‘New mining EO to promote more foreign, large-scale mining’ – environmental groups

“This new mining policy is only more of the same deceptive, destructive, wanton and plunderous mining industry that we now have.” – Katribu partylist

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Mining is not just about the revenues that the Philippine government stands to immediately earn, said an environmentalist partylist as President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III prepares to sign a new executive order touted to raise the government’s revenue share from mining operations. So far, the government is getting only 1-percent of mining revenues, which some analysts said is perhaps even smaller because total mining revenues seem underreported. Despite this, the mining industry players are reportedly lobbying against the Aquino government’s proposed increase in mining tax, fees or royalties.

But the patent injustice in revenue sharing is just one of the many criticisms lodged against the mining industry in the Philippines. One of the major complaints, which had also prompted 40 provinces to issue local laws restricting specific mining practices in their areas, is the destructiveness of mining operations.

Studies have shown that rivers die and forests recede as a consequence of mining operations. Dwindling forest and dying rivers, in turn, result in loss of livelihood and housing, loss of established cultural practices, sources of food and water, and ultimately, loss even of lives. Experts said typhoons, rains and earthquakes become even more destructive with the continued reduction of protective forest cover and quick drainage that previously un-silted rivers provide.

Because of the sorry environmental record of mining operations, opposition has mounted despite the Aquino government’s increased deployment of troops in mining-affected communities.

With some 40 provinces restricting mining activities today, growing opposition from communities that also put pressure on their local government, plus the threat from armed revolutionary groups that they would continue to “punish” large-scale mining corporations found to destroy the environment and the people’s sources of livelihood, mining operations in the Philippines have slowed down. From the P31.40-billion ($739 million) value of metallic mineral production, this year’s first quarter production went down to P19.61-billion ($461 million).

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) director Leo Jasareno has blamed the ‘anti-mining advocacy’ for “bringing down the mining industry” and “hurting the country”.

Mining EO to please mining corporations, appease anti-mining advocates

To arrest the downward trend in mining, a new mining EO is expected to be signed by Aquino since February this year. The Chamber of Mines and representatives of large mining corporations have reportedly been questioning the local governments’ restriction of mining operations in courts. They are lobbying strongly for the Aquino government to control those provincial governors opposed to mining.

The said EO would reportedly allow the national government to override local ordinances that restrict or prohibit large scale mining. Governors and local government executives are currently bracing themselves to launch a court battle in case Aquino signed an EO seeking to invalidate the mining-restrictive local ordinances.

“That executive order will not make our ordinances disappear because they are articulations of democratic aspirations,” Albay Gov. Joey Salceda has been quoted as saying.

Their constituents’ reasons for driving the mining companies away are obvious, that even MGB director Leo Jasareno who blames anti-mining sentiments also admits that “(T)he mining industry was at fault…(F)or years they have abandoned mines and flouted environmental laws in the Philippines.”

According to critics, all these dangers brought upon the country by mining are not the worst facet yet of the Philippine government’s mining thrust.

Based on statements of Kalikasan Partylist and Katribu Partylist, two groups whose membership of environmentalists and indigenous peoples comprise some of the most disadvantaged by mining operations, and are thus, the most vocal in ‘anti-mining advocacy,’ the problem with the government’s mining thrust lies in its being export-oriented and generally cut off from any plan or design to develop the Philippine local industries.

According to Kakay Tolentino, Secretary General of the Katribu Partylist, “Any mining policy that sustains the current liberalized and foreign-dominated mining industry will not serve the interests of the indigenous peoples and the Filipino nation as a whole.”

She said the Aquino administration and the DENR entirely miss the point raised by critics of liberalization of the mining industry. “The issue here,” she said, “is more than the increase of payments of fees and royalties to be paid by the large foreign mining companies and bigger revenue for government, but the protection of our country’s national patrimony, sovereignty and real economic development over the interest of big foreign business.”

There’s life in mining only if coupled with nationalist industrialization

“After minerals are extracted from our lands, they are mostly shipped off overseas for processing with little value added,” said Frances Quimpo, secretary-general of Kalikasan Partylist.

Kalikasan Partylist is batting for a reorientation of the country’s mining thrust, to make it supportive of developing the country’s national industries by building downstream processing. The group said that in the long run, if mining is selectively done according to a sound industrialization plan, where a big chunk of what are to be mined would be used to develop local industries, the benefits from mining would be even bigger than any proposed increase in tax or royalties today.

As example, Quimpo cited the gains to be had “if we build downstream processing of ores instead of just exporting massive amounts of ore as cheap raw materials to other countries.”

Contrary to how MGB director Jasareno has called “anti-mining advocates,” the latter are not opposed to mining per se, but only to the liberalized, export-oriented mining currently being pushed by Mining Act of 1995. This would not be changed by Aquino’s upcoming executive order.

“The new mining policy that is anchored on increasing government revenues does not change the system of the country’s mining industry that is dominated by the large foreign companies who plunder our rich natural resources and leave a ravaged environment and an impoverished people,” Tolentino of Katribu Partylist said in a statement.

“The proposed new mining policy of the DENR merely reinforces the liberalized and destructive character of mining in our country allowed by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. This new mining policy is only more of the same deceptive, destructive, wanton and plunderous mining industry that we now have,” Tolentino added.

Instead of pursuing a liberalized, export-oriented mining that a growing number of Filipinos are now opposing, the Aquino government is urged to promote a selective, regulated mining that is also focused on the country’s industrialization needs.

Coupling the country’s mining thrust to a sound domestic industrialization plan, according to progressive groups, can also help correct the perceived wantonness of current mining operations.

“Mining should be regulated in relation to what the Filipino people really need, in order to significantly lessen its ecological impact,” Quimpo of Kalikasan Partylist said. Their proposal stands in stark contrast to current liberalized mining policy, which opens a big part of the Philippines, sometimes entire islands and populated villages, to exploration and diggings of mining companies.

“Worse, large-scale mining is being promoted despite the opposition of local governments and communities,” Quimpo said.

Aquino’s proposed EO “does not change the fact that the indigenous people and mining-affected communities are always at the losing end,” said Kakay Tolentino of Katribu Partylist. She belied government claims that the indigenous people will benefit from the new mining policy. She recalled how “liberalized mining devastated our sacred lands, sown division and disunity among our tribes and worsened our poverty.”

For Katribu, Aquino’s new EO is just “a poor attempt to pacify and deceive the growing anti-mining sentiments of various sectors and the indigenous peoples asserting their priority right over their ancestral lands.” Tolentino reiterated that what is needed is “a new mining policy that will re-orient and nationalize of the current mining industry.”

Instead of pushing for an EO that only tries to patch up some of the problems brought by Mining Act of 1995, “Pres. Aquino should certify as urgent House Bill (HB) 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill which tackles the issues of environmental protection, domestic industrialization and development for the people in a coherent way,” Quimpo said.

HB 4315, filed in Congress last March 2011 by Reps. Teddy Casino, Raymond Palatino, and other legislators, had been consolidated with other mining bills. It is currently being discussed at the House Committee on Natural Resources. ()

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