Bewitched, bothered and bewildered.
That is the situation that mining-affected communities, including mandated government agencies, find themselves in due to the “flawed provisions” of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 or RA 7942.
Witnesses claim that when it was first announced that chromite mining would be done in a remote community in Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental, Manobo natives and Christian settler-farmers were “bewitched” by the prospect of a bright future. A number of locals were hired as workers during exploration in late 2007 and actual extraction beginning in 2008.
After endemic hardwood species were cut down in the watershed area of barangay Surob, about 26 kilometers from the town proper, in order to allow unhampered mining activities, what followed were occasional flash floods, soil erosion in farmlands, and river siltation from mine tailings that affected two adjacent barangays. Inevitably, public health problems associated with environmental pollution and degredation followed. These “bothered” the locals.
Now, the hard questions are being asked: who approved the operations of Sinophil? Who is benefitting? Who will answer for the damage to public health and the environment? That’s the “bewildered” part. Representatives from the regional offices of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), Environment Management Bureau (EMB), and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), can only say: “Sorry, we have no idea.”
These revealing exchanges of information and reaction surfaced during a dialogue sponsored by the Alternative Legal Group (ALG) intended to “mainstream community voices in the mining and coal power debate” held November 12, 2010 at the Mindanao Training and Resource Center (MTRC) in Davao City.
The discussions carried all the elements of a prime time teleserye: the role of Malacanang in approving the mining deal with Sinophil in the name of national economic development; the non-transparency which characterized the document preparation; the failure to follow prescribed procedures in securing the tribal people’s “Free, Prior and Informed Consent or “FPIC”; the negative impact on health and the environment, among many plots and subplots. Those in the audience themselves seemed “bewitched, bothered and bewildered”.
Legal experts from the ALG pointed out “flawed provisions” of the mining act. They cited: the grant of too much power to the President of the Republic to decide, when the resources are the only heritage of the Filipino people;
The disempowerment of local communities through lack of participatory mechanisms; promotion of raw material exportation without maximizing the benefits of such resources to the Filipino people;
The failure to take into consideration the externalities or negative impacts, leaving the masses and the local government units to bear the brunt of such impacts;
The prioritization of exploration, development and utilization of resources over and above human rights, food security and environment conservation;
The grant of too many incentives for investments, including confidentiality of information, return on investments, tax breaks, etc;
The absence of systems to ensure payment and compensation to affected communities;
And worst of all, the mining act allows 100% ownership and control of natural resources by foreigners.
During the dialogue at MTRC, an NCIP representative stood up and, in utter disbelief, claimed that the Manobos of Surop had given their “Free, Prior, and Informed Consent” or FPIC to the mining firm representatives without any NCIP official to witness the alleged consultation. “If no NCIP official was present, the FPIC is deemed invalid”, she added.
A dialogue reactor, MGB regional director Edilberto Arreza, said only two firms, Holcim and Apex Mining, are allowed to mine in Region 11.
EMB regional director Metodio Tubella said his office had no hand in preparing the required “Environmental Clearance Certificate” or ECC. “We don’t have any copy of the approved ECC. We don’t know the conditionality,” he added.
ALG lawyer members are advocating for a new mining policy to replace the much criticized Mining Act of 1995. Called the “Alternative Mining Bill”, its principal authors in the previous Congress were Rufus Rodriguez, Walden Bello, Erin Tanada, CXarlos Padilla and Riza Hontiveros-Baraquiel.
As envisioned, AMB proposes to: uphold IP rights, assure food security, freedom from pollution, to create livelihood production, ecological balance, equity and social justice, prioritize community based, initiated and owned stewardship of resources.
While the lively debate and discussions were going on, some seven hours away by land transportation, an undtermined volume of chromite ore was being loaded mechanically on waiting cargo vehicles in Surop. The ‘pay dirt’ was to be taken to Davao City for shipment to its final destination to undergo processing into precious metal.
Nobody seems to be in a position to do anything about the situation except be “bewitched, bothered and bewildered”—unless the present law which protects vested foreign interests is scrapped. Otherwise, the natural resources that rightfully belong to the Filipino people will continue to be extracted by foreign investors and taken out of the country in the name of national economic development. [Ricardo Jimenez, Jr.]