MAC: Mines and Communities

Cbcp Sticks To Anti-mining Act Stance

Published by MAC on 2006-04-20
Source: MindaNews ()

CBCP sticks to anti-Mining Act stance

By Allen V. Estabillo, MindaNews - http://www.mindanews.com/2006/04/20nws-cbcp.htm

20th April 2006

GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- The influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has remained firm on its demand for the scrapping of Republic Act 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995 and for a "pro-people alternative" despite an ongoing review of the proposed amendments to the controversial law ordered by Malacañang.

Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez said they were wary of the Arroyo administration's promise to revise the "controversial provisions" of the mining law, especially the terms on the granting of Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAA) to foreign companies.

"They are politicians and we have all the reasons to be skeptical about their actions," the bishop said in a press conference after a big rally against an Australian-backed mining firm in Tampakan, South Cotabato on Wednesday which he and two other bishops led.

But he said they "will wait and see" if the government will make good their promise.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reportedly agreed to study some possible amendments to the Mining Act during a dialogue last March 10 with Bishops Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon, Pedro Arigo of Puerto Princesa, Antonieto Cabajog of Surigao, Reynaldo Evangelista of Boac, Warlito Cahandig of Calapan, Archbishop Carmelo Morelos of Zamboanga and retired Jesuit Bishop Francisco Claver.

Among those who joined the dialogue were House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Environment Secretary Angelo Reyes, Presidential Chief of Staff Michael Defensor and Socio-economic and Planning Director General Romulo Neri. Gutierrez, who heads the CBCP's National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace, acknowledged that the Mining Act of 1995 has some "good provisions" but that they were overshadowed by the controversial terms in the FTAA and the perks it supposedly extends to foreign mining firms.

"It fully liberalized mining in the country and especially allowed the foreigners to control our lands and do anything with them as they please," he said.

He reiterated the provisions that allow foreign mining companies to control 100 percent of a mining venture through the FTAA and to charge all their expenses against the future income of the mining venture, and the tax holidays.

Citing the proposed large-scale copper and gold mining venture of the Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) which holds an FTAA with the government, Gutierrez said the company was allowed not just to mine the area's minerals but also "to control the area's watershed, enter into private properties, manage the timber and the surrounding communities."

"We will replace all these unfair provisions with nationalistic terms based on an alternative law that would be introduced by the people themselves," he said.

Bishop Jimmy Afable of Digos reiterated that majority of the bishops really want the Mining Act replaced by an alternative law.

He stressed that consultations have been ongoing nationwide for the formulation of an "Alternative People's Mining Act." The technical consultations are spearheaded by the Legal Resources Center and the Alyansa Tigil Mina. He, however, said the CBCP did not set a timetable as to when the alternative mining law would be introduced to potential sponsors in Congress.

"All the legal processes are being explored to come up with sound pro-people policies. It will come out when it's done and we will then make a big push for it (in Congress)," the bishop added.

Meantime, aside from waiting for the government's promised amendments to the mining law, Bishop Romulo Valles of Kidapawan said they would continue to push for the exclusion of Marinduque from the 23 mining projects being pursued by the government.

"It doesn't make sense to allow another mining venture to set in when the area destroyed by the past mining activities is not yet fully rehabilitated," he said.

He said another immediate action is the delisting of the Rapu-Rapu mining project and the "stoppage of all other proposed ventures in the country including that of SMI."

Bishops Gutierrez, Valles and Afable yesterday joined forces to press for the eviction of SMI from the area before the start of its planned large-scale mining operations in 2009.

The three bishops announced the move after leading some 8,000 residents coming from at least six provinces and five cities in southern and central Mindanao to a protest caravan and rally against SMI in Tampakan town.

SMI, which is financed by the Australian Indophil Resources NL, is currently conducting exploratory drilling activities in the tri-boundaries of Tampakan, Columbio and Kiblawan towns to confirm the viability of the copper and gold deposits in the area.

SMI's proposed mining area, which covers at least five barangays in the three towns, was earlier cited by company officials as one of the largest high grade copper and gold deposits in the Far East.

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