Mindanao Declaration: repeal Mining Act, enact new law, declare moratorium

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 January) —  The two-day International Conference on Mining in Mindanao ended Friday with calls to repeal the 1995 Mining Act, enact a pro-Filipino, pro-environment alternative mining law and declare a mining moratorium.

The “Mindanao Declaration: Defending the Dignity of Life, Securing our Future” called for the “promotion of sustainable, responsible and equitable management and utilization of our natural resources, toward the conservation and protection of the environment and rehabilitation of mined areas,”

It also called for the repeal of  RA 7942 or the Mining Act of 1995 and the revocation of  Executive Order 270-A  issued by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo  on the revitalization of the mining industry, for being “anti-Filipino, anti-environment and violative of human rights.”

The Declaration also called for the enactment of the consolidated alternative Minerals Management Bill pending in the House of Representatives and an  “immediate mining moratorium and suspension and cancellation, if applicable, of all mining operations, licenses and applications, while the relevant mining policies are being reviewed; and concerned government agencies be held accountable.”

The Declaration was issued on the same day the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) caused the publication of a one-page advertisement in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the exclusion of its representatives in the conference.

“It has become clear that the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao was organized with the end in view of stopping mining all over the country,” COMP said.

COMP said it expected conference organizers to “echo the call of the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) for a blanket moratorium on mining based on a report described by former ADDU President Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ, as ‘ivory tower theorizing on the mining industry.’”

The COMP advertisement also criticized conference speakers Dr. Catherin Coumans, Dr. Robert Goodland and Mr. Clive Wicks, describing them as “staunch opposition” to mining in the Philippines and that their works are “based on perfunctory visits to mine sites in the country and on extensive consultation with anti-mining organizations – without due diligence and verification with firms these speakers have accused of wrongdoings.”

It  noted that Goodland was given the chance to talk about the environmental and social impacts of Sagittarius Mines, Inc.’s (SMI) Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in South Cotabato but Ateneo de Davao University President Fr. Joel Tabora turned down “repeated requests “ to allow SMI’s request to present its Enviromental Impact Assessment findings.

But  COMP, the Coalition for Responsible Mining in Mindanao (Coremin) and the Mindanao Business Council, were not without an audience on Thursday. They held a media forum from 3, to 5 p.m. at the University of Southeastern Philippines while the international conference was going on at the ADDU, to deliver the same message contained in Friday’s one-page advertisement.

David vs Goliath

The COMP’s full-page ad lamented that ADDU , like ASOG,  “is hosting a mining conference without the mining industry.”

The international conference was organized by ADDU and the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines which represents 1,345 Catholic member-schools nationwide.

Asked during the open forum Friday morning on what he thought of COMP’s  one-page advertisement, Tabora said, “I think we will just thank SMI for calling attention to this conference.”

“If it is David and Goliath, recall that David won. We are an academic institution. No one outside academe has the right to determine our academic agenda. We operate in academic freedom. As far as the reason why we did not invite them, I told them several times we wanted to have a meeting where we can listen and dialogue with each other. We wanted to avail of the expertise of foreign experts,” he explained.

At the press conference on Thursday noon, Tabora admitted SMI sent him letters asking to be invited but  “I have told them over and over again (that) for this conference, you are not invited.  I think it is part of academic freedom to be able to pursue truth on our own agenda and I don’t think it has to be dictated by outside people.”

He said this does not mean they would not engage the miners themselves, but not in this conference.

“Personally, I see that the mining establishment really has an agenda and often the agenda militates against people coming into deeper understanding of issues involved and this is what we we wanted to provide: an opportunity for them to listen to experts who have taken great pains to  know the issues,” Tabora told the Thursday press conference.

Tabora told the participants Friday morning, that in the Philippines, mining firms are “not at a loss. Their opinions are heard. They can pull out full page ads very, very easily. Most of our people do not have this ability.”

He said the conference is an opportunity for like-minded people “to be able in friendship and in shared commitment, to listen to our friends from the other side of the world. .. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing unethical about that.”

“So we certainly will give them (mining firms) an opportunity within the next 50 years to listen to them,”  .Tabora said, adding, “we  really know what they are about. They are about destroying our environment, hurting our people, rivers, streams, killing our forest. It is very clear what they are all about.”

Mindanao Declaration

The two-page “Mindanao Declaration” noted that the current state of the mining industry is “driven by corporate greed and the existing policy framework” promoted by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and inherited by President Benigno Simeon Aquino.

It cited, among other issues, that the  harsh effects of mining on water systems, biodiversity, air, land and island ecosystems “lead to environmental destructions and disasters aggravating the impacts of hydro-meteorological hazards and threatening agriculture and food security;”  that mining firms in collaboration with some government agencies have been “grossly violating human rights of communities and advocates through threats, extra-judicial killings, Investment Defense Force, mining militias, fabricating ‘free, prior and informed consents,’ dividing and exploiting indigenous peoples communities and perpetuating other acts degrading human dignity.”

It added that small-scale miners and workers “have been blamed for various environmental disasters by COMP  in favor of large mining companies,” even as the Mines and Geosciences Bureau and other agencies “failed to fulfill its mandate to provide technical and, when displaced, extend immediate sustainable economic assistance.”

The  Declaration also noted the increasing number of  local government units that are “standing up to oppose mining in their respective jurisdictions”  but are hardly recognized by the national government and mining companies.

It invoked “constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology in the spirit of precautionary principle and inter-generational responsibility.” (Carolyn O.Arguillas/MindaNews)