There is a flurry of activities all over the country towards the weekend as we mark the anniversary of the signing of RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 on March 3. Last Tuesday, a Luzon Conference on Mining and the Ecology was held at the University of Santo Tomas. The conference was organized by the Luzon Coalition for Ecology, the Save Palawan Movement and the University of Santo Tomas.
On the weekend before that, a similar conference was held in Iloilo at the Rose Memorial Auditorium of the Central Philippines University in Jaro. Last January, an International Conference on Mining in Mindanao was also held in Davao. Church groups under the Ecumenical Bishops Forum also had their regional discussions in Bicol, Zambales and Cebu early this year to tackle their response to current mining practices in the country.
Capping these conferences is the Third National People’s Mining Conference being held today and tomorrow (March 1 and 2) at Tagaytay. Organized by Kalikasan PNE, the Ecumenical Bishops Forum, Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (KAMP), Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC-Phils), Stewards of Creation and the Defend Patrimony! Alliance, the conference brings together more than 200 organizations and formations to consolidate the people’s experiences with mining-affected communities, formulate national and local campaign strategies, and tackle emerging issues and legislative measures related to mining.
The conference will be capped by a joint multisectoral action in Mendiola to bring attention to the issues to Malacanang. Already, the North Luzon network Amianan Salakniban and other groups went down to Metro Manila last Tuesday with a protest caravan denouncing destructive large-scale and magnetite mining across Luzon. Together with Kalikasan PNE and other grassroots activists from Cagayan Valley and Central Luzon they picketed the offices of the Chamber of Mines and other mining corporations in the country.
These conferences and mass actions have several common calls: a moratorium on mining in the country, to scrap the current Philippine Mining Act and to pursue a genuine pro-environment and pro-people mining policy in the country.
The Aquino government earlier floated a draft executive order on mining that would increase the government share in revenues and to address some issues on the issuances of permits and environmental compliance. The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines, the Joint Foreign Chambers, and the Philippine Mining Exploration Association recently criticized the leaked draft executive order’s proposed addition of additional no-mining zones and higher taxes and government share from mining.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, author of the People’s Mining Bill (HB 4315) and bill on Mining Zones (HB 4726), expressed doubt that President Aquino’s executive order would not be able to go beyond the defects of the Mining Act of 1995 in terms of lopsided benefits to foreign owned and backed mining firms, lack of environmental safeguards and the disempowerment of local communities.
The executive order is expected to, among others, introduce competitive bidding for mining rights, impose a wider ban on mining in some areas, as well as a new provision on increased economic valuations on projects before they are approved.
Noting that one of the biggest problem in the current Mining Act is the export-oriented nature of mining in the country, Casiño authored the People’s Mining Bill which seeks to reorient the mining industry framework towards domestic economic development, environmental safety and community welfare. Among its key provisions are centralized and strategic planning for mining in the country, the reorientation of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) as a scientific research institution under the DENR for exploration activities to identify strategic mineral resources, the creation of Multi-Sectoral Mineral Councils for designated mining areas and stronger and stricter provisions ensuring environmental sustainability, access to justice, and protection of human rights for affected communities. HB 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill, is one of the alternative mining bills filed in Congress.
We should be worried of the possible increase in social and environmental impacts as a result of intensified mining liberalization. The Philippine mining industry is on track to collect $1.44 billion worth of investments by the third quarter of 2011 and is targeting to collect $1.22 billion more this year. Without a clear plan of building downstream mining industries for local industrialization and reorienting the mining industry for domestic production, this lodestone of mineral wealth will become fool’s gold for our country. We will just be squandering these minerals if we continue on this path of allowing foreign plunder of our resources.
The government should be worried since the impacts of this export-oriented mining policy is seen in all fronts: in the environment, in the economy and in human rights. It should not wait for the issue to become full blown and should take steps towards siding for domestic industrialization and stop mining liberalization once and for all.