RIVERMAN’S VISTA: A real dialogue on responsible mining

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/05 February) –   The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines came out in the press lambasting the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) for turning away its representatives from the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao held on January 26-27 at the ADDU. It paid for full page advertisements and gave interviews in many media outlets to convey their message. Consistently, these attacks included criticisms of the Ateneo de Manila School of Government (where I am Dean) and our work on mining.

This is not the first time that the Chamber attacked us. Last November, it paid for a half-page ad in a national newspaper to attack the School of Government for holding an Academic Conference on Mining last 22 November 2011 where they were invited but unjustifiably refused to come. We rejected their accusations then but turned the other cheek and invited them to a dialogue with us.  To our surprise, even with the olive branch we offered, in January,  this time in a full page advertisement, the Chamber of Mines accused us of ‘ivory-tower theorizing’ on mining. We decided not to respond to that second attack as we were busy responding to the Sendong disaster. In fact, we wondered why the Chamber did not just give the money they spent for the advertisements against us, to help the survivors of the disaster.

The Ateneo School of Government cannot afford to pay for advertisements to counter the misinformation being spread by the Chamber.  That is why I decided to write a column to clarify some issues regarding the Chamber’s claim of ‘engaging with various groups in order to understand the perspectives of others on the mining industry.’

First, the Chamber of Mines lies when it claims not to have been invited to our November academic conference.  In fact, we included several representatives of mining firms in the panel of reactors to papers presented at the conference.  These representatives all confirmed. But at the last minute, the Chamber decided to withdraw participation in our forum and instead put out an ad attacking the forum.

Second, like any institution of higher learning, we thrive on diversity of opinions.  No single viewpoint is imposed because we all know that real learning occurs only in an environment that nurtures diversity and freedom to think independently.  We are not in the business of mining, but we are in the business of informing national policy based on relevant multidisciplinary inputs from experts within and outside the School who have experience on the ground.

In this context, we respect and support Ateneo de Davao in its decision to hold a caucus of like-minded people in an international forum on mining in Mindanao.  The objective of the forum is to inform people with the same views and advocacies – and the organizers have the right to decide who can attend.  In contrast, the academic forum hosted by the School of Government in December was open to all, because the output needed to consider the perspectives of all stakeholders, including mining companies.  While the analysis and conclusions were that of the School alone, these conclusions were drawn from data that came from government sources and expert studies.

We stand by these conclusions, which  include a call for a national moratorium on the processing and approval of new mining operations while doing a review of existing ones to ensure that they are strictly complying with current laws.  It is now time for the Chamber, indeed for the mining industry, to face the issues squarely that brought us to these conclusions:

1)      the mining sector has a relatively small contribution to the national economy and studies show it provides little added value in employment and integration with other sectors to multiply its benefits;

2)      The benefits of mining (royalties, taxes) are small and apparently reduced further by fiscal incentives to the industry; communities hosting mining projects do not appear to better off, and could fare even worse after the project is gone;

3)      The environmental and social costs of mining are significant, and currently not valued accurately because of lack of data and proper methods; therefore we don’t know if we are really benefiting at all in accommodating mining projects now.

Let the Chamber show the data and analysis that would belie these conclusions, instead of attacking the messengers.  The tactic of attacking the messengers and pitting one against the other in expensive ads marks the bitterness of its ‘dialogue’ strategy. The ads are a shameful waste of money, especially because all it did was to raise the profile of the institutions and interest in the events attacked.  For that, we are actually grateful to the Chamber even as we stand ready to dialogue with those in the industry that truly believe that responsible mining is possible.

(Dean Tony La Viña is a human rights and environmental lawyer from Cagayan de Oro City. He was formerly, from January-June 2010, a member of the Government of the Philippines Peace Panel that negotiated with the MILF. He is currently the Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. Dean Tony can be reached at Tonylavs@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook: tlavina@yahoo.com and on Twitter: tonylavs)