Can there be responsible mining?
CAN there be responsible mining? There may be. But if we specify the question and contextualize it: Is there responsible mining in the Philippines now? I would give a definite no!
But first, what is meant by responsible mining? It is mining that is equitable, that is, the stake holders get their proper and just share—the mining company, the government, the local community and the future generation. It is mining that is sustainable, that is, that the benefits should not just be for the rich but also for the poor and for the coming generations. It is mining that is responsible, that is, that the terms of the contract be followed and rights of the stakeholders, especially the poor and the indigenous peoples, be respected and promoted. Responsible mining also means that pollutions be contained and the environment be properly rehabilitated.
Are these conditions possible in the Philippines now? A categorical NO—for the following reasons:
- The Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) is severely limited in its monitoring capabilities. It does not have the technology and the manpower to monitor the compliance of the mining companies.
- The law that presently governs mining in the country—the Mining Law of 1995—is defective. It is more pro-business than pro-environment. It does not protect the human rights of the local communities. The government and the local community do not get their proper and just share in the operations.
- There is so much corruption in the government now. So, not only does it not have the capability to monitor; it has no political will to monitor and discipline the mining companies. Bribes abound and the powerful companies and their political backers even use the military and the police to protect the mining interests against the people. There are so many killings of lumad leaders and environmentalist group members done in the name of fighting the insurgents. Groups who are against the mining encroachments are tagged as rebels or NPAs.
- Mining in the Philippines do not bring sustainable development at all in the places where they are done. There is not a single area where mining has been done that has remained developed after the mining operations have left. Benguet has been mined for more than a hundred years and so much gold has been taken from it, yet the province remains one of the poorest to this day. The fisher folks in Rapu-Rapu in Albay remain poorer, the same with the farmers of Sipalay, Negros Occidental, and so many other places. There is a semblance of development while the operations are being done because the companies set up roads, schools, hospitals, churches for their workers while they are there. But when the operations stop, and they have to stop because mining is extractive and there is no resource that is inexhaustible, the local people are left with nothing, not even the land cannot be tilled anymore, nor the sea or the rivers to be fished.
- Former mining sites are not rehabilitated. The government has no capability nor the political will to make the companies accountable for the damage they had done. Marinduque is a classic example. After more than 20 years Boac river is still high polluted and there is the constant threat to the people downstream if the tailings dam breaks.
Now it has been shown that eco-tourism is a sustainable way to make use of our natural resources. Tourists come to the Philippines not because of any cultural monuments or pieces that we have. We have so few of them. They come because of our beautiful beaches, because of our forests and other natural wonders. How many beautiful places have been destroyed by mining! If they had been preserved and developed they could have attracted more tourists!
We will mine our resources but not now. We can mine our natural resources responsibly when we have proper and just laws to govern the industry, when we have responsible people in government who are more eager to protect Philippine environment and the Filipino people than be blinded by money, when we already have the technology to process the raw materials that come from us and bring out finished processed products rather than supply raw materials to foreign companies and then buy back their processed products. Only then can we have responsible mining—but not now!