Forum on PNoy’s EO 79 on mining draws mixed reactions

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/5 Aug) – Church leaders, environmentalists, civil society organizations and a lumad leader took turns in “cutting down” President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s Executive Order 79 in a forum held here last week, saying the order favors large-scale mining operations.

At the forum, Christian Monsod, chair of the National Agricultural and Fishery Council Committee on Climate Change, presented the President’s recent order on mining to members and guests of the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro and local green groups at the Fr. Patrick Cronin Formation Center of the St. Augustine’s Cathedral.

Although the figures do not institute connectedness, Monsod said these “show an association between mining and poverty that at least raises questions on the claim that mining substantially improves life in their communities.”

“Mining has the highest poverty incidence at 48.7 percent in any sector in the country,” he said, citing the booming large-scale mining operations in the regions of Caraga, Zamboanga Peninsula, and Bicol.

These regions, Monsod said, have a poverty incidence of 47.7 percent, 42.75 percent and 44.92 percent, respectively, adding that “mining does not address mass poverty.”

Barely eight months ago, residents and experts alike collectively pointed to the unabated mineral extraction operations upstream of Cagayan River. Meanwhile, victims of tropical storm Sendong are inching towards recovery after many parts of the city, as well as some other areas in Northern Mindanao, were devastated.

Mining has become a touchy issue here as communities struggling to recover have been divided between livelihood and economic development on one hand and climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness on the other.

Issued last July 6, EO 79 bans the issuance of new mining permits in areas identified under the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, prime agricultural lands and those set for agrarian reform, in strategic agriculture and fisheries development zones, tourism areas, and other critical sanctuary sites.

Fr. Emetrio Barcelon, SJ, president and chief executive officer of Turbines Resource and Development Corporation (Turedeco) – which is engaged in the use and development of land, water and environment resources for power generation – asked whether mining is a sin against God. But he was quick to add that “without mining, we will never get out of poverty.”

Bae Inatlawan Adelina Cariño, certificate of ancestral domain titleholder of Mt. Kitanglad, said most of the lumads may be illiterate but their tribes have survived hundreds of years because they “read the stars and listen to the earth.”

“Instead of mining, which is against the environment, why not help us develop sustainable livelihoods based on food production?” she said in the dialect.

Green Mindanao executive director Butch Dagondon said EO 79 is “haphazard,” “discriminate the peoples of Mindanao” and has a “typical business as usual attitude.”

“The vicious cycle (of poverty) will just go on,” he added.

Bangon Kagay-an – a local civil political organization advocating for accountability, transparency and good governance –proposed a mining summit which will “involve the whole Cagayanon community.”

“The summit will discuss the effects of indiscriminate mining activities in the upland villages of the city. We shall aim to define what responsible and irresponsible mining is and to come up with a common stand to preserve and protect our mineral resources from being exploited by foreign businessmen and local political partners,” said Nixon Baban, president of Bangon Kabay-an.

Baban asked why poverty persists in the upland communities involved in mining when “an estimated P180 million worth of gold every week can be found along Iponan River alone.”

“We recognize that our lives are partly enhanced by the end-products of mining. But the dangers of unabated mining are all too real – pollution, flooding due to siltation, and diseases,” he said. (Cong B. Corrales / MindaNews)