MAC: Mines and Communities

Deportation Gag

Published by MAC on 2007-02-01
Source: Inquirer

Deportation gag

VIEWPOINT - By Juan Mercado, Inquirer -

1st February 2007

THE Bureau of Immigration still hasn’t explained why it barred an Irish priest, who co-authored a devastating report on mining, from reentering the Philippines early January. “It’s a sovereign country’s prerogative to exclude aliens,” mumbled Immigration regulation chief Gary Mendoza after blocking Fr. Frank Nally.

The justice department didn’t reveal why it ordered Father Nally to fly out. Government need not explain why a person landed on the blacklist. And what about reciprocal treatment for Filipino overseas workers? They’re flooding into a country that’s among the top five in the European Union today.

Arbitrariness does not do our diplomatic relations with Dublin any good. And how does a Catholic scholar of the Columban Justice and Faith group in the United Kingdom end up on the same list as al-Qaeda operatives? And why? Because Father Nally wrote “Mining in the Philippines: Concerns and Conflicts.” That’s why. This is a 61-page report on the 2006 mission led by former UK secretary of state for overseas development Clare Short.

Prepared in cooperation with the National University of Ireland and the Philippine Indigenous Peoples’ Link, that study is upsetting the Philippine government. Mining has a shoddy record seen in 800 abandoned mines. The Philippinesis among “the worst countries in the world with regard to tailings, dam failures,” UN Environmental Programme records show.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, in 2006, flayed mines in the provinces of Albay, Palawan, Nueva Vizcaya, South Cotabato, Zamboanga del Norte and Marinduque for massive ecological damage. “I’ve never seen anything so systematically destructive as the [Philippine] mining program,” Member of Parliament Clare Short writes. “Environmental effects are as catastrophic as are the effects on people’s livelihoods.... Government and mining companies should demonstrate that [they will] adhere to their own laws and international mining best practice.” She flayed the World Bank and the EU for spurring destructive mining.

EU’s “development interventions are failing in the Philippines to live up to (declared) standards: protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and a strong commitment to sustainable development…. The investor community must behave more responsibly in their investment decisions.” Would that qualify the Honorable Short for this blacklist, too? Who draws up that list anyway? Who can scrub names from it? And is there a review and appeal process in what is basically a secret drill? “[We] recognize the external pressures on the Philippines as a deeply indebted country to generate foreign investments,” the main report goes on to say. “[But] the emphasis on export-driven mining” could diminish development prospects. “Contrary to recommendations of the ‘Extractive Industries Review,’ many proposed new mining sites are in areas of conflict, including Mindanao.

Government should consider repealing the 1995 Mining Act, enact alternative legislation, as well as create a separate Department of Mines, Hydrocarbons and Geosciences.” The Philippines is one of 17 mega-biodiversity countries. But it is also a geo-hazard hotspot, whip-lashed by typhoons, landslides, volcanoes, etc. “Its environmental stability is already under threat.” There are doubts whether it can meet the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015. “Government must therefore exercise extreme caution in authorizing large-scale mining projects.” Relatively strong laws protect indigenous peoples and communities. But these are honored more in breach than in practice.

Mining in vital watersheds is often approved. By law, indigenous peoples must give their free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) before any project starts within their ancestral lands. But “this consent is often obtained through misinformation, misrepresentation, bribery and intimidation.” Government agencies are failing to fulfill their mandate to protect indigenous peoples’ rights.

Many “view the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples as siding with mining companies.” Government should “end the contradictory practice of allowing mining companies to assert prior rights claims over ancestral land. And the Philippine Senate should ratify ILO Convention 169.” “Human rights abuses and misreporting are clearly associated with some current mining activities.” Companies ought to publish details of payments, taxes and royalties in accordance with the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. “Corruption is a serious problem…. Plans for extensive mining operations in remote areas … will make it worse. And those in government and international agencies seem to lack the capacity or inclination to challenge and end such misconduct….” Consider setting up a Mining Ombudsman, the report suggests. The team doubts whether the benefits publicized by mining companies, in exchange for incentives, are for real. “Once revenues are offset against costs -- in particular, the environmental costs -- the net gain will be far lower than that claimed by companies and promoters of mining in government.” In addition, “the country may be left with cleanup costs that run into billions of dollars.” In 1892, the Spanish colonial government sentenced Jose Rizal to "destiero" [exile] in Dapitan, to muzzle his truth-telling. That exile failed. And deporting, in 2007, a priest-scholar who questioned this country’s mining industry will flop. It will only embed abuses that sell Filipinos short.

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