Multisectoral Council, not DENR , should decide to allow or not allow mining

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 January) — A Multisectoral Mineral Council (MSMC) not just the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or its Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau should decide whether or not mining should be allowed in a particular area, the consolidated alternative mining bill proposes.

Gabriela partylist Rep. Luz Ilagan told the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao last Friday that the MSMC will be composed of representatives from state and local governments, local communities, affected Indigenous Peoples.”

As member of the MMSC,  the Lumads or Indigenous Peoples will be part of the process of decision making from approving the application of mining forms to monitoring and revoking the permit if the mining firms have committed violations. “Their non-consent to the mining project acts as virtual disapproval since unanimity of the MSMC is required,” Ilagan said at the conference held for two days at the Ateneo de Davao University.

At the end of the conference organized by ADDU and the 1,345-member Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines, participants passed a Mindanao Declaration calling for a repeal of  RA 7942 or the 1995 Mining Act, the enactment of  a pro-Filipino, pro-environment alternative mining law and the declaration of a mining moratorium.

Ilagan noted that RA 7942 or the 1995 Mining Act has caused divisiveness within IP communities, as well as bred questionable FPICs (Free and Prior Informed Consent),  destroyed the IP’s customary ways of settling disputes,  is based on the regalian doctrine and  “imposes the will of the mining companies over tribes.”

The MMSC is just one of several features of the consolidated mining bill.

The consolidated bill is crafted from three House Bills — 4315 authored by Ilagan and other partylist representatives Teddy Casino, Neri Colmenares, Rafael Mariano, Emmi de Jesus, Raymond Palatino and Antonio Tinio, seeking to reorient the Philippine mining industry, ensuring the highest industry development standards;  3763 authored by party-list representatives Kaka Bag-ao, Walden Bello, Teddy Brawenr Baguilat, Jr., and Rufus Rodriguez, seeking to regulate the rational exploration, development and utilization of mineral resources, and to ensure the equitable sharing of benefits for the state, indigenous peoples and local communities; and HB 206, bearing the same title, authored by Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada III.

The consolidated bill was prepared by the Technical Working Group of the House Committee on Natural Resources from  August to November 2011 and the committee hearing has been set for February 22.

Jesus Vicente Garganera, national coordinator of Alyansa Tigil Mina, told the conference this is the “farthest stage that any draft (alternative) mining bill has ever reached.”

Ilagan said that while the 1995 Mining Act provides for a “private sector-led and foreign market/investment-driven exploitation of our mineral resources,” the consolidated bill provides for a “State-led and domestic needs-driven total development of the mining industry as part of our national patrimony and as key to achieving agriculture modernization and national industrialization.”

The bill also proposes a “highly-regulated” policy environment for the mining industry “to protect our national patrimony, ensure the total development of the industry and give priority to the interests of the national economy, local government units, local communities, and indigenous peoples and protect the environment.”

She also emphasized that unlike the 1995 Mining Act which provides for a “highly-liberalized investment structure which includes unrestricted profit repatriation of foreign capital,” the bill is “biased towards Filipino investors but does not totally foreclose the participation of foreign investments.”

But foreign investors, the bill says, must pay the proper taxes and duties for the profits they get from mining.

The bill envisions the development of the mining industry “from mere exploitation and extraction to producing capital goods for agriculture modernization and for developing basic, medium and heavy local industries.”

Ilagan cited other key features of the consolidated bill that differs from the 1995 Mining Act:

*  Only the State has the right to exploration. Extraction and production may be undertaken by the state or through production agreements and joint ventures with the private sector and foreign investors. But in production, the contract area per agreement shall not exceed 500 hectares. The total contract area shall not exceed 700 hectares

* The term of the agreement is limited to the mine life and subsequent renewal should not exceed 15 year, unlike the 1995 Mining Act where “the scale of exploration and extraction is decided by the investors based on their submitted financial and technical capabilities.

* The principle of “mining with the least and mitigated effect on the environment” should be followed and mining firms, foreign or local, are stamped with the responsibility to minimize the negative impact of mining, including conservation and rehabilitation of mined localities and downstream areas.

* Rigorous screening of applicant-mining firms.

* Obligatory proactive and preventive measures to ensure minimizing the negative impact of mining through the integration of environmental conservation and rehabilitation in the operational plan of the mining firms and strict monitoring of environmental compliance.

* Safety nets; Creation of trust fund and the application of bonds to rehabilitation and disaster response.

* Prohibits invasive exploration; prohibits mining in watershed areas and other critical habitats; Prohibits open pit mining.

* Conforms with and enhances the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.

* Ensures the participation of LGUs in the decision-making whether to allow mining or not in their area of responsibility.

* Ensures that mining firms pay the proper taxes and duties for the profits they get from mining and that the benefits are equitably shared by local communities and IPs.

* Sensitive to the issue of human rights. Thus, it expressly prohibits the use of the military and other armed components of the state as private army of mining firms.

In its transitory provisions, the bill proposes a moratorium on “all mining activities under all systems  are in place for the Act’s proper implementation and deems cancelled all existing mining permits, licenses, and agreements. A review of the current mineral reservations will be pursued; current classifications and the President’s power to declare mineral reservations rendered ineffective.”

The consolidated bill also proposes that the State shall be responsible for extending aid to mine workers and small-scale miners and their families who shall be temporarily displaced by the moratorium while the new policy and mechanisms are being put in place.

Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, spokesperson of Anakbayan Partylist said, “show me a town here that reaped benefits from mining and I’ll tell you that town does not exist.”
Baraquel said the consolidated bill ensures “not just income but our future”  and “puts people at the core of the mining policy.”  (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)