MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Fort del Pilar threatened with mining operation

Published by MAC on 2006-07-18

Fort del Pilar threatened with mining operation

By MARIT STINUS-REMONDE, Manila Times

http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=44660

18th July 2006

Mining projects are usually found in the most remote mountainous areas inhabited by marginalized farmers and indigenous people. This is not necessarily because these are the only areas with mineral deposits. The value of what will be destroyed by the mining operation is simply less, from an economic point of view, than the revenues and profits to be generated. Economist Bernardo Villegas, quoted in Philippine Star, pointed out the obvious that "mining is usually in the boondocks." A majority of the poor are in the rural areas, Dr. Villegas said, and in his opinion neither agriculture nor manufacturing has the potential to bring progress to these areas. Mining has.

Mining projects are usually found in the most remote mountainous areas inhabited by marginalized farmers and indigenous people. This is not necessarily because these are the only areas with mineral deposits. The value of what will be destroyed by the mining operation is simply less, from an economic point of view, than the revenues and profits to be generated. Economist Bernardo Villegas, quoted in Philippine Star, pointed out the obvious that "mining is usually in the boondocks." A majority of the poor are in the rural areas, Dr. Villegas said, and in his opinion neither agriculture nor manufacturing has the potential to bring progress to these areas. Mining has.

Philex Mining Corp. is applying for a permit to mine inside the Philippine Military Academy, Fort del Pilar, Baguio City. A PMA alumnus told me that the mining operations would displace the academy. Philex, he said, is using Dr. Villegas, who is conducting free lectures to the cadets, to gain support for the project. Is Fort del Pilar (named after Gen. Gregorio del Pilar) the boondocks? The PMA and the Armed Forces of the Philippines are reportedly against Philex' mining project but there is pressure on both the academy and the AFP to change their stand. The area is a military reserve, and the AFP's clearance is required as provided for by Section 15 of RA 7942, the Mining Act of 1995.

Mining operations could potentially raise millions of dollars and create jobs and livelihood opportunities. A farmer-leader from Toledo City, Cebu, told me that many farmers welcome the reopening of the Atlas mine. The mine used to employ thousands of workers and the economic benefits to Toledo were obvious. However, there are concerns about mine tailings disposal. Neither the company nor the government is providing any information about how and where mine tailings will be contained and discharged. Thirty years ago, the untreated waste was dumped directly into the sea but this practice is now banned by RA 7942. A mine tailings pond will have to be constructed.

Mine tailings ponds occasionally overflow and breach. The subsequent spills cause destruction to the environment, health and livelihood as witnessed in Marinduque and Rapu-Rapu. The companies responsible for these disasters and the government agencies tasked to implement the law demonstrated little foresight and competence in dealing with the spills. While the findings of the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission lacked credibility, thanks to Bishop Arturo Bastes, who chaired the commission, the spills and the damage mining has caused are real. The first spill occurred only three months after the Rapu-Rapu mine started producing gold.

The government has declared mining as a priority investment area. Mining is included in the 12-point agenda of the DENR. But once mined, the minerals are gone forever. The government must ensure the highest possible dividend on these finite resources. Yet, on top of the incentives provided by the Mining Act, some mining areas, including the Rapu-Rapu mine, are also granted status as economic zones. Additional incentives mean less income for the government.

The PMA has a value far beyond that of the gold in its underground. The academy is priceless and it is a pride of the people of Baguio. It is the country's premier military training institution. It would be the ultimate irony if the PMA is turned into an open-pit mine at a time when an outstanding PMA alumnus heads the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Secretary Angelo Reyes was among the top 10 graduates of PMA Class 1966 and in 2001 he received the academy's Cavalier Award for Public Administration.

The PMA website carries the immortal words of Gen. del Pilar: "I am surrounded by fearful odds that will overcome me and my valiant men; but I am pleased to die fighting for my beloved country." Today the odds are fearful that mining operations shall overcome the PMA and its valiant men and women who face the prospect of displacement because of mining, hardly a fate with which the legendary general would have been pleased.

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