Realizations from the Visayan Conference on Mining and the Ecology

Visayan Conference on Mining and the Ecology

Last Saturday, February 25th, we attended the Visayan Conference on Mining and the Ecology. We learned so many things about the current issues our country is facing when it comes to taking care of our environment and  more importantly the major issue of mining and its negative effects. We had the pleasure of listening to the informative and eye-opening talks of various speakers which includes Ms. Regina Lopez – Managing Director of Bantay Kalikasan;Mayor Edward Hagedorn of Puerto Princesa City, Palawan; and Clive Wicks, Conservation Development Consultant.

I am sharing with you guys now an article shared with us during the conference. It’s kinda long but please try to read all of it so that you also will know the reasons why mining is really not good or profitable.

The speakers during the press conference.

Blame game continues in the mining sector

The country’s biggest mining firms have been relentless in pointing fingers to the small-scale miners for the environmental damage that has been done in various parts of the country.

Question: Do the large-scale mining players have a valid argument for this?

As proven for decades, mining operations has had direct impacts to some of the country’s worst environmental tragedies resulting to the loss and destruction of forests and wildlife. Who will forget the mining disasters caused by the erratic acts of a large-scale mining company in Marinduque in 1996? How about the Atlas Mining disaster in Sapangkaku River in Toledo City, Cebu in 1999, and the Rapu-Rapu mine tailings spills in 2005?

In Palawan alone, there were two major accidents involving mining operations in 2011, where coral reefs were destroyed, hectares of farmlands disadvantaged, tons of nickel spilled into the sea. And up until today, there are literally hundreds of abandoned mine sites that remain unrehabilitated where people around them continue to suffer.

Are the small-scale miners really the ones to be blamed here?

History also takes a detailed account of destruction of our upland, agricultural and coastal ecosystems, such as what happened in the Palawan Quicksilver Mines in Puerto Princesa, the nickel mines in Rio Tuba and in Colandorang Bay in Balabac; the non-rehabilitation of mined out and abandoned areas of silica mining in Roxas and the mining of nickel and chromite by Trident Mining Corporation and Olympic Mines in Narra, Palawan.

Add to this the recurring violations of civil, political, and human rights, as well as the displacement of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands, and the stunting of the domestic agricultural and industrial economy and industrial economy “which has made poverty a lingering and ugly reality in our country.” Mining has spawned social conflicts. Local communities have been divided on whether or not to allow mining in their forests, ancestral domains and farmlands. Indigenous and farmer communities of Bataraza, Narra and Quezon, Palawan continue to deal with such conflicts.

Mayor Ed Hagedorn answering the questions of the press.

Blurry Claims

Mining has been in existence in the country for several decades now, but the Filipinos have yet to really experience the growth that mining companies constantly promise. In fact, contrary to what the mining sector claims, mining has yet to provide evidence that it can improve the live of poor Filipino folks.

A good case study can be the existence of mining operations in Palawan. Despite more than thirty years of mining operations by Rio Tuba nickel Mining Corporation, its host community, Bataraza, still remains to be one of the poorest municipalities in Palawan. The municipality has been in grave need of basic services, such as electricity, water, education, and infrastructures.

Mining has been under scrutiny for quite some time. “Since the enactment of the Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942), we have seen firsthand the destruction wrought by large-scale mining corporations on the social and environmental landscape of the country,” according to a study by Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), entitled, A Legacy of Disasters: The Mining Situation in the Philippines-2011. “The sequence of events when the strategy shifted from tolerant regulation to aggressive promotion brought into spotlight the myriad problems in the mining sector.”

The study also noted that experts, as well as members of communities that have been directly affected by mining operations in various parts of the country, blame the conflicting interest within and outside the government that ultimately dominate the mining sector. “This, in turn, has led to the aggressive promotion and near-absent regulatory mechanisms in the sector, which in turn cause enormous human cost and environmental degradation.”

After the presscon.

Numbers that go nowhere

Despite the hefty sum of profit that mining companies clain bring in to the economy, there remains to be a huge descrepancy between how much these companies make and what actually goes to the government.

Former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman and Save Palawan Movement advocate, Atty. Christian Monsod, recently disclosed that from 2000-2009, the contribution of mining excise taxes – large scale, small scale, non-metallic operations – to total BIR excise tax collections has only been about 0.7%. “The development role of mining is always described as ‘potential’ because mining has never played a major role in our sustainable development, not even during the mining boom of the seventies and early eighties,” explains Monsod, an esteemed member of the Constitution Commission that drafted the 1987 Philippine Constitution. “What’s even more disappointing is that mining excise taxes relative to total BIR collections is consequently even smaller at 0.07%.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Monsod claims, has also revealed very disturbing inconsistencies in terms of the actual figures being reported by the mining sector. “The exports figures that mining companies have reported have apparently exceeded the reported production values of minerals (277 billion from 2000-2009),” Monsod notes. “Aside from this, there has also been a discrepancy between potential excise taxes from mining and the actual collections that the sector has actually collected (P7.8 billion from 2000-2009).”

On a broader scope, an assessment on the contribution of mining in the country’s gross domestic product back in 2007 reveals that the industry only accounted for 1.4% (Php 90 billion). In contrast, agriculture, fisheries,  and forestry accounted for 16.5% of the total GDP on the second quarter of 2009 alone. “It should be noted that these sectors – agriculture, fisheries, and forestry – have been recognized as key industries that are hugely threatened by continuing aggressive mining promotion in the country today.

“What the mining companies have been doing – such as infrastructure development and other community projects that involve construction of schools and other facilities – is something that the government should be doing,” says Monsod. “However, the government cannot implement its development programs, particularly among communities affected by mining operation, simply because they cannot get anything from the sector.”

Having said all of these, is it just fair for Filipinos to finally come to their senses and ask themselves: do the costs of mining outweigh its benefits, even the health, livelihood, and welface of our children?

This is the reason why the Save Palawan Movement has been very determined to deliver a strong message to the Philippines government. Armed with the support of a growing number of more than 5.5 million Filipinos and 640 organizations nationwide through a nationwide signature campaign, the Save Palawan Movement is aggressively encouraging more and more Filipinos to say No to mining, and support other sustainable alternatives such as ecotourism, agriculture and fisheries. And the group spearheaded the Visayan Conference on Mining and the Ecology with the goal of gathering together like-minded individuals and strengthening the coalition for the environment nationwide.

Mining is site-specific. Thus, the very fact that mining operations are taking place in the Philippines – the seat of the world’s richest biodiversity that possesses an intricate web of ecological systems – is in itself very irresponsible. This simply highlights the fact that, whether large-scale or small-scale, there is no such thing as responsible mining in fragile island ecosystems.

The Save Palawan Movement (SPM) is a non-profit, multi-sectoral volunteer organization that stands for the protection of our greatest resource which is biodiversity, the preservation of our island ecosystems, and poverty alleviation through community-based sustainable ecotourism and agriculture.

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