in matters pertaining to their acquiescence in the use of their ancestral land for mining and similar purposes.
- The conference demands the strengthening of community livelihood programs in mining areas so that more jobs and employment opportunities could be generated, thus helping the local economy.
- The conference demands for the protection of environmentalists and advocates who express and manifest strong opposition to open-pit mining. Towards this end, the conference further demands the passage of a law that protects the rights and welfare of people advocating for the environment.
- The conference calls for more support coming from the LGUs to small-scale miners.
- The conference calls on the national government to respect the power and jurisdiction of LGUs, particularly in appropriating legislations relative to ASM.
- The conference highlights the role of the academe community in providing technical assistance to small-scale miners, as well as in raising public awareness on the mining as an industry.
- The conference specifically calls for more international support for ASM as an industry, in the form of continued collaboration through knowledge-sharing and technical assistance through expert know-how in the use of better and safer technology.
- The conference supports the establishment of best practice system(s) in ASM for proper and appropriate benchmarking.
Along with these twenty-point statements, the university, through the success and the inspiration generated by the recently concluded ASM conference, continues to promote a comprehensive, holistic and empowering understanding of mining and other environmental issues in pursuit of its university vision and mission.
[Proceedings of the Conference on Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining in Mindanao will be made available starting March 25, 2013 at the Ateneo de Davao University]