Mining Companies Celebrate
Large scale mining companies have reasons to celebrate. Mr. Benjamin Philip G. Romualdez, the President of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines spoke on this during the Mining Philippines Conference and Exhibit held last September 13-15, 2011 at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza. He said mining is upbeat because  there is unparalleled increase in metal prices in the international market,  mining industry rebounded to a growth rate of 12.1% last year, and  the path to regaining mining’s old glory is fully supported by our government. According to him mineral exports, led by copper and gold, grew over 27% to US $1.87 billion from $1.47 billion in 2009. In the first quarter of this year, mining accounted for 4.3% of the country’s total exports at $513 million. For him, mining provided the boost to our economy against the backdrop of a global economic downturn in the second half of the year.
While mining companies celebrate, men, women, children and elderly in mining areas suffer. From reef to ridge, tons of non-renewable ores and minerals are extracted and the earth is ravaged. Philippine resources are plundered for the profit of the foreign big businesses. Northern Luzon is not spared. Mountains are stripped; fields, rivers and coasts are destroyed.
Farmers and fisherfolk are losing their livelihoods. Water tables are being destroyed which lead to loss of potable water for household consumption and loss of irrigation which makes it difficult for peasants to engage in agriculture. Rivers are being contaminated with toxic wastes from mine sites and make agriculture less productive. Coral reefs are being damaged by offshore mining and have made it impossible for fisherfolk to catch fish at the lower parts of the sea. Families are being displaced due to landslides, sinking grounds, and flooding caused and aggravated by mining operations. The health of the people is at risk with land, air, water and noise pollution caused by large scale mining. Bio-diversity is decreased while thousands of communities are endangered. Ancestral lands of indigenous peoples are grabbed by foreign mining companies and community leaders defending their environment are threatened, harmed or killed. Where mining applications have been approved and are in operation, militarization is increasing. And, after years of exploiting nature, big mining companies are unable to show any model of environmental rehabilitation in the Philippines. Hence, the right to social development of future generations is violated.
The Duty Bearers in Collusion with Big Business
Yet in the name of development, the Aquino government is willing to sacrifice the life of marginalized people. President Benigno Aquino III has shown his support for mining by selling the mining industry in his trip to the US and bringing along 15 mining companies as part of his delegation to China in August 2011. He personally witnessed the signing of four investment agreements between Filipino firms and their Chinese counterparts. President Aquino III disagrees with environmentalists’ call for a ban on mining because he believes prohibition would result in the spread of small scale miners. For him only large-scale mining has the capability to avoid environmental damage and to correct the damage to the environment. President Aquino is selling the Philippine minerals for $1 trillion to big mining investors from China, India, the Middle East and North America through public private partnership schemes.
Under the Northern Luzon Growth Quadrangle of the Medium Term Philippine Development Plan in 2000 of then President Ramos, mining was regarded a priority for investments. This was reiterated in the Super Regions and the Northern Luzon Agribusiness Quadrangle visions of then President Gloria Arroyo. Thus in 2004, the Revitalized Mining Industry Program further opened up the provinces to the entry of big businesses in mining.
During the term of former DENR Secretary Angelo Reyes, the provisions in the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 banning offshore mining was circumvented by another executive order. Thus, the state allowed offshore mining for magnetite, titanium and vanadium along the coasts of Cagayan to Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan.
As gold prices and other metallic minerals shoot up, DENR MGB and even the NCIP is fast tracking the FPIC processes of IPRA to favor the mining companies which are scrambling to explore the gold and copper in the Cordillera and Ilocos regions. There are about 236 mining applications covering 1, 129, 209 hectares of Northern Luzon trying to cash in on the upward demand both for metallic and non-metallic minerals for the mega infrastructure in other developing countries.
To suit the interests of the foreign big businesses from China, Korea, Taiwan, Australia, England, Canada and US, the State itself is twisting different laws such as the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act and the National Integrated Protected Areas Systems Act.
The People are Struggling
Meanwhile, individuals, communities and organizations have risen up to protest the destruction of the ecosystems and life itself. Multisectoral forums, dialogues and protest rallies have been happening all over Northern Luzon. Even some municipal governments have issued resolutions to stop the destructive large scale mining to avoid further damages to their environs. Nation-wide protests are growing because of the grave social cost which mining is incurring to the Filipinos.
The call of the times: A Northern Luzon Mining and Human Rights Summit
We are endowed with rich natural resources. According to the World Mineral Map, Philippines which is in the western fringes of the Pacific Ring of Fire, a ground found to be super loaded with mineral deposits, is the 5th most mineralized country. Philippines ranks 3rd in gold, 4th in copper and 5th in nickel.
As marginalized Filipinos, we have to assert our rights to development and self-determination. Thus, the Northern Luzon Mining and Human Rights will be convened to provide an opportunity for the peasants, farmers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples and advocates for the protection of environment and human rights to come together and discern the best possible solutions to the impacts of mining.