MAC: Mines and Communities

Occupational hazards in mining - Beyond the Glitter

Published by MAC on 2004-12-01

Occupational hazards in mining - Beyond the Glitter

By Lyn V. Ramo, Northern Dispatch - Posted by Bulatlat

1st December 2004

Conclusion - Mining employs only 1% of the country’s total labor force yet poses great hazards not just to workers but the communities as well.

A Department of Health (DoH)-awarded study by Dr. Ana Marie Leung, convenor of Save the Abra River Movement (STARM), reveals that 75% of LCMCo mine workers sustain mine-related injuries ranging from simple cuts to fractured bones. The study also disclosed that underground mine workers are exposed to extreme heat, loud noise, vibration of equipment dust and fumes, among others.

“These occur because corporate mining uses cyanide and other toxic chemicals and employs heavy machinery that emit fumes underground” Leung said. She refuted LCMCo’s Project Development Manager Jake Foronda’s claim that LCMCo does not pollute the Abra River.

Leung welcomes the announcement made by Engr. Felizardo Gacad, Jr. chief of the Mines Environment and Safety Division of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Cordillera Administrative Region (MGB-CAR) that it will look into STARM’s findings on LCMCo, saying that “it is but fitting for the government to check hazardous mining effluents.”

A 1997 report by the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety and Development (IOHSAD) said that the leading types of accident in the mines, according to frequency, are: being hit by falling objects, suffocation from chemical fumes, and crushing injuries.

Dr. Ponciano Aberin, head of the DOH-Cordillera’s People with Disability Affairs, found out in 2003 that many miners suffer from hearing defects due to blasting operations in underground tunnels.

Inherently unsafe

Joan Carling, chairperson of the militant Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), said that the evaluation on mining safety should come from the people and not from mining companies whose only interest is to extract profits. She added that compared to the profits raked in by mining firms, the actual benefits extended to host communities are way too small.

“Mining will always be a part of the economy,” Carling said,” but the problem right now is the kind of technology used and the entities benefiting from these.”

Carling pointed out that mining operations have been in the country for centuries, “but until now, we cannot even produce our own sewing needles,” she said.

She also noted how corporate mining does not support national industrialization, being heavily dependent on foreign investments.

An alternative mining policy is being prepared by progressive party list Bayan Muna representatives in Congress in the wake of a nationwide opposition to the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (RA 7942) and the National Policy Agenda to Revitalize Mining in the Philippines (EO 270) as detailed in the Mineral Action Plan (MAP).

According to Carling, the proposal for a new mineral policy is based on a national industry that ensures the protection of our environment and the direct benefit of communities. “It should be geared away from dependence to foreign investment and foreign debt”, she said.

CPA called on mining companies to “look beyond the glitters of gold and money, and promote the welfare, interests and rights of communities and the protection of the environment”.

MAP: not an answer to the fiscal crisis

Last September, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, signed the MAP, signaling what Kalikasan – People’s Network for the Environment (K-PNE) called a “frenzied rush to mine all Philippine mineral resources.”

Under MAP, government agencies are mandated to resolve issues between communities and mining corporations in order to attract foreign capital into the mining industry.

K-PNE national coordinator Clemente Bautista scored government claims that MAP’s implementation would lead to a more prosperous minerals industry that could help ease the government’s budgetary and fiscal woes.

In fact, Bautista says, “the liberalization of the mining industry, which MAP is all about, will worsen the fiscal crisis.”

The MAP allows 100 percent repatriation of capital and profits, a 10-year tax holiday, capital tax exemptions, duty-free importation of equipment and machinery and other rights and privileges that tend to trample upon rights of host communities and the wanton disregard of the environment. It also shortened the processing time for mining applications by downgrading the participation of local government units in approving mining projects in their respective areas and harmonizing conflicting laws such as the Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) with the Mining Act.

Bautista said that these erroneous economic policies are one of the major reasons in the government’s low revenue collection and a ballooning budget deficit.

© 2004 Bulatlat - Alipato Publications

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