Forum on “responsible mining” praised but critics say crucial issues glossed over

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/04 July) –  Supporters and operators of large-scale mining cheered Tuesday’s Forum on Responsible Mining which was intended to “educate” the public on what “responsible mining” is all about. But critics say the forum’s “glossing over” of crucial mining- related issues in Mindanao such as food security and human rights, further strengthened their resolve to push for a “pro-Filipino, pro-environment,” alternative mining law.

In his opening remarks, former Environment Secretary Antonio Cerilles, now governor of Zamboanga del Sur and concurrent president of  JCI Senate Philippines, told the audience of about 300 at the Grand Men Seng Hotel that they “will not convince you to be pro-mining, we will not be convincing you to be anti-mining but we want you to know that there is such a thing called responsible mining.”

Before representatives of large-scale and small-scale mining operators, the academe, indigenous peoples., non-governmental and peoples’ organizations, Cerilles defined “responsible mining” as being “responsible to the environment, responsible to government, and … responsible to your fellowmen.”

But Fr. Joel Tabora, president of the Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU) , who asked the first question during the open forum after the morning’s speeches,  said the discussions on “responsible mining” had “very serious gaps.”

Dr. Jean Lindo, Kalikasan party-list third nominee, commended the efforts of the organizers but  noted that the forum sounded like a “product presentation whose objective was only to sell rather than provide a discussion or analytical framework that would elevate the quality of discourse on mining.”

The forum’s organizer according to the program was JCI Senate Philippines although the draft programs included as organizers the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines (COMP) and the Coalition for Responsible Mining in Mindanao (Coremin)

The morning’s topics were an overview of  Philippine mining by COMP chair Art Disini; fundamentals of responsible minerals development by COMP VP for Communications Rocky Dimaculangan; JCI Senate Philippines’ “Yes to Responsible Mining, No to Illegal Mining” advocacy by Atty. Menjie Redelosa, chair of the JCI Committee on Responsible Mining; and Geology by Mines and Geosciences regional director Ed Arreza.

“Who benefits”

“In terms of discussion today …relative to responsible mining, I felt there were serious gaps, like for instance, who benefits? When we’re talking responsible mining policy, we have to answer the question  ‘who benefits?’” Tabora asked.

Tabora also asked why there was hardly any discussion on the pressing issues that have repeatedly been raised in previous conferences on large-scale mining in the Philippines, particularly in Mindanao, their impact on agriculture, water resources, and indigenous peoples rights, among others.

Tabora was the subject of  COMP’s full page paid advertisement in a national daily in late January for not inviting representatives of the mining sector to the International Conference on Mining in Mindanao which he convened at his university.

The full-page ad came out on January 27,  the last of the two-day Conference that ended with the passage of a “Mindanao Declaration: Defending the Dignity of Life, Securing our Future.” The Declaration called for a repeal of the 1995 Mining Act, urged the enactment of a “pro-Filipino, pro-environment alternative mining law” and the declaration of a mining moratorium.

A month ago, at the Mindanao Economy and Environment Summit held also in this city, Secretary Lucille Sering, vice chair of the Climate Change Commission, warned that given a reduced rainfall by 2020, potential conflicts over water use have to be defined and studied. “Mining has been mentioned. Water is crucial… If you see reduction of water in 2020,  mining needs water, agriculture needs water and even hydropower needs water. Ano po ba ang uunahin natin sa paggamit sa ating tubig?” (What will be our first priority in using water?), Sering asked.

Tabora said responsible mining should also be discussed “in the context of agricultural development” because “when we are talking about the possibilities of mines, we are talking precisely about the possible effects of a mine on thousands of hectares of rice because it will affect the hydrology of the area.”

He said the speakers pointed out “that legal mining is the way to go and illegal mining is not the way to go but legal mining seems to deny the poor people who are into mining, access to the fruits of mining.”

Four parameters of “responsible mining”

“I was hoping that we would talk about this in a forum on responsible mining and not just the fact that of course we all use cell phones, (but also the) tough issues we have to face,” he said, adding that ADDU will continue to sponsor discussions on mining and “next time, the Chamber of Mines will be invited.”

Lindo said the speakers gave a litany of visible gains from mining like beautiful subdivisions, corporate social responsibility, scholarships “but these are actually social obligations rather than genuine contribution.”

She said she would have preferred to see the mining industry’s contributions “vis-à-vis the Millennium Development Goals at a minimum, especially that the reasonable targets are identified.”

“We respect their organizational stand but we want to make them aware that there are other more important considerations…. People’s rights, sustainable development devoid of greenwash, rights-based corporate social responsibility rather than PR (public relations),” Lindo said.

Responding to Tabora, COMP’s Dimaculangan said “responsible mining” has four parameters: economic growth, environmental protection, social equity and good governance.”

He said the company has complied with the first parameter on economic growth if “it pays taxes religiously, provides employment to the community, conducts itself in accordance with law, and provides economic progress for its host” local government unit.

There is compliance with the second parameter, he said, if the company “undertakes, even before it goes into actual mining operations, all the requirements of law, to follow the EIS (Environmental Impact Statement)  system, Environmental Compliance Certificate and then undertakes reforestation , proper tailings impoundment, water quality monitoring and air pollution control progressive rehabilitation.”

He said an “overwhelming majority” of their members have complied with this parameter.

On social equity, Dimaculangan said companies comply with this third parameter when it” does not have any preferential treatment as regards employment, gives equal opportunity to IPs (indigenous peoples), women when it conducts social development and management programs.”

He said good governance means the company “consults the community,  IP or not,  as to its plans and programs both for community and operations,  when it does not corrupt, does not condone corruption, when it follows highest ethical standards in the conduct of business.”

A future under SMI

Bai Dalena Samling, described in the program as tribal chieftain of Danlag in Tampakan, South Cotabato, where the Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) operates, declared in her testimony  in the afternoon session that it is only SMI that has given them a future. “Walay lain naghatag sa amo sa kaugmaon kundi ang mining company,” she said.

She  challenged those opposing SMI to give them the freedom to exercise their rights over their ancestral domain, repeatedly saying “illegal small-scale miners” cannot give them the benefits such as scholarships, that SMI is giving.

“Kung anti kamo, anti lang mo sa inyong duta kay katungod man na ninyo,” (If you are anti-mining, do so in your area because that is your right),” she said, adding the protesters should allow them their rights to determine what is best for them.

Danlag represents a portion of the Tampakan gold-copper project that straddles the agriculture-based provinces of  South Cotabato,  Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat.

In June, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who graced the groundbreaking of a P24-M rice processing facility in Sto. Nino, South Cotabato,  said the Department of Agriculture had written the Department of Environment and Natural Resources expressing concern on the Tampakan project’s possible impact on agriculture. If the project will affect agricultural production, he said, “we’re on the side of the farmers.”

He said the DA letter to DENR  stressed that prime agricultural lands across the country should not be affected by any mining projects.

Outside the hotel  on Tuesday morning, protesters staged a picket, demanding, among others, the repeal of the 1995 Mining Act.

Francis Morales, secretary-general of  the environment group, Panalipdan,  handed over to the organizers during the afternoon open forum a copy of their three-page “People’s Position Paper” expressing their opposition “to the current mining policy” under the 1995 Mining Act.

The position paper also pushed for the enactment of House Bill 4315 or the People’s Mining Bill and other proposed legislative measures that aim to regulate the Philippine mining industry and reorient its policy and practice towards “social justice, genuine development for the Filipino people and environment sustainability.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)