MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Mining: The Civil-society View (4)

Published by MAC on 2007-01-06
Source: Manila Times

Mining: The civil-society view (4)

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

6th January 2007

The great lynchpin of the government argument is that it will only promote and permit sustainable mining while severely punishing any company who does not live up to the high environmental standards set by the Mining Act.

Unfortunately, this argument is flawed from the beginning, as there is no such thing as sustainable mining. There is smart mining, there is mining that causes limited environmental damage, but these types of mining are rarely of the large scale, vast hectarage variety which the government ceaselessly promotes as the hope of the future.

Mining is among the most destructive practices known to man. Mitigation is possible, replanting an area with forestry, treating the tailings ponds and so on, but an apt analogy given by a local antimining advocate was: "if you peel the skin off a fruit but do not eat it, could you still call it a fruit? A mining company will hollow out mountains and then cover them with dirt and they will still call it a mountain."

What is considered as safe mining in other countries is mining done with an eye to the environment in check and so is done in the far wilderness, in areas where there is little or no human presence. While this raises a host of other problems, no human communities are at risk.

Contrast that with the Philippines. The mining sites that have garnered the greatest attention-Rapu-rapu, Didipio and Canatuan-are ones where the community itself is rejecting the mine. Rapu-rapu's operations affect not only the stretch of the island by the waters upon which the municipalities of Sorsogon depend on for their fishing. Didipio, famous for filing the case against the Mining Act, is an agricultural community that views the mine as a risk to their already developed industry and Canatuan is a classic example of a community divided against itself by mining. In the Philippines, the environmental costs of mining are compounded by their human costs.

Even a mine relatively isolated can affect the community, if only because of the Philippines' geography. We do not have vast stretches of unbroken wilderness. The areas that matter have been populated. The rivers that mining companies will utilize for their water and the forests they will need to clear have already been claimed, years ahead by the communities living in the area. This ecosystem of ours is small and interconnected. What happens in the far hills reaches to the shore, just as in the Mar­copper disaster.

Similarly, the incidents at Rapu-rapu at the end of the year 2005 were an example of geography coming into play, alongside a display in the lack of common sense. The tailings ponds at the Lafayette site overflowed when torrential rains flooded them. As a country regularly struck typhoons per year, it seems more than a little senseless that a company had not taken such an obvious consideration as the weather into their planning.

Among civil society, it has long been suspected that there is a disconnect in the government's policies toward mining and the reality of mining. Both the Act and the National Minerals Plan (NMP) seem to be born of this disconnect, wherein the government considers mining without considering the Philippine geography. The economic considerations of the Mining Act seem to be the source of this.

Money, particularly in the amounts promised by the mining industry is an attraction enough as it is. An application for an FTAA requires an investment of P50 million. To a government whose desperation for funds is palpable, mining is a windfall and it is easy to replace the reality with its promises.

Everything about the Mining Act and the NMP screams "make more money." If it did not, then companies would find no reason to invest. If it actually promised to be stringent on mining, tough on violators and interested in development, mining companies would not be here.

The third world is attractive to miners because it is lax and welcoming, not because it has adopted laws as stringent as the first world countries whose populations and government would respond to mining violations with brutal, legal swiftness. It is absolutely in the interest of mining companies to work in the their world, and make sure that the countries they work with have low environmental and social standards of accountability, if they have any at all.

In the NMP, it is recommended that mining be a self-regulated industry, with the DENR, the MGB and the EMB existing only to facilitate the set up of mines with their miners doing their own monitoring. Their accountability to the public is set to nil. We know why this is, is because miners helped write the Mining Act. To spend a few million pesos to tap untold billions of mineral resources is good business any way one looks at it.

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