More calls for mining moratorium aired amid “the most dangerous mines in the world”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 January) –  Against the backdrop of Mindanao hosting what experts refer to as “the most dangerous mines anywhere in the world” and “the biggest time bomb Mindanao has ever seen,”  participants to the International Conference of Mining in Mindanao are calling for a moratorium on mining activities.

Organized by the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) and the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines (CEAP),  the two-day conference which started Thursday, gathered experts in the field of mining, local government officials, church leaders and other representatives from  civil society  but representatives of  mining operators in Mindanao – large-scale or small-scale – were conspicuously absent.

Fr. Joel Tabora, ADDU president, told a press conference Thursday noon: “It was deliberate we did not want them here in this conference.”

“We want to have an opportunity for people who are like minded to come together,  to converse with one another, to share expertise with one another so we can come to a deeper understanding of issues  which we  share,” he said, adding this does not mean they would not talk with miners like  Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) which he admitted sent him letters asking them to be invited.

But Tabora said, “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.”

Apparently smarting from rejection by the organizers, the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP), Coalition for Responsible Mining in Mindanao (Coremin) and the Mindanao Business Council, 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.

“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 said.

Tabora told MindaNews he cannot speak for the rest of the participants on the proposed time frame for the moratorium but stressed two important things that have to be addressed within that period, “however long it will take.” He referred to a national policy framework that will better protect the interests of the people and the environment” and that with the policy change, “we build the capability of the country to enforce the new policy.”

“Most dangerous”

Also at the press conference, Clive Montgomery Wicks, Conservation and Development consultant specializing on the impact of extractive industries, and one of the speakers at the conference, said “we are not against mining. We need minerals but we cannot destroy the environment.”

The former World Bank consultant said the Tampakan mines of SMI is the “most dangerous mines anywhere in the world” and people of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Davao del Sur and Sarangani provinces “will regret it for many years to come.”

He said the mining firm will be operating for some 20 years but residents will have to bear the brunt of the  “chaos  for centuries.”

Dr. Robert Goodland, Environmental scientist specializing on Economic Development, also a former World Bank consultant,  expressed outrage and  “absolute moral indignation at the social injustice that mining corporations are  getting away with every single day.”

He said SMI’s Environmental Impact Assessment is 3,000 pages long and “most people are excluded from understanding  the biggest time bomb Mindanao has ever seen.”

Wicks said the disaster that happened to the Marcopper mines in Marinduque is “a classic example” of the dangers that residents would also face in the Tampakan mines.

He said Marcopper had a tunnel to release the water from the shaft, built on an area of high seismic activity. “At the Tampakan mines, it’s gonna be 800 meters deep and it’s  in an area of very high seismic activity. If the tunnel that released the water in Marinduque couldn’t  survive,  how do you think its’ going to survive in Tampakan? They’re (SMI) proposing 2.7 billion tons of toxic waste on top of the mountain, in a pile that’s going to be nearly 300 meters high. It’s going to stay there forever. You’re gonna be left with a mine pit covering 500 hectares filled with toxic water forever.  You’re gonna have two dams one freshwater one tailings dam  which is full of toxic materials. That dam would be 280 meters high, nearly a thousand feet high. We can’t understand how it was ever considered. Its’ a vital  water catchment for all the agriculture in the Koronadal valley, in Sultan Kudarat, in Davao del Sur. I’m sorry to say this but it’s the height of madness to even think of doing it. You should  protect your water catchment forever not destroy them. There’s too much toxic material around.”

Wicks added that in America, cancer rates around the toxic waste piles are very high. “If you drink this poisonous water what do you think’s gonna happen to you. If  the (Tampakan) dam breaks, how many people will be killed? They didn’t say this but I read – I went through their   EIA all 3,000 pages and I found an appendix from mining engineers — which states that the  Tampakan mine has a high potential of loss of lives and high environmental damage if the facility fails.”

“If you want to build a dam 2.1  kilomerters long, 300  meters high,  you think that’s ’ gonna survive all these seismic shocks? It’s right next to Mt. Matutum. It takes madness to build a mine within ten kilometers from Mt. Matutum which is a registered  active volcano. That is why I say to you, I have never seen a most dangerous proposal in my life,” said Wicks.

“Responsible mining”

Dr. Catherine Coumans, Research Coordinator of MiningWatch Canada, the keynote speaker, told the press conference that toxic waste from the mines will “continue to contaminate for hundreds of years.” She said Europe is “still leaking acid into the Baltic Sea” from the mines the Romans built centuries ago.

Elisea Gozun, Presidential Adviser on Climate Change and one of four officials who compose the study group on mining that President Aquino set up, said she agrees with what Coumans said in her keynote address in the morning that whoever regulates and enforces must have capability to do so.

She acknowledged that this is “unfortunately sorely lacking.”

Gina Lopez, managing director of ABS-CBN and an active campaigner of the  Save Palawan Movement, asked if it is possible to have “responsible mining if government has problem with governance.”

“The fact is, people are suffering and government has not demonstrated the ability to protect our people. Should we go on in this enterprise when we can’t even assure the well being of our people?”

Wicks said the Philippines has a “real structural problem” in that there is only one agency making the decision on mining. “The MGB (Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau) is making the decision but in most countries this is done by inter-ministerial committee that would include representatives of all key departments involved – such as agriculture, fisheries, irrigation, forestry departments.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on January 3 denied SMI’s application for Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) “until the issues and concern on the
use of open-pit mining method shall have been clarified and resolved by the company with the provincial government of South Cotabato.”

SMI President Peter Forrestal said they were extremely disappointed with the decision but added they intend to “immediately to file an appeal for a reconsideration of the decision as permitted under the ECC application process.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)