Let our land heal
There is a reason why our mining sites do not feature on postcards. They are not pretty.
From the air, open pit mining sites resemble ugly gashes on the land. Forests are denuded. Erosion is wholesale. Mine tailings trickle down the rivers and the sea, bringing down toxic mud that exterminates wildlife.
The costs that mining inflicts on our environment are large. The benefits brought to the poor communities are meager. The benefits brought to our economy, according to antimining critics, are negligible.
Our business community frets over the consequences of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ action on the mines. Operations of over two dozen large mines were ordered to halt. Licenses were either suspended or cancelled. Businessmen estimate that from one to two million jobs will be wiped out by the DENR’s action. There will be misery and, maybe, even starvation in communities dependent on mining jobs.
The mining companies affected by the DENR’s dramatic action made it known they will appeal the case. The audit process, they claim, was not transparent. The dramatic action was unjust. The sanctity of contracts was violated. Billions in mining investments will be flushed down the drain. Billions in potential public revenues will be wiped off the balance sheet.
But the DENR says the apparent business losses are nothing compared to the irreparable damage the mining industry deals our environment. Our people will suffer the consequences of environmental damage for generations. In the DENR’s ledger, there are no upsides for mining. There are only downsides for our land and our people.
We are bound to see a flare-up in a lingering debate. Opinions are deeply divided over the mining question. There are those who see mining as a patently bad thing. Others see mining as a boon to our economy.
Since Republic Act No. 7942 (Mining Act) was passed 22 years ago the debate has been intense. Mining advocates tout the Mining Act as an enlightened piece of legislation, incorporating best practices around the world. It requires mining companies to exercise care for the environment and perform remediation of the land after the mining is done. Antimining militants say it is an irredeemable disaster.
As soon as the Mining Act was passed, it was taken to court. It took the Supreme Court a whole decade to rule on the constitutionality of this act. When it did, the mining industry experienced a boom of sorts. Billions of dollars in mining investments flowed into our economy. But environmental activists continue the fight in other ways, bringing forth examples of wanton destruction and dislocation of poor communities.
Our archipelago is highly mineralized. We are, in fact, the biggest producer of nickel in the world. Nickel is a mineral that can only be accessed through open pit mining. The abundance of minerals in our islands has been both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because of the wealth it could create; a curse because it is an invitation to rape the land.
Too, mining deepens disparities in our societies. It makes the rich richer and pushes poor communities, especially those of indigenous peoples, to the extremes. Those who take the side of dislocated communities oppose mining. Those in the business of creating corporate wealth support growing this industry. There is hardly any middle ground.
Although it was the DENR chief who decreed the closures, and the President expressed support for his environment secretary, the debate over mining is not bound to end anytime soon. The mining companies will, no doubt, seek every legal recourse available. This will include seeing relief from the Supreme Court that ruled the Mining Act constitutional in 2005.
In the meantime, the mine closures are expected to be enforced immediately. Those closures will, at the very least, allow time to heal the damaged land. The DENR’s decision can never be fully reversed in practice. Even if the courts intervene on behalf of the mining companies, this will only pave the way for stricter regulations on mining activities.
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