Editorial

Money Talks

Posted on 2017/05/30

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, declared a national water crisis in 2013 after a study revealed that more than 90% of water sources- including bottled water- were heavily contaminated with feces, untreated waste water, and toxic chemicals from mining sites. Early this year, El Salvador created history as the first country in the world to have passed a national legislation that imposes total ban on mining. In the Philippines, mining industry is deeply entrenched. Former Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR) Secretary, Gina Lopez, has stirred a maelstrom in public discourse, setting off environmentalists and pro-mining advocates on a collision course, when she ordered the closure of multiple mining companies that consistently failed to observe environmental laws. Lopez’ decision came following her actual field visits to communities with active and abandoned mining operations. For simply doing her job, Lopez confirmation in the powerful commission on appointment, whose members include majority stakeholders of mining companies, was rejected.

Philippines, surveys say, is sitting on large deposits of minerals. The country is among top five mineral-rich countries in the world for gold, copper, chromite, and nickel. As top producer of nickel, Philippines contributed around 500, 000 MT in 2016, which accounts for 10% of the world’s supply. The data of Philippines’ Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) show that in 2015 Philippines had an estimated $840 billion worth of untapped minerals; exported nickel, good, copper worth $2.797 billion. Lured by huge potential of precious metals, mining companies mostly foreign-owned, have mushroomed across the country. Lawlessness in large swaths in Mindanao has not deterred foreign investors who have flocked to this region in droves, transforming CARAGA region into mining capital of southern Philippines. In Surigao provinces alone, 20 mining companies were actively involved in metal extraction, according to 2015 MGB data. With foreign-owned companies leading the pack of miners, Filipinos unfamiliar with the country’s policy on mining cannot be faulted for resorting to nationalist chest-thumping.

The 1987 Philippine constitution empowers government sovereign authority over the disposition and use of all its lands of public domain. Thus, foreign-owned companies are prohibited from directly engaging into exploration of natural resources. In enacting the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or Republic No. 7942, Philippine Congress was merely enforcing a constitutional mandate of giving preferential treatment to Filipinos in the exploitation of natural wealth. But things changed when the Supreme Court decided the case of La Bugal-Blaan Tribal Association, Inc., vs. Victor Ramos, et.al. (2004), and ruled that the exploration, development and utilization of natural resources by foreign-owned companies is not prohibited per se in the Philippines. Shorn of legal obstacles, foreign-owned companies have reigned supreme in large-scale mining operations in the Philippines.

Evidently blessed with minerals, the country should maximize their full potential to alleviate the plight of staggering 15 million Filipinos now living in extreme poverty, some sectors incessantly say. If only the answer were simple. Mining advocates proffer strong arguments why mining is good for the country. First, mining is key to growing economy. Due from taxes and fees, mining industry contributes Ph25.782 billion per annum to national coffers, and employed 236,000 Filipino workers in 2016 alone. Should the government close down at least 28 mining companies, according to Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, LGUs stand to lose around Ph650 million annually from fees and taxes. Second, since the start of 21st century, mining is inextricably linked to human existence. Raw materials and finished products of minerals are indispensable to produce cars, power cell phones, laptops and other digital products that offer extraordinary convenience to mankind in many ways. And with more than 100 million Filipino subscribers of mobile phones, mining becomes a treasured industry. Third, while the county is unmistakably agricultural “[t]he land is often too steep, too arid or too mineralized for agriculture to prosper,” according to Filipino business tycoon Manny Pangilinan.

Anti-mining advocates are opposed to mineral extraction, in its present state, solely on environmental impact, and presented past human-induced disasters that are not easy to ignore. Considered the worst disaster in mining history, the Marinduque province’ Marcopper mining tragedy in 1996 unleashed more than a million metric ton of mine tailings – toxic wastes from mineral extraction– into province’ major river systems and low-lying communities, killing instantaneously fish and other freshwater creatures, farm and domesticated animals. Due to huge volume of hazardous chemicals, rivers became unusable for human, animal and farm use. To date, a class suit against Marcopper is still pending in court, more than 20 years since disaster occurred. In the 70’s, the gold rush to Mt. Diwalwal, Compostela Valley in Mindanao spurred multiple small-scale mining investors with distinct ideological differences -New Peoples Army, Muslim rebels, private armed militias- and deep pocket investors, and oftentimes competition turned into violent confrontation. Limited government oversight on small-scale mining operations - while the Philippine military focused on providing security protection to big investors - did not prevent frequent landslides that claimed the lives of miners, workers, and the pervasive use of mercury that contaminated sources of water.

Responsible mining is gaining adherents among Filipinos as a proposed compromise to bridge the divide between those who are for mining and those who are against it. How does this alternative approach going to work overtime amid fierce competition among miners? In most large-scale mining, land surface has to be cleared of its vegetation, which necessarily requires the removal of trees and plants, followed by massive excavation using heavy equipment to reach mineral ores buried underneath the earth. When mineral deposits are discovered under a mountain, miners resort to using explosives to cut the mountain layer by layer until it crumbles. Due to the impact of explosion, natural habitat of living organisms is destroyed, or worse landslides occur to nearby communities. Extraction of precious metals from rocks requires huge amount of toxic chemicals that are harmful to human beings and animals. In responsible mining, once a company folds it business, it must restore the mining site to its original condition. This is tricky. While it only takes seconds to destroy plants and trees, it takes years to heal or resuscitate the environment. In the interim that lands and sources of water are still nursing from toxic chemicals, what do we feed to hundreds if not thousands of hungry Filipinos who rely solely on agriculture? Cell phones and laptops?

What made Gina Lopez a fair game to lawmakers and mining advocates was her overzealousness of environmental conservation, which eventually took the lid off the pandora’s box of egregious mining practices by big companies. It bears stressing that the present mining issue is only the tip of environmental iceberg in the Philippines. We vent our anger at social media for limited supply of farm products, organic or not, and yet the vast majority of us have quietly agreed with big business of converting private agricultural lands into malls to satiate our appetite for instant and processed food, a major reason why some people become obese and lethargic. During rainy season, we become edgy for fear that flash floods will get us stranded on our way home, or worse submerge our houses for days end, but we take lightly the indiscriminate disposal of cigarette butts, garbage and plastics that congest our sewerage system, and eventually found their way to the ocean to destroy natural habitat of marine life. We demand for more environmental defenders, amid summary execution of environmentalists, and yet most of our law schools do not have programs that encourage their students to get involved in legal advocacy with local communities. And when nature strikes back with all its strength, we pray hard that our own God will not put us in harm’s way. Really? Too late!

Prior to the enactment of total ban on mining, El Salvador had enjoyed years of regulated mining. Massive corruption at all levels of government, endemic also in the Philippines, had emboldened mining companies to cut corners to stay afloat. But as water became unfit for human consumption and chronic illnesses associated with toxic chemicals from mining became alarming, people of El Salvador made a drastic action. To avoid similar experience in El Salvador, Filipinos should remember that cell phones, laptops, and other digital gadgets are important tools to make our life bearable, but they are not indispensable to our existence. Humanity will continue to exist, even without technology. When we destroy nature we put an end to humanity. For nature to flourish, it does not need people.


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Is an Non-Government Organization Catering Youth Services

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Liceo Legal Aid Center (LiLAC) doing business under the name and style of Center for Alternative Lawyering of Liceo is the legal aid center of Liceo de Cagayan University, a privately owned university based in Cagayan de oro City. The group is composed of law students, alumni of the College of Law of the University, and lawyers who are passionate in the practice of alternative lawyering. LiLAC is guided by its vision of a holistic formation of law students committed to the transformation of society by promoting justice, empowerment, unity and peace, through helping the marginalized sector of the depressed areas here in Mindanao, in the Philippines and in the world. While the group was registered only this year with the Securities and Exchange Commission, it has been providing services to marginalized communities in partnership with NGOs for more than 8 years now. LiLAC has more than 50 members, 15 of whom are taking the active role of running the groups activities.

e-mail:liceolegalaidcenter@gmail.com
twitter: twitter.com/liceolegalaid
facebook: fb.com/liceolegalaidrn

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The Mindanao State University Legal Aid Clinic or Mindanao SULAC for brevity, is the Legal Aid Clinic of Mindanao State University College of law. It is the first and currently the only one of its kind to be established in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It strives to cater the legal needs of the underprivileged and/or indigent clients of the Region and to help promote the proper administration of justice as a key to lasting peace in the region and in the country as a whole.

Office Address: 1F MSU College of Law Bldg.,
MSU Main Campus, Marawi City 9700 Philippines
Contact details:
Email: mindanaosulac@gmail.com
Mobile No.: (+63) 907 336 7762

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The Notre Dame university is a Catholic Institution in Cotabato City run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and member of the Notre Dame Educational Association Philippines.The Notre Dame University Legal Aid Center started sometime in 2009. Its members are the officially enrolled students of NDU-College of Law.

The following are the official pages and e-mail address of the group:
FB: fb.com/ndulac
twitter: twitter.com/ndulac
Instagram: instagram.com/ndulac
email: ndulac@gmail.com

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The Palawan Cradle of Rights is a unified composition of law students from Palawan State university school of Law, established last August 26, 2013 after the culminating activity of the Basic Orientation Seminar by the US Embassy in partnership with the MYVC.

Through our linkages and with the help of the different Government and Non-government organizations we aim to provide free access to people who need legal assistance.

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The University of Mindanao Legal Aid Network (ULAN) is a non-stock, non-profit, and service institution of the University of Mindanao. As a service institution, it provides legal assistance, advocates human rights and social justice, and facilitates the formation of law students for alternative lawyering. It consists of law students and alumni of the College of Legal Education of the University of Mindanao committed to provide an adequate and greater access to justice of the community through its programs.

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The CENTRO ADVOCACIA LEGAL is organized exclusively for charitable, socio-cultural and educational purposes, more specifically to serve the needs of the marginalized communities specifically children and youth and the minorities in Zamboanga City through Legal Aid Assistance and Human Rights Based Advocacies.