UPPER RIGHT HAND: Decreeing Falsehoods In Mining

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 June) — Inspired by the works of Pope Francis on Laudato Si, the Davao Association of Catholic Schools (DACS) commits itself to the protection of the environment as a moral duty to care for our common home.  In its desire to preserve what is left of our rich flora and fauna, DACS registers its opposition to Executive Order No. 130 and calls for its immediate revocation, as expressed in a statement reprinted below:

The imprimatur set by President Duterte on Executive Order No. 130 last April 14, 2021, which in effect lifts the moratorium on mining applications in the Philippines, was a kiss of death to the Philippine environment and what remains of its frontiers. Environmental plunder and disaster are now forthcoming with the last breaths of Mother Earth enduring only until its premature demise.

Section 4 of the 2012 Executive Order No. 79 of then President Benigno Aquino III mandates that “no new mineral agreements shall be entered into until a legislation rationalizing existing revenue sharing schemes and mechanisms shall have taken effect.” Disturbing this mandate opens the floodgates for mineral extraction in the country that will surely leave a legacy, for our generation and those yet to come, of a ravaged earth incapable of sustaining life.

Presumably, EO 130 was signed by the President in full faith that this could usher in significant economic benefits.  Through new mining government would raise revenues and create jobs, especially in this time of the pandemic where losses have been unimaginable. The EO asserts that mining can support the “Build, Build, Build” program of the government by increasing employment opportunities in areas where there are mining activities. While this end view is laudable, the means of achieving it are perilous and the rationalizations vicious.

Executing an order with claims that mining will help the national economy only institutionalizes a policy based on myth rather than on truth. The fact is, mining as an industry has only contributed an average of 0.91% to the Philippine Gross Domestic Product (GDP). From 2013 to 2018, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau data shows that the percentage share of mining in the national revenue averages only at 1.54% while its percentage share of the total Philippine export is only at 5.65%. (Mines and Geosciences Bureau – Mining Industry Data 2013 – 2018).

This proves only one thing: the Philippine economy can survive without mining.

The EO further asserts that with the opening of the country to mineral extraction, jobs will be generated. This is more misleading propaganda generated by the imaginative minds behind the new executive order.  Employment may appear intensive in the initial stage of mining but labor absorption declines over time because as the mines are developed more labor-saving technologies are adopted. At its best, the job generation capacity of the mining industry peaked only at 0.7% contribution in 2013 while averaging only 0.56% from 2013 to 2019. (Philippine Statistics Authority 2015-2018 Annual Per Capita Poverty Threshold)

In contrast to mining, agriculture contributes nearly 40% of the jobs in the Philippines. The mining policy betrays a preferential option for extraction rather than cultivation – for pillage rather than tillage.

Lifting the moratorium on mining applications according to E0 130 signals development in the countryside.  This is a scheming deception to conceal the real plight of mining communities. There is no mining site in the country that shows economic development in the lives of the people living in and around it.  In fact, mining communities are often among the most impoverished of communities of the nation. The Philippine Statistics Authority data points at CARAGA (31.1%), SOCKSARGEN (31.0%) and ZAMPEN (29.7%), all mining regions having registered the highest poverty incidence rates in Mindanao. While the EO alleges the improvement of the lives of people through mining, evidence shows that it only leads to increased poverty.

Spokesperson Harry Roque also alluded to $4 Billion in investments coming from Sagittarius Mines, Inc., KingKing Mining Corp., and Silangan Mindanao Mining Co., Inc. alone with the lifting of the moratorium. But this allusion is illusion. Investments are not benefits.  From the multi-billion dollar investments, only a pittance inures to the benefit of the Filipino people.  While the project cost appears in billions, much of it is utilized in purchasing equipment, machines, processing of ores that takes place outside the Philippines, and payment of consultants who are mostly foreigners.  The largest share of the value of output accrues to operating surplus, amounting to 43%, indicating that the benefits from mining accrue primarily to investors, leaving the host country in ravaged penury.

When President Duterte joined around 5,000 Mindanawons in the “2016 OYA Mindanao: The State of Mindanao Environment Day,” at the Ateneo de Davao University, he swore to destroy all “monster oligarchs” who have interests at plundering the country’s mineral resources through extraction.  He even promised to destroy their clutches only to protect the lands of Mindanao.  Five years since, he signs EO 130 – an act that belies his promise to protect Mindanao and the country from large-scale mining projects. Instead, he now feeds the voracious appetite of the neoliberal “monsters” he pledged to obliterate with the patrimony of the peoples of Mindanao he swore to protect.

EO 130 must be recalled and revoked.

The more appropriate intervention for mining would have been to pass the Alternative Minerals Management Bill and the proposed National Land Use Act that have been pending in congress for years now.

If in this time of national crisis the intent is to raise revenues, government must tax the rich and the big corporations. If the need is to save lives, we must not imperil our sources of food and fresh water. If the dream is to eradicate poverty, we must modernize technologies in agriculture, create sustainable communities and reclaim the dignity in Filipinos. If we are to build better, we must never repeat the mistakes of the past.

Echoing the words of then DENR Secretary Gina Lopez: “we cannot build the economy of the country on the suffering of the Filipino people and the destruction of the environment.” Truly, we cannot build the future of our country on abetting the plunder of private investors and foreigners at the expense of the Filipino people and of Mother Earth.

While we should not be constrained to choose between development and environment, we must find ways to integrate both. Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si that while we are in search for a balance between economy and ecology, we must learn how to listen to both the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth.

Our shared home is in peril of devastation with this Executive Order 130.  We have the moral obligation to resist and reject it. We have the duty to protect our one and only common home!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews.  Upper Right Hand is a revolving column of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM).  Atty. Romeo T. Cabarde, Jr. is a faculty of the Political Science Department and the Director of Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy Center and Assistant to the President for Advocacy and Legal Affairs of Ateneo de Davao University.]

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