Lifting the ban on open-pit mining, a loss for the environment and the people

October 25, 2017

Mining operations in Sta. Cruz, Zambales (photo credits to ABS-CBN News)

The Center for Environmental Concerns – Philippines condemn in the strongest possible terms the atrocious move by the interagency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to lift the ban on open pit mining that was issued by the former Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary Gina Lopez. This recommendation will allow large-scale mining companies to wantonly continue the plunder of the country’s natural resources and the destruction of people’s communities and livelihoods.

Last April 2017, former DENR secretary issued DAO 2017-10 imposing a ban on open pit method of extracting copper, gold, silver as well as complex ores. This was quickly reversed last Tuesday, October 24, by MICC co-chaired by now DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez. Backtracking, Cimatu led to the formation of Task Force Lumad in 1994 to repress the resistance of the Ata-Manobo to the Alsons logging company in Mindanao while Dominguez is a staunch supporter of mining liberalization.

The Mining Act of 1995, the current mining law, has been opposed by many communities nationwide for its lack of policies for the rehabilitation of abandoned open pit mines. Lifting the ban will continue and worsen this trend. The immediate reversal is disregarding alternative mining laws being proposed such as the People’s Mining Bill that would pose more stringent policies on environmental protection and rehabilitation.

ON NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Open pit mines may be technically appropriate given the location of the minerals but has to be carefully considered along with people’s rights and environmental concerns. The agency should take initiatives in developing technologically-appropriate and sustainable alternatives in harnessing our natural resources for national development.

STRONG MINING LOBBY

The cabinet meeting this November 6 where MICC’s recommendation will be deliberated will only be a formality of the fact. We believe that the Duterte administration is hell bent on reversing the progressive and protectionist orders that the former secretary have issued during her term. To recall, Gina Lopez conducted a mining audit on all operating large-scale mines. Last February, she ordered the closure of 23 mines and suspend 5 others. She also ordered the cancellation of 75 Mineral Processing Sharing Agreements (MPSAs) entered into by the government.

We have somehow been aware that these reversals will happen since the Chamber of Mines’ mobilization of its machinery and resources to reject the confirmation of Gina Lopez last May and win back their control of the department and the industry to win back their profits. Share prices of mining and oil stocks surged by 2.73% only a few hours after Gina Lopez’s rejection.

The MICC recommendation and the eventual reversal of the ban is also a way to entice foreign governments and investors for the upcoming ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit this November. The summits will bring in leaders from different countries with plunder interests in the country such as US, Australia and China to discuss easing (and lifting) of protectionist policies of the constitution for foreign government and corporations to further exploit our labor and natural resources.

MORE HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

By allowing the full re-intensification of mining plunder in the country, the cases of human rights violations are expected to rise. The recent Global Witness report stated that out of the 28 environment-related killings under the Duterte regime, more than half are mining-related.

With this, it shows that the Duterte administration cannot really deliver on its promise to protect our national patrimony from wanton plunder and destruction. Only the collective action of the people will provide true environmental justice and socio-economic development in our country.

Thus, we are in solidarity with communities that continue to fight corporate plunder and destruction of our very fragile ecosystem. Together with them, we will not allow the oligarchs to tear down our dignity and patrimony.