Progressive solons file people’s mining bill in Congress

“It defines the significant roles of mining and a prosperous minerals industry in attaining a progressive, independent, industrialized and self-reliant economy.”

By DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat

MANILA – Environment and indigenous activists challenged President Duterte and his allies in Congress to take a step further in protecting the environment, by fast-tracking the enactment of the People’s Mining Bill (PMB), filed on Aug. 9, for the third time since 2011.

Meant to replace the much-maligned Mining Act of 1995, the People’s Mining Bill was filed by Bayan Muna Partylist Rep. Carlos Zarate, the new chairperson of the House committee on Natural Resources, and Act Teachers Party Rep. France Castro.

House Bill 2715 is entitled “An act re-orienting the Philippine Mining Industry towards National Industrialization and ensuring the highest industry development standards, and for other purposes.”

“We challenge the Duterte administration to mobilize its ‘super majority’ coalition in Congress to support Rep. Zarate’s push to pass this landmark mining reform law,” said Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan PNE national coordinator.

In its explanatory note, the solons said the bill combines previous proposals which “seek to reorient the Philippine mining industry towards a wise and sustainable development and judicious use of our mineral resources.”

“It defines the significant roles of mining and a prosperous minerals industry in attaining a progressive, independent, industrialized and self-reliant economy,” read the explanatory note.

Members of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) and the Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) supported the filing of the bill.

The People’s Mining Bill was first filed in 2011 the 15th Congress, as HB 4315, which reached up to the committee level. It was refiled in 2013 in the 16th Congress as HB 171, and reached up to the technical working group, which was supposed to “harmonize” it along with the Alternative Minerals Management bill, authored by Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat.

National industrialization as goal

Among those who supported the filing of the bill are Ifugao-Igorots from Didipio village, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya province, whose community has been plagued with disasters from the 20-year-old gold and copper mining operation of OceanaGold.

Environmentalists, indigenous peoples and mining-affected communities have long called to scrap the 21-year-old Mining Act of 1995, which liberalized mining in the country, and allowed the entry of large-scale, foreign companies. Even at the exploration level, mining operations have caused irreversible destruction of the environment, at the expense of peasant and indigenous communities who are displaced from their livelihood, homes and ancestral lands.

Ibon Foundation said 97 percent of mineral production leaves the country and goes to foreign industries. Meanwhile, mining areas have the highest poverty incidence, such as the regions of Caraga, Bicol and Zamboanga.

Increased human rights violations were also documented in mining-affected areas, as soldiers and paramilitary groups intensify militarization. At least 21 anti-mining activists were killed under Aquino.

Amid increasing public anger against destructive mining, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III signed Executive Order 79 in 2012, pending the passage of a new mining law. Critics, however, said EO 79 did nothing to stop destructive mining companies, and even aimed to override the mining ban being implemented by certain local government units.

“Indeed, the current law, policy, and practices governing the Philippine mining industry are unsustainable from an economic, ecological, legal, cultural, and human rights perspective,” said the bill’s authors in the explanatory note.

The country has an estimated metallic and non-metallic mineral reserves worth up to $1 trillion.

Ayta families join the protest against mining in Sta. Cruz, Zambales. (Photo by D.Ayroso/Bulatlat)
Ayta families join the protest against mining in Sta. Cruz, Zambales. (Photo by D.Ayroso/Bulatlat)

“If properly regulated and developed, these resources will be a requisite to developing a strong, self-reliant and progressive economy, founded on a healthy balance between agriculture and industrialization and programmed to break the cycle of the country’s underdevelopment,” the explanatory note read.

Kalikasan’s Bautista said that the PMB would increase government share of income from the development and utilization of mineral resources, as well as the royalties for host communities.

“The passage of the PMB will, in fact, initiate the formulation of a National Mining Plan that will ensure that all mining activities in the country will strategically lead to the development of downstream heavy industries and the modernization of our agriculture,” he said.

There will also be monitoring mechanisms that will allow public participation “to ensure environmental protection and welfare of mining host communities,” Bautista said.

Six other Makabayan solons co-authored HB 2715 with Zarate: Castro, ACT Teachers Party Rep. Antonio Tinio, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, Gabriela Women’s Party Reps. Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, and Kabataan Party Rep. Sarah Jane Elago. ()

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