By Abril Layad B. Ayroso
THE third of March 2017 marked the twenty-second year since the implementation of Republic Act 7942, or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, began. Mining companies have since flourished even more, exporting raw materials in greater volume to more countries including China with its gigantic and insatiable manufacturing industries.
According to the Center of Environmental Concerns (CEC) the Philippines has 7.1 billion metric tons of metallic mineral reserves (such as gold and nickel) and 51 billion metric tons of non-metallic deposits. The estimated total value of all these mineral riches is estimated at around $840 billion to $1 trillion, larger than both the country’s gross domestic product and its entire external debt. “If properly developed, these vast and rich reserves can sustain a strong, self-reliant and progressive domestic economy balancing agriculture and industrialization and breaking the existing cycle of underdevelopment,” CEC said.
Environmentalists, however, described RA 7942 as a law that liberalized foreign control over the domestic mining industry that was “instituted along with policies liberalizing existing country controls in other strategic economic sectors.” The current condition the law has created has gone on for 22 years too long, they said.
Clemente Bautista of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment belied claims made by mining companies and pro-mining advocates that the mining industry in its current state was vital in the promotion of jobs and businesses, and that the industry made efforts to reforest the areas affected by their operations. “According to the government’s own data, mining only contributes around one percent of total local employment, amounting to only 200,000 jobs,” Bautista said.
A recent study conducted by Ibon Foundation also shows provinces with the largest mining activities are among the poorest. It added that in 2009, mining had the highest poverty incidence among industry groups at 48.71 per cent, the highest since 1988. In addition, most of the Philippines’ mineral production goes to export, leaving little raw materials for local manufacturing. In 2015, 73 per cent of total production value went to foreign markets. “Mineral extraction and production often incur significant social and environmental costs which in fact fall disproportionately on the poor,” Ibon concluded.
Aside from depriving local industries of much needed raw materials, current mining activities are also destroying the local environment possibly beyond rehabilitation, the groups said.
Bautista cited the Marcopper disaster of 1996 in Marinduque as an example of how bad the Mining Act allowed things to deteriorate. A fracture in the drainage tunnel of a large pit in one of the Canadian firm’s mines led to a discharge of toxic waste materials into the Makulapnit-Boac river system and caused flash floods in areas along the river. Barangay Hinapulan was buried in six feet of muddy floodwater, displacing 400 families. Twenty other barangays also had to be evacuated. Drinking water was contaminated, killing fish and freshwater shrimp as well as animals that drank from the rivers. The flooding caused the destruction of crops and irrigation channels.
“Many years later after their livelihoods and environment were destroyed by the operations and subsequent disaster, things have not improved,” Bautista said. “There has been no proper rehabilitation for the residents, and the government has so far failed to bring the responsible companies to justice,” he added, citing the Marinduque provincial government’s failed lawsuit against Marcopper, its parent company Placer Dome and eventual buyer Barrick Gold, which was blocked by United States courts in 2015.
Bautista also belied claims of other mining companies that they reforest the areas affected by their operations. “The impact of their alleged efforts is negligible. The negative effects of their operations on surrounding forests, mountains, seas, rivers and communities greatly outweighs whatever attempts they have made to help the environment,” he said.
Replacing the Mining Act of 1995
CEC sees House Bill 4135 or the People’s Mining Bill as a solution to the problems created by RA 7942. Instead of the government merely promoting exploration and other mining operations in collusion with big mining companies, the bill seeks to have the government lead or at least supervise large-scale operations to ensure that these operate for medium and long-term benefits of the country, the group said. In addition, it would help ensure the protection of human rights of communities and the right to self-determination of national minorities that may be affected.
First filed in the 15th Congress on March 2, 2011 by Reps. Teddy Casino, Neri Colmenares, Rafael Mariano, Luzviminda Ilagan, Raymond Palatino, Emmi De Jesus, and Antonio Tinio, the People’s Mining Bill aims to reorient the current mining policies towards national industrialization and national development. If enacted, the prospective law shall only allow Filipino companies to hold permits for large-scale operations to keep mining gains within the Philippines. Under the bill, foreign companies may invest in exceptional cases identified by the government after undergoing rigorous screening, regulations and a mandatory program for technology transfer and equity shares.
But Bautista said that the struggle against injustices wrought by the Mining Act of 1995 should go beyond the parliamentary initiative to have the law replaced by HB 4135.
“The Filipino people must act against destructive practices and the Mining Act of 1995. People from affected areas should call for the foreign and private corporations to leave their communities in peace. They must assert their rights to land, peace and health,” he said.
“In addition, the Filipino people must call for the scrapping of the Mining Act of 1995, which is the root of the current abusive mining system,” Bautista said. # (Featured photo by CEC-Philippines)