Duterte to big miners: “you have to stop;” small miners: “we will support you”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/05 June) — Large-scale firms engaged in destructive mining in Mindanao have no place under the Duterte administration as President-elect Rodrigo Duterte vowed to give priority and assistance to small-scale miners who will band into a cooperative.

“The mining people must shape up,” said Duterte, citing the destruction wrought by big mining firms, especially in Surigao. “You have to stop,” he said.

Addressing thousands of residents and out-of-town visitors who attended the “One Love. One Nation” thanksgiving party at the Crocodile Park on Saturday night, Duterte said of these big mining firms, many of them Manila-based but operating in Mindanao: “They’re spoiling the land. They’re destroying Mindanao.”

What is more painful, he added, is that even the Moro people who have been marginalized due to historical injustices, remain along the marginal side of business endeavors in Mindanao. ”That has to change,” he said.

“I would like it to be a cooperative of mga Pilipinong gakutkot diha” – referring to small-scale miners – “and we will just support them and give it to them and give them instructions on how not to end up spoiling the land natin dito.”

EFFECTS OF MINING. This is how massive mining operations look like from the air. Taken above the municipality of Carrascal in Surigao del Sur on Tuesday, 7 Oct 2014. MindaNews photo by ERWIN MASCARINAS EFFECTS OF MINING. This is how massive mining operations look like from the air. Taken above the municipality of Carrascal in Surigao del Sur on Tuesday, 7 Oct 2014. MindaNews photo by ERWIN MASCARINAS

“Mauna muna ang mga taga Mindanao na mahirap” (Priority will be given to poor Mindanawons),” he said as he announced that “lahat ng mga mining na mga malalaki at sumira ng atin(g lupa) will have to stop. Mangita silag laing negosyo. (all big mining firms that destroyed our land will have to stop). They have to stop. They have to stop.”

During his campaign sorties, Duterte would show, and his campaign staff would distribute one-page fliers showing photographs of the mine site of San Roque Metals, Inc. (SRMI), a nickel-mining company in Tubay, Agusan del Norte whose operations the municipality had earlier petitioned President Aquino to stop due to alleged “destructive and irresponsible mining practices.”

Duterte alleged that during the campaign, administration bet Mar Roxas used planes of Eric Gutierrez, owner of the mining firm whose alleged violations of mining laws had gone unpunished because of his links with Roxas.

Expanded area

SRMI has been mining in Tubay since 2006, initially as a small-scale venture. The firm was issued a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) over 572 hectares for nickel, cobalt, iron and other associated mineral deposits, approved on March 10, 2008.

An MPSA is a mineral agreement “wherein Government shares in the production of the Contractor, whether in kind or in value, as owner of the minerals. In return, the Contractor shall provide the necessary financing, technology, management and personnel for the mining project.”

Despite complaints and resolutions from the municipal and provincial councils to stop the firm’s operations, SRMI got an amended MPSA on January 26, 2015, and now covers 1,079 hectares, with an expiration date on March 10, 2033, according to a listing of MPSA holders posted on the website of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as of May 31, 2016.

The listing notes that SRMI’s status falls under “Commercial Operation” and that it has “Consolidated with MPSA No. 305-2009-XIII dated January 29, 2015.

Nationwide as of May 31, 2016, a total of 317 MPSAs have been issued, 98 of them in Mindanao and 45 in Surigao.

Closure of large extractive industries

Fr. Raymond Ambray, parish priest of Lingig in Surigao del Sur welcomed Duterte’s pronouncements. But Ambray noted that the problem with mining is “far too complex.”

“I welcome the idea and resolve of our new President but it remains a lip service for now until he truly acts on them, which means closure of the large extractive industries,” he said.

“The issue, however, of co-op mining is not that simple. Safety of the miners and its practices cannot be compromised,” he said, adding Pope Francis’ Laudato Si (Praise be to You), the Enyclical on the Environment and Human Ecology “reminds us not to look at creation only as a source of profit but in its grandeur reveals the greatness of God.”

“I still push for the alternative mining bill as it implies conservation,” he said.

Various groups have been proposing the enactment of a new mining law.

In a statement on May 17, the Alyansa Tigil Mina, a national coalition of more than 130 members and 21 local multi-sectoral alliances against destructive large-scale mining in the country, challenged Duterte to stand by his promise to address mining and environmental issues.

In his campaign sorties, Duterte said he would immediately call for a review and evaluation of all mining projects and that erring firms will be sanctioned.

“We expect him to suspend operations and/or revoke permits and agreements of destructive and irresponsible mining projects and those companies in utter disregard of the conditions of their contracts,” it said.

Environment Secretary

Duterte has yet to name his Environment Secretary.

Asked who were being considered for the post, Duterte’s Executive Assistant, Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go told reporters after Duterte’s presscon Thursday night: “parang siya man ang maghawak” (he might head it) in a concurrent capacity, until somebody is named to the post.

Several Philippine Presidents have at one point in their terms served in concurrent capacities as Secretary of National Defense or as Secretary of Interior and Local Governments, including outgoing President Benigno Simeon Aquino III who served as Local Governments Secretary in the first week of his administration, until he named Jesse Robredo to the post on July 9, 2010.

“Ang akong ibilin kanang gigunitan na nako DENR” (What I will leave vacant for now is what I am holding on to now – the DENR),” Duterte said, adding he was supposed to have given it to his former chief of staff, the outgoing Maribojoc mayor Leoncio Evasco, Jr.. whom he described as a “komunista nga pari” (communist-priest) and fomer member of the New People’s Army

Duterte and Evasco met when the latter was detained under martial law and Duterte, then a member of the city prosecutor’s office, was sent to the military camp to get his statement.

“I was poised to (give it to him because) yun ang hiningi nya, DENR (because that’s what he asked for),” Duterte said. But “the problem with DENR is I have a problem, I have a big problem with mining companies. They are destroying the soil of our country. Yan ang mahirap kasi kung ilagay ko siya eh komunista siya noon (The difficulty is if I put him there, he was a former communist) and you know invariably you have to use the force of the military and police to enforce…” and Evasco might not be as effective in that role.

Duterte named Evasco as his Cabinet Secretary, a role that an insider said is best for Evasco as he will be the link between the President and members of his Cabinet.
Duterte on May 16 offered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) four departments “if they decide to join my government,” among them the DENR, and the departments of Agrarian Reform, Labor, Social Welfare and Development.

But in a press conference last week, Duterte changed his mind, explaining to reporters in a midnight conference that there are serious problems particularly on mining that would require the active role of the military. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)