MIND YOUR BUSINESS: Is Mining Evil?

After spending a considerable time searching, I eventually traced the above passage to the Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. In that book, God was laying down the law for the exiled people of Israel, and the rewards that await them in the Promised Land, if they obey the laws of God. It was early 2003, and I had just been asked to become consultant to a mineral exploration project in South Cotabato.

While not exactly your ideal, practicing Catholic, I have spent some serious time reading on the Faith during my college days at UP Diliman, when I used to go to an Opus Dei study center. From that time on, I had been keeping track of developments in the Catholic Church.

That's why in 2003, I very well knew that the bishops in the country have declared a stand against mining in the country. Especially after a number of environmental disasters in the 1990s were traced to irresponsible mining practices in the past.

Also, having been a student activist in my college days, and despite having worked in the corporate world, I had kept a healthy skepticism over big capitalist activities, mining not the least among them.

So, in 2003, when I was asked to be a consultant to a mining company, my default sentiment was that of distrust. How can I, who considered myself a progressive, be a party to a very highly capitalistic, greedy and exploitative endeavor? Besides, being an obedient Catholic, how can I go against the preaching of the bishops and the priests that mining only brings evil things to the country?

Despite my negative reception of the offer, however, I did not refuse it outright. I did not want to offend the person who offered me the job, who I knew to have also been an activist in his college days. "Did this guy have to sell his principles to work for a mining company?" I wondered.

In the next several days, I decided to find out more about the mining industry. My initial purpose was to be able to give a rational and plausible explanation in refusing the consultancy offer.

In the course of my readings, I came across a mimeographed pamphlet being circulated by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the government. At that time, the national government has just announced that it was changing its policy about mining from tolerance to promotion. Meaning, the government will now be actively promoting the mining industry, and was hoping to attract more foreign investments for mining projects.

The pamphlet, entitled "Mining Undermined," was written by Fr. Franco Mendiola, a Franciscan priest! It was a rebuff of the position of the bishops' and the priests' stand against mining. A priest going against the bishops and other priests! Now that's interesting, I thought.

When I started reading the article, I was ready to dismiss Fr. Mendiola as just one small exception to the rule. "Of course, on any issue, it is but natural that at least one person will take a contrary point of view. I should find his selfish or vested reason in the article," I thought.

Going through his article, however, I could not find fault with its lucid logic and the author's evident loyalty to the Faith and to the teachings of Jesus Christ. "How could a member of the same Church use the same teachings to go against the teaching of the other members?"

I also could not dismiss the credentials of the author. The pamphlet described Fr. Mendiola as: "A member of the Franciscan order. He finished his BS degree, major in Physics from the University of Sydney, with distinction. He has two Masters of Science degrees, one from Xavier University of Cornell, USA, major in Physics with specialization in x-rays and another from University of Michigan, USA, major in Nuclear Sciences with specialization in research on nuclear reactors. He received the 1992 Outstanding Catholic Author award from the Asian Catholic Publishers."

Further, "After finishing his secondary education at Notre Dame College, he enrolled at the University of the Philippines where he was a consistent scholar. He earned a UNESCO scholarship to the University of Sydney

"Fr. Mendiola was a former Assistant Professor and Assistant Department Head of the Department of Physics at UP at the same time, medical physical consultant at the Philippine General Hospital and Philippine Cancer Institute. He was also designated by the UNESCO to train high school physics teachers nationwide and was a professional lecturer in physics with the National Science and Development Board (now DOST)."

Now, that's not your typical religious. A writer-scientist-educator-priest. "He surely knew what he was writing about," I thought.

So, did I sell my principles after reading the pamphlet? Suffice it to say that I got some enlightenment on the mining issue, and no principle needed to be sold nor compromised. An open mind was all that was needed.

A few months after reading the pamphlet, I got a chance to ask another priest, Fr. Herman Flameygh, a Belgian who was once parish priest of a mining community in Luzon.

"Father, is mining evil?," I asked.

He replied: "I think a better question would be: 'Can a miner be a good Christian?' The answer is 'Yes, if he is a good miner.'"

I was thinking of giving you a first-hand read of Fr. Mendiola's article, but I figured it would make this column too tiresome to read. But I promise to re-print Fr. Mendiola's "Mining Undermined" piece in the next column.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Bronx Hebrona is president and chief executive officer of Binex Global Ventures Corporation, which does social marketing consultancy, newspaper dealership/distribution, market and development research and personal finance consultancy. He is currently a social marketing consultant of Sagittarius Mines, Inc., which is operating in South Cotabato. He is the President of the Sarangani Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc. You may write him at P.O. Box 46444, Gen. Santos City 9500 Philippines, or email him at [email protected] )

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