There is something absurd and illogical about Executive Order 79. It includes prime agricultural lands “such as plantations and other properties devoted to valuable crops” among the no-mining zones, but says nothing about prime agricultural lands that will be sacrificed to mining such as those on the paths of rivers that carry mine wastes downstream.
Take the case of Tabuk Valley in Kalinga, which is dubbed the “Rice Granary of the Cordillera,” it being the most extensive rice-producing area in this region. With its 10,000 hectares of ricelands, it contributes at least P2-billion worth of rice to the national rice supply annually. Way back in the 1980s, when the Batongbuhay Gold Mines Inc. (BBGMI) in Balatoc, Pasil, Kalinga was in operation, mine tailings found their way to the farmlands of the valley through the irrigation water from the Chico River, a tributary of which, the Pasil River, was contaminated with tailings from the Batongbuhay mines. As a result, the surface of the paddies hardened, choking the rice plants. This resulted in lower yields, making the farming town restive.
We foresee a repeat of this sad experience as there are current moves to revive the BBGMI, and likewise to open another mining operation in Pasil. Malacañang may try to reassure us that there are enough safety nets in the EO and other mining laws to protect our environment. Tell that to the marines!
Our organization shares the view that in this country the term “responsible mining” is still an oxymoron, something that is still to be realized, apparently only in the far future; and it certainly does not look like EO 79 has made us leap into that time when mining and agriculture can coexist. Until that time comes, whenever mining companies apply for permits to mine in Pasil town, it will always be a choice between mining revenues (which could only last for as long as the mining operations continue) and the food production capacity of Tabuk Valley (which will last for as long as the world does).
But with EO 79, government has already chosen the gold of Pasil over the grains of Tabuk—the choice, no doubt, a momentary financial gain but at the expense of food production and the welfare of the residents of this city, 90 percent of whom depend for their livelihood on the farmlands of the valley.
If Malacañang truly cares about agriculture and is sincere in its thrust to make this country attain food sufficiency, it should have made the possible destruction of prime agricultural lands like Tabuk Valley a consideration in the granting of permits for mining operations. Malacañang missed or rejected the reality that mining operations in or within a certain distance of an agricultural area will greatly diminish, if not totally destroy, the affected area’s capacity for food production and will negatively impact the country’s food supply.
—ESTANISLAO ALBANO JR.,
Kalinga Anti-Pollution Action Group,
Tabuk City, Kalinga, firstname.lastname@example.org