CEC position paper on House Bill 4315 (People's Mining Bill)

Sunday, August 28, 2011 - 09:22 - Friday, October 28, 2011 - 09:22

The Need for House Bill 4315:
Addressing Realities on the Ground,
Aspiring for Genuine People's Development

August 24, 2011

The Center for Environmental Concerns-Philippines (CEC) expresses its categorical and unequivocal support for House Bill 4315 (People's Mining Act of 2011). We likewise welcome any other proposed bills which also aim to regulate the Philippine mining industry and reorient the current mining policy towards social justice, genuine development for the Filipino people, and environmental sustainability.

CEC, in its 22 years of existence as an NGO, has worked to deliver environmental education, research, and advocacy services to many mining-affected communities throughout Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. These are communities and grassroots organizations on the ground which were directly affected by the implementation of Republic Act 7942, or the Mining Act of 1995, over the past 16 years.

We have learned the hard way under RA 7942. We have seen how the current mining law has directly contributed to the some of the worst environmental tragedies the Philippines has faced; to the continuing destruction and degradation of our coastal, agricultural, and upland ecosystems; to recurring violations of civil, political, and human rights; to the displacement of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands; and to the stunting of the domestic agricultural and industrial economy which has made poverty a lingering and ugly reality in our country.

Mining is crucial to building national industries and to providing for the industrial needs of the people. However, mining, as it has been pursued in the Philippines under RA 7942 has only unjustly enriched a few at the expense of the vast majority and the environment. It has shortsidedly traded short-term profits for long-term development. This is not the type of mining that we need.

RA 7942's time is up. The judiciary declared RA 7942 unconstitutional in 2004 (but in a complete turnaround abruptly reversed its decision). Communities and organizations all around the archipelago have conveyed their opposition and dissent to various mining projects approved and pursued under RA 7942, year after year since 1995. The time is ripe for the Philippine Congress to subject RA 7942 to scrutiny, repeal, and replacement with a genuine people's mining law.

CEC has supported historic initiatives and activities by people's organizations to formulate, develop, and file a new law in cooperation with Bayan Muna and other legislators. These include the multi-sectoral Dapitan Initiative by civil society organizations in 2002 and the drafting of the People's Mining Policy—an alternative policy framework for the Philippine mining industry—with Defend Patrimony alliance in 2005 and the conduct of public consultations. Finally, in March 2011, HB 4315 was filed in the House of Representatives as one of the several bills proposing to repeal RA 7949. We strongly urge the Congressional Committee on Natural Resources to take affirmative action on HB 4315 and other similar laws aiming to reorient and reform the country's current mining policy.

Responding to the environmental crisis

HB 4315 is being proposed at a critical period in our country's ecological history: where the effects of climate change make the country more vulnerable to greater and more frequent natural disasters related to typhoons, drought, temperature changes, and the like. This is exacerbated by the fact that the Philippines has by now lost most of its vast forest cover, lessened its capacity to produce food, and is increasingly affected by all types of pollution –-resulting in a general state of environmental crisis which can no longer be ignored.

Under this situation, the mining industry and the Philippine government are no longer in a position to operate under the business-as-usual, fragmented, and short-term policy framework they have become accustomed to under the mining liberalization policy. If the country is to adapt to these environmental changes and sustainably manage its natural resources for the future, the Philippine mining industry and all extractive activities under it should be strategically planned to support other basic industries and the country's actual domestic needs for industrialization; should be democratically decided upon and monitored by all stakeholders; and should be strictly regulated at all stages in order to ensure the least damage to the environment and the most benefit for the people.

As an environmental organization, CEC wishes to briefly stress on the following points which place HB 4315 in a better position to steer the mining industry towards environmental protection and national development in vast comparision to RA 7942:

1. HB 4315 articulates a wholistic and strategic socio-economic and environmental framework which will guide the development of the Philippine mining industry.

The bill proposes that the minerals industry be developed primarily under the guidance of the State and a long-term plan for industrialization and a progressive, independent, and self-reliant economy. We support this long-term vision for the mining industry and its role in developing the domestic economy. This shall affirm the value of our minerals as national patrimony and non-renewable wealth and greatly contribute to avoiding the wanton extraction and plunder of natural resources which have greatly depleted our forest cover and other existing resources needed for development.

2. HB 4315 puts into place proper and democratic consultative mechanisms for all stakeholders.

Mining should not only be strategically programmed, but also democratically decided upon by all stakeholders in accordance with the Philippine Constitution. RA 7942 has been notoriously negligent in ensuring the consultation and consent of the people. We support the strengthening of the people's stewardship of mineral resources proposed under HB 4315 and its provisions for supporting indigenous peoples, upland settlers, farmers, fisherfolk and small-scale miners who have been historically displaced by large-scale mining operations under RA 7942.

3. HB 4315 has stringent measures for environmental protection and mitigation of mining-related damage.

Any mining law must all times guarantee environmental protection and occupational and social safety. The bill rightly recognizes the precautionary principle and the “polluter pays principle” where contractors and permit holders shall pay for environmental damage caused.

We agree with the vision of considering the long-term impacts of mining in all plans and setting up of stricter requirements for mining permits, such as 1.) extensive environmental and social impact assessment and mitigation plans, 2.) precautionary measures such as fund allotments for environmental and disaster protection, 3.) financial and technological support for progressive rehabilitation and pollution mitigation activities, 4.) priority for the people's use of water, and 5.) specific mitigation measures for acid mine drainage, which occurs when polluted and highly-acidic water flows or seeps out from old mining areas.

In contrast, the current environmental protection provisions in RA 7942 are lenient, inadequate, and lacking in sufficient financial, technical, and procedural guidelines to ensure ecological conservation and rehabilitation. RA 7942's concept of environmental protection is merely limited to the period and scope of the mineral agreement granted, outlined in two sections (Sec. 69-70) which require only an environmental protection and enhancement program in the contractor's work plan and compliance with company-initiated Environmental Impact Assessments.

4. HB 4315 ensures the protection of areas for long-term development, ecosystem balance, and food security.

The bill specifically designates as “no mining” zones environmentally-critical areas, including residential and agricultural production areas and archeological, historical, and cultural sites and property. We believe that this is crucial to protecting the country's remaining agricultural lands, which are currently in a state of degradation and decline and which are needed for long-term food production. We must manage not just the minerals underground but also protect the “gold” aboveground: the agricultural lands on which millions of Filipinos are dependent on for food.

5. HB 4315 supports capitalization, research and development, and technological support for the domestic and small-scale mining industries towards creating locally-appropriate, clean, efficient, culturally-sensitive and industrially-viable technologies.

The Philippine mining industry has long been dominated by foreign players and multinational companies, which have stunted the development of a genuine national mining industry. We support the bill's vision of building a mining industry that is primarily financed and developed by Filipinos towards meeting the nation's domestic industrial requirements. This creates a climate conducive to promoting domestic research and development to vastly improve the country's existing technology , standards, and practices. This critical balance between industrial development and capacity for environmental protection and sustainability can only be made real and pursued by Filipinos if it is clear that one's own fortune and very future is at stake.

CEC-Phils is an environmental non-government organization based in Quezon City. It advocates for people-oriented, patriotic, sustainable, and scientific policies and programs for the protection of the Philippine environment. For inquiries, please contact Lisa Ito-Tapang, Coordinator for Research, Education, and Advocacy at 0917.817.9955 or lisa@cecphils.org.