MAC: Mines and Communities

Philippine Mining: The Civil-society Perspective

Published by MAC on 2006-12-16
Source: Manila Times

Philippine mining: The civil-society perspective

NATURE FOR LIFE, By Anabelle E. Plantilla, Manila Times

16th December 2006

I have just come from Cebu having attended the Second Civil Society Conference that was supposed to be side by side with the "postponed" Asean Summit. Because the forecast was stormy weather, I was armed with appropriate rain gear only to find out that it was clear and sunny! It must have been the political storms that drove the summit away.

The issue of mining vis-à-vis indigenous peoples' rights was one of the several concurrent workshops that were held. The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM), of whose secretariat Haribon is a part, provided the opportunity for a majority of its membership, particularly from the 23 priority mining project sites, to attend the conference and share their harrowing experiences. These ranged from misinformation, bribery, militari­zation and murder.

Phildhrra, which is also part of the ATM secretariat, circulated a paper on civil-society perspective on mining. It says that the current state of mining in the Philippines can be said to hinge on two things: the Philippine Mining Act or Republic Act 7942 and the Marcopper Mining disaster in Marinduque. Each signifies the opposite ends of the mining spectrum, the former represents the best attempt of the government to revitalize the mining industry, the latter, mining's ultimate pitfalls. The two are even closely linked by date; the Mining Act was passed into law in 1995, a year later, the Marcop­per disaster occurred.

The fallout from Marcopper's destruction of the rivers of Boac and Mogpog, as well as the ensuing discovery of the company's repeated violations of the country's environmental code and the magnitude of human suffering captured by the media served to truncate the government's revitalization attempts. As mines grew less profitable with the drop in global prices and the backlash from Marinduque swept through the nation, scaring away potential investors and getting mines shut down, companies packed up and left. Mining had become untenable in the Philippines, something that flew in the face of RA 7942 and its author and primary proponent, President Arroyo.

The Mining Act received some attention prior to GMA's ascension to the presidency but it was in her second term that attention to the revitalization of the Philippine mining industry came to fruition. The fast tracking of the National Minerals Policy Framework was the most visible manifestation of the government's commitment to mining. According to experts, the Philippines has mineral wealth that reaches into the billions of dollars, a windfall for a country that is stricken with poverty. Yet, the
prevalent idea being flung about is that the Philippines does not utilize this wealth, that is simply sitting there, untapped, while the country remains poor.

The reality is that mining has been part of Philippine life since the pre-Spanish era. Tribal tradition confirm this and artisanal, or small-scale miners, in the Cordilleras practice an art that has changed little over the centuries. The Spaniards recognized the country's mineral wealth, though they were unable to develop mining in any extensive form. Fierce tribal fighters kept them from the mountainous regions, through this did not stop them from attempting to penetrate the area with military force.

The Americans proved better at this. Among the earliest laws passed by the Americans was the Public Lands Act (1902) which allowed them to declare traditionally ancestral areas as areas for exploitation and development, giving them a legal right to seize these places and begin mining. The "summer capital" of Baguio is and was a mining town, the fact that there was an American military presence there was no simple coincidence, but an active way of safeguarding the valuable resources that America had claimed for its own growth.

History tells us that mining has been part of the national economy for literally centuries; that mines and mining firms are no strangers to this country, but long time visitors, welcome or not. Yet mining today is a different beast than what the country has known previously. This is largely in part to the demands of investors, companies and the government's own desire to transform the nation's mineral wealth into economic success.

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