Pro-mining policies, repression of environment activists in Mindanao hit

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/21 June) – A consortium of environment groups in southern Philippines has expressed alarm over what they call government’s liberal policies towards large-scale mining and coal-fired power plants, and the impunity of killings and harassment of environment activists in the region.

Panalipdan Mindanao said they expect the threats against the environment and environmentalists to worsen under the current administration.

“President Aquino] continues to liberalize the country’s mining industry, support the construction of coal-fired power plants, and remain lax on commercial logging.  His position will likely bring foreign corporations head to head with local communities over natural resources,” the group said.

It said that since the start of the Aquino administration, mining investments have gone up by 65% from the 2009 figures.

The government targets to generate $17.35 billion worth of mining investments by 2016.

Panalipdan added the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources has endorsed 247 foreign-backed mining applications for processing, and the provincial government of South Cotabato, which is implementing an open-pit mining ban, is continuously being pressured to reverse its stand.

South Cotabato sits on the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project, which is being managed by Australian-backed mining firm Sagittarius Mines, Inc.

“Aquino’s rejection of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines environment program for a moratorium on open-pit mining shows his bias for large-scale mining,” the group said.

Panalipdan said the provincial government of  Zamboanga del Norte is also pushing for a ban on open-pit mining amid the expansion of Canadian-backed mining firm TVI Resource Development, and Philex Mines for its copper and zinc projects in the area.

The group further noted that more coal-fired power plants have been approved in Mindanao in recent years.

“One of these is the P25-billion Aboitiz coal-fired power plant recently approved by the Davao Sangguniang Panlungsod, which was passed in spite of the long campaign by environment advocates and the community to persuade the council to deny its approval,” it said.

It said Sagittarius Mines is pushing for the other proposed coal-fired power plants in Malalag, Davao del Sur and Maasim, Sarangani for its future energy needs.

“Already, 247 families have had their homes demolished due to the construction of the coal-fired power plant in Maasim, while acquisition of land in Malalag for the plant has been tainted with unfair terms to landowners,” the group claimed.

Environmentalists have always said that coal-fired plants provide the dirtiest form of energy and are responsible for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the main cause of global warming and the subsequent “natural” disasters which have beset the country.

Panalipdan said that opposition to these projects have resulted in attacks against environment activists.

“In the past year, six environmental activists have been killed across the country, including small-scale mining leader Santos ‘Ricky’ Manrique who was killed in Pantukan, Compostela Vally last April 2011 where US Russell Mines and Minerals, Inc. operates.  The community believes Manrique’s death is attributed to his advocacy against the entry of US Russell Mines and Minerals, Inc,” the group said.

“Environment activists have been threatened such as in the case of Domingo Billones of Socsksargends AGENDA groups, who reportedly has been placed under the military intelligence list in Malalag, Davao del Sur for leading the campaign against the establishment of the Xstrata-led coal-fired power plant.  Belen Galleto of the Save Pantukan Alliance has also received repeated death threats for her advocacy against large-scale mining in the province,” it added. (Darwin Wally T. Wee/MindaNews)