This month marks the 23rd year of legal plunder of our country’s minerals under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. It promises national growth and development while ostensibly safeguarding the environment and protecting the rights of communities, but its neoliberal framework for profit has unleashed destruction on vast swathes of ecosystems and human rights violations.
Continuing destruction, killings and impunity
As of May 2017, MGB data show that 2.5 percent (almost 750,000 hectares) of the Philippines’ total land area are covered by mining tenements. Most are in biodiversity hotspots and ancestral domains affecting watersheds and the lifeblood of indigenous peoples or lumads. The extracted mineral products are mostly exported, so we have been losing 93.4 percent of our extracted mineral wealth in the last 20 years.
MGB data said that in 2016, the country exported $2.32 billion (P114.5 trillion) worth of minerals but the industry contributed a measly 0.79 percent to our GDP and 0.5 percent to employment. Caraga region has one of the highest poverty rates in the country despite hosting 23 mines.
In the last four years alone, seven mining-related disasters occurred. This included the 2012 Philex mine spill in Benguet, one of the biggest mining disasters in the Philippines.
This continuing poverty and the nearly two disasters per year traceable to mining operations run counter to the promised development and environmental protection of the Mining Act of 1995.
Human rights violations and killings have also become part and parcel of mining plunder. As of January this year, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) monitored 30 mining-related extra-judicial killings since President Duterte assumed power. This is a significant increase in deaths compared to the 11 mining-related killings in the first year of former President Noynoy Aquino III (2010-2011) and five (5) mining-related killings in the first year of the Arroyo regime (2001-2002).
Despite promises to toughen regulation of the large-scale mining industry, impunity remains as there had been no conviction of companies, company officers, state forces or government personalities over mining-related human rights violations and killings.
Exacerbation of plunder in Duterte’s cha-cha
The self-serving charter change proposals being railroaded in Congress will continue the current mining law’s provisions, including how it gives the president the power to approve Financial or Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAAs) with mining companies. Worse, their cha-cha seeks to constitutionalize the FTAA scheme that allows 100% foreign ownership and large-scale extraction of our mineral resources.
All three cha-cha proposals up in Congress aim to further dismantle public control and state regulation by opening up our lands, coastal and marine resources to 100 percent foreign ownership and control. The use of resources will be anchored on market dictates and profitability regardless of the crises its boom and bust cycles, market failures, and cost-cutting measures bring into the environment, workers and our own long-term development agenda.
While giving dictatorial powers to the President, the proposed federal constitution also gives additional power to entrenched feudal dynasties in regions and provinces. Cha-cha frees them to pursue policies advancing their economic interests under the smokescreen of “regional development.” It will only “decentralize” the current deregulated and liberalized resource use and management. As such, it only strengthens local dynasties by giving local oligarchs freer rein to plunder natural resources and land grab.
The current charter change proposals portend even more human rights abuses, plunder and disasters.
Resist Duterte’s plunder, militarization and cha-cha
The Duterte administration has fully revealed itself as a fascist, tyrannical regime. People’s democratic spaces are being constricted and undermined by militarists, big businessmen and oligarchs. Plundering our lands and natural resources remains on a business-as-usual ode. We are challenged to strengthen our unity and heighten our struggles.
As the Duterte regime approaches the end of its second year, the national movement against mining plunder should expose and oppose its bluster and lip service against destructive mines. In areas where active resistance is being met with worsening fascist attacks by state and private security forces, we must defend the communities, document rights violations, mobilize legal and international support, and go on the offensive by marching to government offices responsible for the rights and welfare of the people.
We need to build a national movement advocating for the nationalization of the mining industry. Lobbying for the People’s Mining Bill in Congress and the resumption of GRP-NDFP peace negotiations can help us push for a national industrialization program, especially for the mining industry. We have our national wealth to protect and the people’s rights to defend.
Environmental protection and mining for development will be achieved if it is oriented towards providing the basic needs of our people and achieving genuine economic development. Only then will mining be transformed from a means of plunder to a tool for progress.