By BENJIE OLIVEROS
One could not help but see the irony in this week. Baguio city hosted the 58th staging of the Mine Safety and Environment week from November 8-10. And it was no small affair. The gathering was attended by seven envoys: Australian ambassador Roderick Richard Campbell Smith, Brazilian ambassador Alcides Gastao Rostand Prates, Chilean ambassador Roberto Mayorga, South African ambassador Agnes Nyamandre-Pitso, Swiss ambassador Ivo Sieber, British ambassador Stephen Lillie and Chinese ambassador Liu Jianchao.
Before the opening on November 8, the Philippines Australia Business Council, Australia Philippines Business Council, Australian-New Zealand Chamber of Commerce, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines came up with a “Consolidated Position Paper on Mineral Resource Development” urging the Philippine government to act decisively on the ban on open pit mining and the general ban on all mining activities being passed by local government units in different areas in the country.
After the Chamber of Mines issued a separate statement expressing concern over the ban in Zamboanga del Norte – which affected its two members the TVI Resource Development (Phils.) Inc. and Philex Mining – TVI Resource Development went to court to seek for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the implementation of the ban in Zamboanga del Norte.
Mining companies and the different chambers of commerce, and now even diplomatic missions have reportedly been lobbying hard for the Aquino government to intervene.
The Aquino government has made no secret of its policy favoring mining companies. When the New People’s Army attacked three mining companies in Surigao del Norte last October 3 , President Benigno Aquino III hurriedly assured mining companies that they would be protected and ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to deploy enough troops to do so. The AFP, in turn, announced the formation of paramilitary units Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary units, which it would arm and train but would be financially-supported by mining companies.
It seems that the Aquino government is in a quandary. It would have acted decisively and swiftly, as it is wont to do to protect the interests of local and foreign corporations. But it would be politically costly because opposing large-scale mining operations are not only some local government units – which have seen the destruction resulting from large-scale, extractive mining operations – there are also the major church denominations, including the Catholic Church, people’s and community organizations, NGOs and environmental groups.
The groups opposing foreign mining companies and their local partners have repeatedly clarified that they are not against mining per se; they are against large-scale, extractive mining for export because these mining companies would extract minerals without regard for the environment and the people to gain profits. The more minerals they extract and process, the more profits would accrue to them. And the more the prices of minerals go down in the world market, the more minerals they would extract to gain the same or even more revenues. That is why open pit mining has become the process of choice. it is easier to just blast away mountains to extract the minerals rather than go through the tedious process of building an elaborate structure of tunnels, which, by the way, is also destructive because it results in land subsidence.
This is where the irony lies: mining, of the large-scale, extractive kind could never be identified with safety and the environment. According to environmental groups, November 8, the start of the Mining Safety and Environment week activities is even the anniversary of the mine tailings spillage of Maricalum Mining in Negros Occidental in 1982, the first recorded mining disaster in the Philippines.
Nobody, not even the Aquino government, could deny the destruction and wastage left by Maricalum Mining in Negros Occidental, Marcopper mining in Marinduque, the La Fayette in Rapu Rapu island, Benguet mining in Itogon, among others. The Tribal Coalition of Mindanao has filed a petition for a writ of Kalikasan asking for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order against Taganita Mining Corp., Platinum Group Metals Corp., Oriental Synergy Mining Corp., Shenzhou Mining Group Corp. and Marcventures Mining Development Corp. because of the destruction large-scale mining operations have been causing in their communities. Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment added that one should also not forget the massive clearing of forests in Palawan, Surigao, Samar, Marinduque, Masbate and Negros to give way to mining operations.