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Lawyer, CHR score Duterte’s order vs non-mask wearers

President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to have those who do not wear masks or wear them improperly arrested undermines the rule of law and may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse by government authorities, a lawyers’ group and the Commission on Human Rights said.

Reacting to Duterte’s verbal order issued Wednesday night, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia said the arrest directive is another authoritarian edict by the President.

“[T]he legal justification is not only inapplicable but erroneous because there appears to be no clearly defined crime or offense covered by any specific law or lawful ordinance for a valid instance of warrantless arrest to operate,” Olalia said.

The human rights lawyers said the order is a “cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment disproportionate to the evil sought to be supposedly addressed.”

He said its implementation may again be discriminatory as shown by the arrest, detention and death of mostly poor people arising from various coronavirus lockdown orders implemented by the government since the pandemic hit the Philippines in March 2020.

“This is what we get when we have knee-jerk draconian ideas rather than commonsensical solutions… Imagine the time, effort, resources – even brain neurons – to be spent legislating, enforcing, arresting, detaining, prosecuting and convicting for such a petty misdemeanor,” Olalia said.

He added that Duterte’s “serial mailed fist cures” would just worsen the coronavirus problem and lock the people up in the “slippery slope of inane coercive measures.”

The lawyer suggested providing facemasks for free to those who cannot afford them and launching massive popular information drives to prevent further congestion of the government’s jail facilities.

‘Detain them!’

In a meeting with pandemic task force officials Wednesday night, Duterte admitted he is at a loss on how to stem the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.

“My orders to the police are, those who are not wearing their mask properly, in order to protect the public… to arrest them,” the President said.

“Detain them, investigate them why they’re doing it,” he said.

The chief executive said the police may detain those arrested to up to nine hours.

“If I don’t do this strictly, nothing will happen,” he said in Filipino.

‘Abusive’

The Commission on Human Rights however agreed with Olalia and said in a statement Thursday it is concerned that in the absence of clear guidelines, Duterte’s directive may be prone to excessive discretion and abuse.

“[W]ith the noted rise of human rights violations arising from violations of health protocols, we have stressed the need for reasonable and humane disciplinary measures for violators,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.

De Guia noted that several local government units have passed ordinances penalizing those not wearing masks in public but said the measures only often reprimand, fine or order violators to perform community service.

She agreed with Olalia that the country’s overcrowded jails may not be a sound strategy to prevent the further spread of the virus in the communities.

“In the end, it is through intensive education and information campaigns, not fear, that would best result in better compliance with healthy and safety protocols during the pandemic. ..We may be in quarantine due to the pandemic, but rights should not be on lockdown,” de Guia said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Canada conducts hearing on the human rights crisis in the Philippines; urged to take action

The Canadian House of Commons (HOC) conducted a hearing on the human rights situation in the Philippines on Tuesday (May 4 Canadian time and early Wednesday, May 5, PH time) amid growing calls to the North American government to end its policy of “quiet diplomacy” with the Rodrigo Duterte government.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay and Rappler’s Maria Ressa testified at the hearing, along with Quebec lawyer and International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines – Quebec co-chairperson Guy-Lin Beaudoin and MiningWatch Canada’s Catherine Coumans.

Palabay told the HOC Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development that the Duterte government’s “murderous” counter-insurgency campaign violates the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants.

The killing of 394 civilians, including 15 Karapatan human rights workers, is an “epidemic of rights violations,” Palabay said.

“We implore the Canadian government to take action on these concerns with urgency, as our country further descends into an authoritarian state,” Palabay added.

Ressa echoed Palabay, adding the Philippine government has “weaponized” laws to go after human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists like her.

Rappler’s co-founder and executive editor said women are more vulnerable from attacks, citing as examples her 10 arrest warrants and two arrests as well as the imprisonment of fellow journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio and Senator Leila de Lima.

Canadians against rights violations in the PH

Canadian human rights defenders also testified at the briefing to urge their government to fulfill its human rights obligations to the international community.

Beaudoin challenged the Canadian Foreign Ministry of Foreign Affairs to publicly condemn the reported atrocities committed by the Philippine government and its security forces on the Filipino people and called for the suspension of all Canadian support to the Philippine government’s anti-terrorism and counterinsurgency programs.

Beaudoin also called on their foreign minister to urge the Canadian Embassy in Manila to apply vigorously the tools in Canada’s guidelines on supporting human rights defenders to protect those who face immediate danger of being killed or arrested.

Enumerating human rights violations associated with Canadian mining companies operating in the Philippines, Coumans for her part called on Canada “to fulfill its obligation to protect human rights in the context of the deteriorated human rights situation in the Philippines.”

“[I]n particular, to protect those who are criminalized and whose lives are threatened for speaking out in defense of human rights and the environment,” Coumans said.

She said the Canadian Embassy in Manila has not been doing enough in protecting people who seek its assistance and support. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Ayuda urgent: Jobs crisis still worse than before pandemic — IBON

Government claims of the employment situation improving in February 2021 compared to pre-pandemic January 2020 are unfounded, research group IBON said.

The so-called increase in employment is just Filipinos desperate to make a living in any way they can. This makes the need for substantial cash aid even more urgent, the group said.

The economic managers repeatedly claim that “we have surpassed our pre-pandemic employment level of 42.6 million in January 2020,” such as when the February 2021 labor force survey (LFS) results were released.

IBON said the LFS figures, however, clearly show that the jobs crisis existing even before the pandemic has only gotten worse upon the longest and harshest lockdowns in Southeast Asia.

Reported employment increased by 610,000, from 42.5 million in January 2020 to 43.2 million in February 2021. But this was far from enough for the labor force which grew by 2.4 million over that same period to 47.3 million, said the group, resulting in even greater unemployment.

IBON also noted that there are 12 million combined unemployed (4.2 million) and underemployed (7.9 million) Filipinos as of February 2021, which is much more than the 8.7 million in January 2020 (i.e. 2.4 million unemployed and 6.3 million underemployed).

The 1.8 million increase in unemployment in itself already indicates collapsing household incomes for millions of Filipino families, said the group.

Photo by R. Villanueva/Kodao

The marginal increase in employment should not be seen as a sign of any improvement because it masks a serious deterioration in the quality of work in the country, IBON said. Even less than before, so-called employment is not enough to give Filipino families the regular and secure incomes they need to survive.

By class of workers, the number of wage and salary workers fell by over 1 million and of employers in family farms and businesses by 72,000 from widespread lockdown-driven business closures and retrenchments. These are down to 26.7 million and 930,000, respectively.

IBON noted that jobless Filipinos were apparently driven to “self-employment” which bloated by 1.4 million and to being “unpaid family workers” which rose by 356,000. These increased to 12.5 million and 3 million, respectively.

By hours worked, the number of full-time workers fell by 2.9 million to 25.9 million. Those working only part-time however increased by 3.2 million to 16.6 million, and those “with a job, not at work” by 325,000 to 657,000.

IBON stressed that tens of millions of Filipinos are going hungry, most of all from not having the money to buy food especially from the lack of work.

The Php10,000 emergency cash assistance being demanded is all the more urgent to immediately alleviate hunger. The inflation-adjusted official food threshold as of March 2021 for a family of five is Php2,133 per week in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Php1,905 per week on average for the Philippines.

The latest Php1,000 token cash aid is glaringly not even enough for food expenses, considering even that official food thresholds are ridiculously low to begin with, IBON said.

At the same time, a large fiscal stimulus is critical to arrest economic scarring, jump-start the economy, and genuinely improve employment on a wider scale, said the group. #

Sold

Cartoon by Crisby Delgado, PUP/Kodao

In one of his latest public addresses, President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines owes a big debt of gratitude to China and justified its occupation of islands inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone at the West Philippine Sea. His remarks received widespread condemnation from the Filipino people, including segments of the military.

‘Ayudang sapat para sa Lahat,’ panawagan sa Mayo uno 2021

Hindi nangyari ang orihinal na planong paggunita ng Pandaigdigang Araw ng Paggawa sa Liwasang Bonifacio dahil sa panggigipit ng mga pulis, subalit naidaos naman ito sa Welcome Rotonda, Quezon City. Pangunahing panawagan ng mga manggagawa sa taong ito ang pagbibigay ng sapat at nakabubuhay na ayuda para sa lahat sa gitna ng pinaka-mahabang lockdown sa buong mundo dahil sa pandemya.

Ayon kay Elmer Labog, tagapangulo ng Kilusang Mayo Uno, bagaman ayuda ang kanilang pangunahing panawagan, patuloy pa ring ipinaglalaban ng uring manggagawa ang tunay na kalayaan at demokrasya ng bansa. Nanawagan sila ng pagbibitiw ni Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte sa pwesto dahil sa kapabayaan nitong tugunan ang pangangailangan ng lahat ng mga Pilipino sa panahon ng pandemya.

Palagian namang pinapaalalahanan ng mga organisador ng aktibidad ang social distancing sa naturang protesta dahil sa COVID-19. (Bidyo ni Jo Maline mula sa kuha nina Jek Alcaraz, Joseph Cuevas, at Jo Maline)

‘We can actually demand China accountability’

“We can actually demand China accountability for its relentless occupation and plunder of West Philippine Sea. China’s monetary liabilities to the Philippines are indeed far greater than the loans and assistance that it would extend to the country.”Fernando Hicap, National Chairperson, Pambasang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas

EO 130: Much fuss about paltry gains

by Xandra Liza C. Bisenio and Rosario Guzman

President Duterte recently signed Executive Order (EO) 130 which lifts a 9-year ban on new mining agreements. The economic managers say that Philippine mineral resources have been vastly untapped and could bring significant benefits to the economy. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) expects to generate some Php21 billion from two phases of 100 new mining projects. The mining industry can also provide raw materials for the Build, Build, Build program and employment opportunities for the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa program, the EO justifies.

EO 130 lifts the moratorium on new mineral agreements, which was set by the Aquino administration’s EO 79, then pending a new revenue law. Save for this provision, EO 79 actually continued and enhanced the destructive features of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 – opening more mining areas and reservations, including marginal lands, and clipping the powers of local government units (LGUs), say to impose mining bans and declare mining-free zones. EO 130 seeks to intensify these, especially by removing the moratorium – the perceived barrier to full-blast mining – leaving a thicker trail of damage on the environment and communities and with little benefit to the national economy.

Asking for coins

But the Duterte administration has exaggerated how mining investments can help the economy recover amid COVID-19. Like its predecessors, it has mainly focused on mining’s contribution to export earnings, revenues and jobs creation, instead of counting on mineral development for the country’s own industrialization. The Duterte administration uses the same shallow metrics to justify renewing and expanding foreign interests in mining.

But even in these terms, mining has delivered paltry gains. From 2001 to 2020 (available data is for January to September only), total exports of minerals and mineral products grew almost seven-fold from US$537 million to US$3.7 billion, but this contributed only 1.7% in 2001 and 8.3% in 2020 to total Philippine exports.

Ironically, while the country has practically given up its chance to build industries from its own minerals, the exports sector remains dominated by semi-processed electronics and electrical equipment.

Taxes, fees and royalties from mining, despite Duterte’s tax law (TRAIN) having doubled the rate of excise on minerals and quarry resources from 2% to 4%, have remained miniscule – only 0.5% of total excise taxes and 0.07% of total taxes in 2020.

The sector’s contribution to total employment in 2001 to 2020 was also negligible at an annual average share of 0.49 percent.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in mining from 2002 to 2020 amounted to US$754.8 million, an annual average of US$39.7 million. This translates to an insignificant annual average contribution of 0.95% to total FDI.    

At the bottom line is mining’s little contribution to the national economy. The gross value added of the mining and quarrying sector grew from Php54.4 billion to Php136.9 billion from 2001 to 2020. But its average annual share in the gross domestic product (GDP) has only been 1.02 percent.

These figures have barely changed after more than two decades of the Mining Act, exactly because the law’s vision is for the country to remain merely the resource and host of an extractive economic activity that supports the industries of the industrialized countries. The Duterte government’s goal has also been unambitious, which is to continue orienting mining towards exports and, by offering natural resources for extraction, make the country attractive to foreign investors.

Catering to other countries

Why then, despite small change for the country, is the Duterte administration so keen on easing the approval of more mining applications – 280 pending to date?

Interestingly, unlike its predecessors, the Duterte administration is also talking about a “raw materials” contribution to its infrastructure program. This is notable, because the so-called Philippine mining industry does not have beneficiation, smelting and refining stages for iron ores. What it does have are foreign monopoly processing plants. There is one copper smelter, the Philippine Associated Smelting and Refining Corp. (Pasar), the previous company headed by Department of Finance (DOF) secretary Carlos Dominguez, which is operated by the Anglo-Swiss company, Glencore. There are two gold processing plants operated by Australian firms, CGA Limited and Medusa Mining, and two nickel processing plants operated by Sumitomo of Japan.

What the country also does have are direct purchase agreements for our nickel ores with Australia, Japan and China through Nickel Asia Corporation, also under joint venture with Sumitomo. For instance, in November 2019 before the pandemic, the Philippine Nickel Industry Association inked a memorandum of understanding with China Industrial Association of Power Sources to have the Philippine nickel mining industry supply China’s production of nickel batteries for electric vehicles.

The Philippines is one of China’s major sources of ore supply. On the other hand, about 90% of the country’s nickel ores are being shipped to China. To cater to China’s nickel demand, in 2019, the Duterte government even allowed suspended mining firms to operate, and pushed for the rehabilitation of government-owned nickel mines.

Is the EO simply referring to how these countries, China in particular, would eventually pour in capital, processed minerals as construction materials, technology, and expertise into the Duterte administration’s foreign investment-led and import-dependent Build, Build, Build? If so, that would really be ludicrous.

Interestingly too, available data show that China is the top nationality with ownership in mining tenements in the Philippines and also accounts for a huge number of mining permits and pending applications.

Big bucks for the mining firms

The amounts that the country gets from mining pale in comparison with the gross revenues of the big mining corporations. The gross revenues of all mining firms in the top 1,000 corporations ballooned from Php10.4 billion in 2001 to Php171.1 billion in 2018. Meanwhile, the gross revenues of the mining transnational corporations (TNCs) in the top 1,000 corporations increased from Php1.7 billion to Php78.9 billion in the same period.

The amounts that the country gets from mining pale in comparison with the gross revenues of the big mining corporations. The gross revenues of all mining firms in the top 1,000 corporations ballooned from Php10.4 billion in 2001 to Php171.1 billion in 2018. Meanwhile, the gross revenues of the mining transnational corporations (TNCs) in the top 1,000 corporations increased from Php1.7 billion to Php78.9 billion in the same period.

There are 50 operating metallic mines in the country, composed of 30 nickel mines, 10 gold mines, 3 copper mines, 4 chromite mines, and 3 iron mines. Large mining conglomerates and TNCs control Philippine mineral production.

Accounting for half of gold production as of 2020 are Masbate Gold Project jointly operated by Filminera Resources Corp. and Phil. Gold Processing & Refining Corp. of Australian CGA Limited, and Co-O Gold Project of Philsaga Mining Corporation in Agusan del Sur owned by Australia-based Medusa Mining.

Accounting for 43% of nickel ore production are Taganito Mining Corporation, Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation, and Cagdianao Mining Corp/ East Coast Mineral Resources Co. These are all operated by Nickel Asia, a partnership between local corporates led by Manuel B. Zamora Jr. and Sumitomo Metal Mining Philippine Holdings of Japan.

Other mining TNCs include those from the US, Canada and China. Local oligarchs in mining meanwhile include Ramon Ang (Philnico Industrial Corp.), Lucio Tan (MacroAsia Mining Corporation), Manuel V. Pangilinan (Philex Mining Corp.), Consunji family (Semirara Mining Corp.), and Sy (Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp.).

The legacy of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (Mining Act) is full foreign investment liberalization by granting four kinds of mining rights, one of which is the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) that allows 100% foreign ownership. The Didipio Copper Gold Project in Nueva Vizcaya operated by Australian OceanaGold Philippines Inc. that has been contested by the indigenous people and anti-mining groups was a holder of FTAA until it expired in 2019. Despite feelers put out by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the DENR to reopen it along with other closed mines, the protests prevailed. In December 2020, however, OceanaGold reportedly learned that the Office of the President of the Philippines has instructed the DENR to inform the mining firm and the Department of Finance (DOF) to finalize the renewal of the mining firm’s FTAA. The Philippine government has also apparently certified that the OceanaGold’s FTAA area is outside the ancestral domain of the indigenous people.

The Duterte administration has apparently used the pandemic crisis again to listen to the demands of big local and foreign mining corporations while remaining deaf to the urgent public clamor for health support, economic aid, social amelioration, and production support. It cites imagined benefits from unleashing hundreds of mining permits even to unexplored areas, while making certain that giant mining firms and even their financial speculators get super-profits.

The Duterte government is banking mindlessly on an otherwise overcast economic future. It has apparently not learned a thing from the bitter, disastrous past that large-scale mining has left behind for us and the future generations to bear.

We badly need people economics

Large-scale mining in the country has always been equated with environmental devastation and disasters. This is precisely because of liberalizing the mining sector to foreign exploitation for export and relegating the Philippine economy to being a mere source of raw materials. Mining investments are simply for extraction, and to maximize gains further, the mining methods employed by the mining corporations are the cheapest and dirtiest.

More than twenty years of the Mining Act are replete with mining scandals of heavy, irreparable blows on the ecosystems, displaced communities, lost livelihoods, encroachment into ancestral lands, and human rights violations. This is while the government has only been feeble in the face of the perpetrators, the mining conglomerates and TNCs who have dodged accountability for such disasters and even continued their operations. The government has even taken over mine sites abandoned by mining TNCs for government to rehabilitate.

Minerals are non-renewable resources, and oftentimes damages are irreversible. Yet, The Duterte government with its EO 130 continues to argue for the reckless exploitation of the country’s vast mineral wealth for other countries’ corporate gains and industrial benefits. This makes the projected gains from large-scale mining even paltrier than they already are. We are giving up the non-renewable resource, the Philippines’ huge potential to industrialize, for nothing.

Neoliberal apologists often ask whether the country can ever have the needed capital for it to tap and make use indeed of its mineral resources. They immediately point out that there is no alternative but to open up mining to foreign investors. Precisely the kind of thinking that has rendered government inutile in its pandemic response.

What we need foremost is the kind of people-centered economics that aspires for national industrialization, of which mining is an integral part. A well-planned utilization of mineral resources for the benefit of the communities and the national economy ensures regulation of mining activities, which is diametrically opposed to liberalization and surrender to foreign ownership. It will also ensure that the sacrifices made by a few will benefit the majority and future generations, and not vice versa.

Instead of neoliberal economics, what we need is people economics that is oriented towards national development, serves the needs of the citizenry, protects the environment, promotes sustainable consumption and production systems, promotes people’s access to land and natural resources for them to harness, and upholds people’s rights and national sovereignty.

Capital can come from progressive taxation, that is taxing the super-rich and big local and foreign corporations. It can eventually come from the values created by well-supported and prioritized agriculture and manufacturing.

But before that, mining giants should be made to pay reparation to the communities they have devastated and their ecological debt to the Filipino people. Again, foremost we need a strong, reliable and pro-people government for this endeavor, one that genuinely prioritizes people-centered pandemic and economic solutions. #

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Kodao publishes IBON articles as part of a content-sharing agreement.

A million Covid cases

Cartoon by Crisby Delgado, PUP/Kodao

Despite having one of the longest and harshest lock downs in the world, the Philippines breached one million Covid cases on Monday, April 26. This means the most number of new cases per and the most number of new deaths per million people in South East Asia. The Philippines also has the second worst number of fully vaccinated people by share of the population in the region. #

Community pantry closest to Malacañang serves indigents around palace complex

A community pantry had been set up a stone’s throw away from Malacañang Palace and is located at no less than President Rodrigo Duterte’s alma mater.

On its third day of operations today, the Mendiola community pantry at San Beda University (SBU) has been handing out food and other items to indigents living in the nearby areas of Sampaloc and Quiapo districts of Manila.

Initiated by alumni of SBU’s College of Arts and Sciences student publication The Bedan, the activity is one of nearly four hundred similar humanitarian operations inspired by the phenomenal Maginhawa community pantry of Quezon City.

Mendiola community pantry initiator and former The Bedan chief editor Ares Gutierrez said their effort is both a version of the Magihawa Street phenomenon and an extension of a Bedan tradition.

Bedan tradition of giving. (Conscienta Bedista photo)

“From grade school, we were encouraged by the school to automatically bring relief items to be distributed to affected residents of nearby communities after each strong typhoon. We also witnessed the Benedictine monks organizing soup kitchens whenever surrounding areas were flooded,” Gutierrez explained.

He added that those who have lost their livelihood are the main beneficiaries of the pantry a hundred meters away from the nearest Malacañan gate and located inside the closed-off and well-guarded palace complex.

“The vendors, parking attendants, and others who relied on the once busy Mendiola street are the first ones helped by the pantry, although people from as far away as Quiapo’s Central Market have come,” Gutierrez said.

The community pantry phenomenon had been serving indigents reeling from loss of livelihood due to successive coronavirus pandemic lockdowns imposed by the Duterte government.

It has spread like wildfire throughout the country from Cagayan Province to Zamboanga City since it was started by a few individuals last April 14.

It has even inspired a similar operation in Dili, Timor Leste.

Government critics said the phenomenon is proof of the failure of the Duterte administration to look after the poor when it imposes lockdowns due to the pandemic.

San Beda University is the last of four schools that Duterte attended.

Donations from near and far

Student publication alumni were the first ones to volunteer and donate but several other Bedans from near and far sent donations as they learned of the Mendiola pantry, Gutierrez revealed.

Rice from Cagayan Province and monies to buy food items from the United States were donated, he said.

Even non-Bedans donated, such as Quiapo businessperson Jaime Wong who happened to pass by while jogging along Mendiola Street.

“He saw an ambulant vegetable vendor and purchased all his upo (bottle gourd) to donate to the pantry,” Gutierrez’s fellow The Bedan alumnus Ramon Jose said.

Jose said Bedan businesspersons have also donated their products such as bread and fruits.

“After we have given everything away on our first day last Wednesday, donations kept coming that replenished the pantry,” he said.

Jose said that stay-in SBU employees such as utility personnel, security guards and workers of the ongoing construction projects in the campus helped in the distribution.

Camouflaged uniforms and guns at a humanitarian activity.

Unnecessary presence

Even the community pantry by Duterte’s fellow Bedans were not spared from unnecessary police presence and online trolls, however.

Officers with handguns from the nearby Mendiola Bridge detachment of the Manila Police District arrived as the beneficiaries’ queue formed.

An organizer disinfects the pantry table before arranging the relief goods. (Conscientia Bedista photo)

The police said they wanted to assist in ensuring that proper physical distancing is observed, a task already implemented by SBU guards.

An automatic rubbing alcohol dispenser is also in place and the area is disinfected before distribution starts.

The police repeatedly asked for the names of the organizers and also deployed intelligence officers in plainclothes during the event.

Photos of the Mendiola community pantry posted online were also attacked by trolls.

Clarion call

Gutierrez said it had been a successful three-day operation of the Mendiola community pantry and he hopes other SBU alumni groups would pick it up and continue.

He said he already formed a Facebook page where fellow Bedans express desire to donate more items.

Gutierres said he named the Facebook page Conscientia Bedista in reference to one of the school’s three Latin mottos “Scienta” (knowledge). The others are “Fides” (faith) and “Virtus” (virtue).

Conscientia is also the Latin word for conscience.

“A clarion call has been sounded and, as our school hymn says, Bedans always answer it,” he said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte’s new mining order disastrous to environment—groups

President Rodrigo Duterte lifted the nine-year moratorium on new mineral agreements, earning warnings from various groups of further corporate plunder of the environment and more natural disasters.

Bayan Muna Representative Eufemia Cullamat said she is dismayed with Duterte’s decision that would most likely result in the worsening of the environmental crisis in the country.

“Instead of putting a stop to environmental destruction that causes disasters, he is allowing further exploitation of our natural resources,” Cullamat said.

Cullamat, a Manobo Lumad persecuted for her community’s opposition to further mining activities in their ancestral domain, said mining projects have only brought untold suffering to various indigenous communities around the country.

“The country only earns two percent in royalty taxes in exchange for the tons of soil they extract, the poisoning of our waterways by mine tailings and the loss of livelihood and homes in mining sites,” she said.

In his Executive Order (EO) 130 issued Wednesday, April 14, Duterte amended former President Benigno Aquino’s EO 79, granting permission to the government to enter into new mineral agreements.

“The Government may enter into new mineral agreements, subject to compliance with the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and other applicable laws, rules and regulations,” Duterte’s order said.

“The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) may continue to grant and issue Exploration Permits,” it added.

Duterte’s order said new mineral agreements will usher significant economic benefits to the country that can support various government projects, such as the Build Build Build and Balik Probinsiya, Bagong Pag-Asa Program by providing raw materials and new employment opportunities.

‘Unfettered corporate greed’

Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan PNE) however agreed with Cullamat, adding Duterte’s order will only result in more environmental disasters.

“Mr. Duterte’s order to lift the mining agreement moratorium will be a disaster upon disaster because the Mining Act of 1995 is still in place. We cannot allow this deluge of destructive large-scale mining when communities are still suffering from the converging pandemic and climate crises,” Kalikasan PNE national coordinator Leon Dulce said.

The Mining Act encourages 100% ownership of mineral lands by foreign corporations that operate based on “unfettered corporate greed” and does not orient the mining industry to extract based on people’s needs, he added.

Kalikasan PNE said the law also has provisions that allow companies to renege on rehabilitation, polluter taxation and waste management obligations.

“Mining companies need only to pay P50.00 per ton of waste disposed of in unauthorized areas and only P0.05 for every ton of mine waste and P0.10 for mine tailings in terms of compensation for resulting damages,” the group explained.

“Let us recall that in the industry-wide audit made by the late Environment Secretary Regina Lopez, at least 68 percent of mining companies had been found with serious violations. This revelation already spells the potential disaster that the Executive Order will bring to the environment and communities,” Kalikasan added.

Beneficial to foreign corporations

Economic think-tank IBON said that Duterte’s new order will most likely benefit foreigners, not the local industry.

“Without domestic industries to process and use the minerals, [EO 130] will just mean that the most significant value-added from our finite mineral resources will keep going to foreign firms, industries and economies,” IBON executive director Sonny Africa said.

Africa said that at the expense of even more environmental damage and displacement of rural communities, real economic gains from Duterte’s decision are negligible.

“Even before the pandemic, mining and quarrying only employed around 190,000 in 2019. That’s not even half a percentage point of total employment and the 2-week NCR+ ECQ even displaced more jobs than that,” Africa said.

Similarly, the Php15.5 billion in taxes, mining fees and royalties paid to government in 2019 is negligible even with the additional excise tax under the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion, Republic Act No. 10963) law,” the economist explained.

“This EO No. 130 is just the latest sign that it really is just business as usual for the economic managers. The refusal to really reform economic policies combined with the pandemic will just mean that people will remain worse off than before the pandemic for many years to come,” Africa said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)