Typhoon Sendong and the Oxymoron that is Responsible mining

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We have all witnessed the wrath of Tropical storm Sendong as it wreaked havoc in Mindanao, leaving a trail of massive destruction with a total of over 1000 people dead and more than 64,000 people homeless.

“It’s unusual for Mindanao; a month’s worth of rainfall fell in only a few hours,” Philippine Red Cross (PRC) secretary general Gwendolyn Pang was quoted as saying. “People were already asleep; the storm hit pineapple plantations that don’t absorb water; it was high tide and waterways were heavily silted. It was unprecedented and overwhelming”

Mining, together with the rapid acceleration of climate change and the prevalence of illegal logging activities, were immediately pointed out as the primary reasons for the disaster. “We can really see how vulnerable we are. When you tamper with the watersheds and the forests, we become vulnerable,” said Secretary Neric Acosta, Presidential Adviser For Environmental Protection, adding that mining activities near the watershed areas in Lanao del Norte and Bukidnon have contributed to the siltation of the major rivers of Mindanao.

A history of unfortunate events

In the face of the continuously worsening effects of climate change, the last thing that the Filipino people could endure is the loss of its most precious resource and gift to future generations: rich environment and biodiversity.

Mining, as proven historically, has played a huge role in building national industries among some of the world’s biggest economies, such as Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Mongolia. But unlike the Philippines, these nations are non-archipelagic and are part of vast continents that aren’t considered fragile, island ecosystems.

Mining operations has had direct impacts to some of the country’s worst environmental tragedies resulting to the loss and destruction of forests and wildlife. “In Palawan alone, there were two major accidents this year where coral reefs were destroyed, hectares of farmlands disadvantaged, tons of nickel spilled into the sea,” says ABS-CBN Foundation, Inc. managing director Regina Lopez, who also spearheads the Save Palawan Movement. “Up to now, there are literally hundreds of abandoned mined sites that remain unrehabilitated and the people around them continue to suffer.”

History also takes a detailed account of destruction of our upland, agricultural and coastal ecosystems, such as what happened in the Palawan Quicksilver Mines in Puerto Princesa, the nickel mines in Rio Tuba and in Colandorang Bay in Balabac; the non-rehabilitation of mined out and abandoned areas of silica mining in Roxas and the mining of nickel and chromite by Trident Mining Corporation and Olympic Mines in Narra, Palawan.

Add to this is the recurring violations of civil, political, and human rights, as well as the displacement of indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands, and the stunting of the domestic agricultural and industrial economy “which has made poverty a lingering and ugly reality in our country.” Mining has spawned social conflicts. Local communities have been divided on whether or not to allow mining in their forests, ancestral domains and farmlands. Indigenous and farmer communities of Bataraza, Narra and Quezon, Palawan continue to deal with such conflicts.

An inconvenient reality about mining

Despite the concrete evidences and occurrences of environmental destruction caused by mining operations in various parts of the country, people have yet to realize that our society and our leaders still do not have the capacity to professionally manage our natural resources in a manner that will promote a more viable industry that is ecotourism. “What a few people have done is to abuse our environment, sell our assets to foreign companies who reap the rewards of such God-given resources, and earn huge sums of money out of it,” adds Lopez.

Contrary to what the mining sector claims, mining has yet to provide evidence that it can improve the lives of poor Filipino folks. Here’s a good case study: despite more than thirty years of mining operations by Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation, its host community, Bataraza, still remains to be one of the poorest municipalities in Palawan.

The mining business may be serving the interest of the country’s economy but it is absolutely not the solution to widespread poverty and hunger in the Philippines. In fact, mining profits accumulate primarily to mining corporations, most of which are owned by foreign companies based outside the country. Some go to the government, a good chunk goes to the government officials protecting the industry in the area and only trickles are allocated to the poor folks who continue to suffer from the environmental hazards of such devastating and abusive activity.

Mining, according to former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Atty. Christian Monsod, is one of the most contentious social justice issues in our country. “This is primarily because most mining operations are located in the rural and in the mountainous areas and its tailings can flow into rivers, farmlands and shorelines where the poorest of the poor are located—farmers, indigenous peoples, the fisherfolk,” notes Monsod, who was also a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution. “The development role of mining is always described as “potential” because mining has never played a major role in our sustainable development, not even during the mining boom of the seventies and early eighties. That is why when making their case, the mining industry focuses on financial benefits, but seldom on the costs, whether financial, environmental or social.”

The Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) recently came out with an independent report detailing their recommendations on the issue of the future of mining in the country. The policy brief, which was based on objective and peer-reviewed documents that summarizes the group’s extensive work in mining in the last five years, suggests that the government impose a blanket moratorium on mining that includes suspension of processing of submitted mining applications, and not only for cleansing of dormant or defective applications. “Based on our researches and analyses, supported by experts and stakeholders consulted in this study, the country is not yet capable of accurately measuring the real benefits and costs of mining,” the study reveals.

This simply highlights the fact that, whether large-scale or small-scale, there is no such thing as responsible mining in fragile island ecosystems. The very fact that mining operations are taking place in the Philippines—the seat of the world’s richest biodiversity that possesses an intricate web of ecological systems—is in itself very irresponsible.

“The government’s limitations in accounting for verifiable economic benefits versus environmental, social, cultural and economic costs are so serious that we are effectively gambling away our future. We are mindful of possible adverse economic displacement in imposing a moratorium today, which is at worst temporary,” the study adds.

The global economic outlook for the mining sector favors prudence and patience because demand for minerals will continue well into the future, thus there is no real opportunity cost in deferring decisions on utilization of our mineral resources, the study concludes.

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The Save Palawan Movement (SPM) is a non-profit, multi-sectoral volunteer organization that stands for the protection of our greatest resource which is biodiversity, the preservation of our island ecosystems, and poverty alleviation through community-based sustainable ecotourism and agriculture.

5 thoughts on “Typhoon Sendong and the Oxymoron that is Responsible mining”

  1. Arnold Cesar Romero

    How sad for Blogwatch to carry this story and to take all of anti mining advocates claims hook line and sinker. The story is clearly one sided and deceiving by laying its predicate that mining in effect, has caused the  Sendong devastation. Truth is, there is no mining activity in the CDO and Bukidnon areas. The Ateneo paper was largely criticized by other academics, chief of whom is a Jesuit priest from Xavier Univeristy in CDO – Fr. Barcelon as being too presumptuous ivory tower talk from the learned but unenlightened elite. As to Gina Lopez, well, she and her family has not yet compensated the victims of the country’s “biggest and most dangerous urban environmental accident” of all times – the West Tower, remember? Christian Monsod is of course, a lawyer and Director of the Lopez Group of Companies. There are inconvenient truths there, and BlogWatch should have weigh these things down. So sorry for BlogWatch to have been victimized by Gina and her crew.

    1. As you can see the above article clearly states it is from “Save Palawan Movement”, clearly their side. It is unfortunate that the Chamber of Mines keep publishing full page ads trying to deceive the public on responsible mining when it is not possible in an island ecosystem. The Chamber of Mines has said its side in all major newspapers so why not the side of “Save the Palawan Movement”?

    2. Let me add a few more facts:

      The Save Palawan is not a Lopez thing. The family has nothing to do for or against mining. Chris Monsod was a director of the Lopez group of companies but he is also heavily involved in work for the farmers – and in factkeynoted the summit on poverty a few months ago. He is a Wharton graduate – and his stand on mining is due to a keen perception of economic and financial data.Thbere up to date 653 organizations that have signed up against mining in Palawan and island eco systems and key bio diversity areas. Ask them and see if they are involved with the Lopez family. Just like these organizations, I care about Palawan.The stand against mining is not an elitist thing. In fact who benefits from mining – it is SOME of the business elite. Who suffers – it is the farmers, the fishermen , the indigenous people.One of the Lopez group of companies had an unfortunate accident in Bangkal. They have and are spending hundreds of millions of pesos to clean it up. They are providing medical help and more to the communities. They havehired international experts – and have comitted to clean it up in 3 to 5 years.  There was an accident and they are biting the bullet. Thats more than the mining industries can ever say – with the hundreds of abandoned mine sites all over the country – that continue to wreck havoc on people’slives.

      Stick to the issues . We are talking about “Save Palawan Movement” not the Lopez family

  2. Arnold Cesar Romero

    If we truly want to tackle climate change, poverty and conflict we need to think holistically. We need to, as Ban Ki-moon said at the launch of the UN global sustainability panel, “think big, connecting the dots between poverty, energy, food, water, environmental pressure and climate change”. Focusing on only one dot means that we lose sight of the bigger picture. ~ Wangari Maathai

  3. Pingback: From a Blogger’s Perspective: Typhoon Sendong and the Oxymoron That is ‘Responsible Mining’ | NO2MininginPalawan

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