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Moral victory in South Cotabato

Gov. Reynaldo Tamayo’s veto of the provincial resolution lifting the ban on open-pit mining is a moral victory for the people of Mindanao and South Cotabato, in particular, who are generally opposed to mining.

But the fight is not over yet. Educating people is the key: helping them extract the truth from the myths, upholding the common good over the selfish interests of a few, and realizing that long-term environmental sustainability trumps short-term economic gains.

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Tamayo has said that he is not against mining per se as long as it is done responsibly. It is a fair and safe position to take. In deciding to uphold the ban, he has tried to strike a delicate balance between progress and responsibility, as befits a responsible governor given the mandate by the people of South Cotabato to promote and protect the common good.

Before making the decision, it is assumed that Tamayo looked into the business plans of the mining firm seeking the lifting of the ban, its credibility and integrity, its engineering design, and the socioeconomic impact of the project.

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Most of all, it is presumed Tamayo listened to reason. It is not difficult to realize that mining has merely offered false hopes of progress for Filipinos, while its legacy to the country has not been encouraging.

According to a report by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources that was submitted to the National Economic Development Authority, the Philippines has five abandoned and 18 inactive mines.

These inactive mines are considered “abandoned” because there are no more legal owners who could be made accountable for their rehabilitation. The activities in many of these mines have also been temporarily suspended due to a lack of integrity arising from cases of tailing spills and problems with mine structures.

The history of mining in the Philippines also shows that most, if not all, open-pit mining operations have ended up as perpetual liabilities, causing an adverse impact on the environment due to the generation of acidic and/or heavy metal-laden water, the erosion of mine waste dumps, and the vulnerability of tailing dams to geological hazards. Mining, likewise, causes negative changes to vegetation, soil, and bedrock, all of which affect hydrology and groundwater.

But the greatest concern about mining, in general, is the weak enforcement of pertinent laws and regulations, if not their total absence. The government can hardly implement laws on solid waste management, clean air, and illegal logging in watersheds and protected areas. It cannot even implement its reforestation program. How then can it be expected to properly monitor, supervise, and regulate mining activities, which are more complex and pose a host of hazards to human lives and the environment?

The people of South Cotabato generally support the stand of the Diocese of Marbel headed by Bishop Cerilo Alan U. Casicas, which seeks to uphold Section 22 (b) of the Environment Code that prohibits open-pit mining in South Cotabato. The Diocese of Marbel likewise “reject[s] the destruction of land and life in South Cotabato and neighboring provinces in the name of profit that will benefit the few,” and “rebuffs the lies and confusion sown by the powerful, and the continued marginalization of the weak and the poor, especially the voiceless.”

The Marist Brothers have come out in full support of the Diocese of Marbel’s opposition to the lifting of the ban on open-pit mining, citing the wages of mining such as forest denudation and the degradation of the ecosystem, as well as the “high rate of erosion and siltation; threatened wetland biodiversity [and] worsening floods…”

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Moreover, mining areas have seen a high incidence of poverty, with “lumad” and cultural communities lacking access to basic social services. Their cultural sensitivities are often violated as well.

The Marist Brothers contend that mining should be seen in the larger context of environmental stewardship. “Our true wealth lies in the life-giving power of nature. We recognize the rights of nature and the benefits that come with protecting the environment and our natural resources.”

In the end, Tamayo made the wisest decision. Let’s hope that he remains consistent in his future pronouncements.

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Brother Manuel V. de Leon is a member of the Society of Mary and is president of the Notre Dame of Dadiangas University in South Cotabato.

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