SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Mine games 2

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/07 October) – No matter how hard government may try to downplay the October 3 attack on three mining firms in Claver, Surigao del Norte, the incident has sent a message to foreign investors: it’s too risky to invest in mining, in particular the large-scale type, in Mindanao. It would take more than self-serving statements to restore investor confidence after the New People’s Army, pointing to the firms’ alleged culpability in the destruction of the surrounding environment as the reason behind the attack, has made the Philippine military look inutile against a rebel group that’s supposedly on the wane.

In a kneejerk response, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. called the attack an “isolated incident”. Another statement coming from the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process warned that the attack will undermine the peace talks between government and the National Democratic Front.

Ochoa’s statement viewed the attack as simply a show of force by the rebels, one that can be addressed by the security forces. The OPAPP’s statement, on the other hand, is a veiled threat that government may have to rethink its options vis-à-vis the peace talks with the NDF. Both statements, though boldly worded, entirely missed the points raised not just by the rebels but also by environment groups and other organizations – the massive environmental destruction, gross disregard of the rights of people that depend on the resources being threatened by these mining ventures, and the divisive conflicts in host communities.

The persistent environmental and social ills caused by mining can be traced to the unchanged framework that government has used in dealing with this extractive industry. Government lacks a strategic agenda in as far as the exploitation of the country’s rich mineral resources is concerned. As has been pointed out by a lot of critics, the local mining industry is not tied to a national industrialization program. Small wonder then that the rent-seeking government is content with allowing our minerals to be extracted by foreign companies at a pittance, shipped out for processing abroad, and sold back to us as finished products.

More than a century has passed since the US made the country a source of cheap raw materials for her hungry industries at home. Until now, this role has not changed, except that other industrialized states have entered the picture, in particular into the mining sector which is now being offered on the altar of unbridled globalization.

Worse, regulatory agencies look the other way while the mining companies pollute the land, water and air. Indeed, government, then and now, cannot boast of a single large-scale mining venture where it has seriously imposed the law governing the industry much less meted out penalties for violations. No just compensation has been given to communities that have lost their livelihoods to the onslaught of mining.

Since the state has failed or refused to protect their rights can you blame the people if, in their desperation, they decide to look for an alternative path to environmental justice? (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])

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