‘Brash’ move but long-awaited
Funny how the tide can change. Now that mining companies are on the defensive, they demand “due process.” After Environment Secretary Gina Lopez ordered the closure of at least 23 mines and the cancellation of 75 mining contracts, they now ask to see the “audit report” which they say they didn’t see before being told of their company’s fate, giving them no opportunity to defend their side.
Tough luck. For generations, due process has been what communities affected by their operations have been deprived of.
Last year, Undersecretary Mario Luis Jacinto of the environment department, himself a veteran official of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, pointed out that ethical mining involves free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of mining-affected communities. However, securing an FPIC through atrocities has become almost synonymous with mining in the Philippines, especially in Mindanao.
Arnold Alamon, in his study on the marginalization of lumad, traced the roots of violence against the Banwaon of Agusan del Sur (which eventually led to the killing of one of their leaders, Necasio Precioso, in December 2014, and the evacuation and search for sanctuary by several families the following month) to: “the entry of three mining companies (Malampay, Makilala, and Tambuli) in the area which precipitated the supposed clearing operations of the military in the area.”
While mining companies wash their hands of any involvement in human rights abuse, it can be said they provide local leaders, private and state-backed militias and other unscrupulous elements the motivation to remove any resistance on the ground.
A study on mining noted that before the World Bank’s push for the liberalization of economies in the 1970s, mining in a number of countries was state-owned. This allowed the countries to develop domestic industries. Eventually, Third World countries were convinced that state-owned enterprises were costly and inefficient, and the best way to solve the economic crisis in the 1980s was to privatize industries and let the market stabilize the situation. The Philippines was among the first to liberalize its mining industry with the passage of the Mining Act of 1995.
It also pointed out: “The Mining Act was designed to serve an export-oriented mining industry where the minerals are taken out of the soil and the waters and exported in their raw or semiprocessed form. It reflects the national government’s lack of interest in building national industries using the country’s rich mineral resources, and instead allowing few large corporations and foreign markets to benefit.”
The government’s desire to attract foreign investments also resulted in antipeople internal security plans over the years. At the core of every military initiative is the protection of investments. In rural Mindanao, this translated into attacks on communities protesting the intrusion of companies into their lands.
Economic experts now point to loss of government income due to the mining closure. But to the affected communities, it is income at their expense—income that has caused their displacement and kin’s deaths. Secretary Lopez’s move may seem brash, but it has long been awaited.
Mining is necessary, but there are ways that it can be ethical, propeople, and sustainable.
MARY LOUISE G. DUMAS, executive director, Mindanao Interfaith Institute on Lumad Studies, advocacy officer, RMP-NMR Inc.
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