Geoff Nettleton, coordinator of the Philippine Indigenous People Links, said in a forum on mining here today that the Philippines should stop promoting mining to international investors because it is not yet capable of "effectively" regulating the mining industry.
"If the national government could not do its work and protect Filipinos from abuses of mining operations, who will?" he asked.
Nettleton cited the government's efforts to lure foreign investors to go into the mining industry here. In his presentation, he said among the local boosts to mining is the Mining Act of 1995 and the National Minerals Policy shown in the country's mining action plan.
Last year, after the Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of the Mining Act, the Philippines hosted an international conference on mining dubbed "Open for Business: Mining and Minerals as New Drivers of Growth."
According to data from the Alternative Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM), the mining act provided for incentives to attract mining investors to the county.
AFRIM showed that the law provides for 100-percent foreign ownership of mining firms; guarantees the direct flow of capital, profits, equipment and loan services out of the country; reduced the royalty on gold to two percent; assured non-expropriation; and reduced excise taxation from five to two percent.
It also gave tax holidays and an assurance that mining companies will be prioritized in access to water in their areas.
Anti-mining advocates claimed the law was devised upon the behest of mining companies and on the recommendation of international financing agencies such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Program. They say the mining act’s approval paved the way for the entry of giant foreign mining corporations into the country to explore and exploit local mineral resources.
Nettleton noted that attracting investments to mining also means stricter and more careful regulation, which the Philippine government does not provide.
He said the government should have cancelled the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) of mining companies that has committed human rights violations in their areas of operations. "But it did not do so," he stressed.
Nettleton said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources does not have the capacity to ensure the safety of the people and the environment from mining hazards.
"There is historical basis that the DENR was not able to manage, monitor, and regulate well the mining industry," he said.
But to him, it is actually the whole political system that is not facing its responsibility to protect the people and the environment.
"If we don't have the capacity to ensure responsible mining without adverse effects to people and the environment, then mining operations will have to wait," he said.
Nettleton said if the government allows the flow of investments to mining even if it has no capacity to regulate effectively, then its people will be at the losing end. "Without the checks and balance, what does it make of the government's promotion of mining investments? What has happened to its role as protector of the people?" he asked.
Nettleton said the government must apply the precautionary principle and allow mining only when it is ready to regulate for responsible mining.
"Look at the past evidence of mining companies in the Philippines, don't just look at the bright future prospects that are not yet there," he said.
If indeed the government wants to raise funds, he said, it cannot do that at any cost.
Nettleton said majority of Filipinos depend on their lands and the water resources for livelihood, that is why there is need to carefully regulate mining operations in the countryside.
He said he does not believe the government has no alternative to mining.
Sustainable agriculture and tourism, he pointed out, are just two of the alternatives that could be explored. "There are real and viable alternatives out there. They simply are just not attractive to politicians," he said.
But Nettleton stressed that if the government is serious about developing the countryside and working for an equitable distribution of wealth, it has to ask the communities about how they want to solve it.
"Ask the communities. They simply want better lives, they want to survive, they want to take care of their lands and other natural resources. They just want peace," he said.
Nettleton said the communities have their own sustainable development plans. "It might not be attractive, but the plans will make their lives better without adverse effects to the environment," he said.