Stand for the environment

By: Gina Lopez

It’s been a pretty intense week. The climax was the mining forum – sponsored by Financial Executives of the Philippines (FINEX), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI). While I welcomed being able to talk and share what I passionately believed in – it was a real challenge to talk before a largely unfriendly audience. I had presumed that there would be some individuals there who might perhaps share my passion for this country and the environment. The entrance fee was Php1,500 so the people who could afford this was of course the business group. Nevertheless the texts, emails of encouragement and support I got from the multitude convinced me that I did the right thing.
What did set a reaction in me was when Gerry Brimo called me a liar – and an ignorant one at that. Hmmm I really didn’t want to get into any kind of personal fight. I may have overdone that effort by saying – “Gerry I love you – but the incidence of poverty in the area that you mine is double the national average (53%)” (Taken from the study of Dr. Arsenio M. Balisacan, UP School of Economics, Quezon City, 2011). It is not easy to criticize a person’s company in front of a crowd, show visuals of what his company is doing and the person is just in front of you. On the second thought maybe I should have just bit the bullet and said what I know to be true – and if feelings are hurt – I really can’t please everyone…

Although I expected it – I did get ticked off when the issue of the gas leak was brought up again. So for the record I would like to state that my family is spending hundreds of millions of pesos and they have committed to address the situation in 3 to 5 years – and that is much more than what the mining companies have done with their hundreds of abandoned mine sites. Is the raising of this issue already a sign of desperation? Why not stick to the issues?
Because there has been a flurry of communication and some of them not very clear, and even faulty – it is important that I make the main issues clear so here goes:
1. Biodiversity is the different flora and fauna that provide our people with fresh air, food, forest and water, and materials for medicine and agriculture – it is LIFE. In the universe of what is important – it holds pre eminent value. Our country ranks No. 1 in endemicity per unit area – which means the flora and fauna found here cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Given that our country is also the number one typhoonhit country in the planet – it is disturbing that mining priority areas – are right on top of biodiversity areas, agricultural areas, water catchment areas.
Biodiversity areas are often also rich in mineral resources. Mining in these areas – will damage our biodiversity irreversibly. Reforestation does not replicate an ecological system. No amount of planting trees will bring biodiversity back. Our country and the world stand much more to gain by leaving these sites alone.
The business community needs to understand that it is GOOD BUSINESS sense to keep our biodiversity alive. That an economic path which is just focused on money – is not to going to bring on the well being of our people.
2. Island Ecosystems. This is an interweave of different ecological systems: forests, mountains, coral reefs, mangroves, farmlands – all intertwined in a specific location – where rivers and streams lead into the sea. Any kind of mining in these islands whether they be large scale or small scale is grossly irresponsible – especially since our country is hit by typhoons every year!
3. Mining has a very poor track record in the country. The highest incidence of poverty is in the mining sector. The poorest areas in the country are mining areas. : Samar, Surigao, Benguet, Zambaonga. Even in mining areas where the municipality has upgraded to first class – the incidence of poverty remains high. (Taken from the study of Dr. Arsenio M. Balisacan, UP School of Economics, Quezon City, 2011) In Caraga for instance from 2007 to 2009 the GDP went up by 40 Billion pesos – however the incidence of poverty went up from 46 to 49% attributed to mining. (Taken from the study of Maita Gomez, Transparency Issues in the Philippine Mining Industry). We have hundreds of unrehabilitated mine sites. After decades of mining, we do not even have one rehabilitated mine site – so why are we continuing this path?

4. The national government earns very little from mining: 1.3% GDP and 0.36% employment.  (MGB 2010 – 2011) There is a 5 year tax holiday – so operations are usually front loaded during these years. We have no standard of evaluating what we are giving up. For all the billions of dollars that is poured into the country from mining – how much is NET to the country? – After we subtract the cost of their activities? At the end of the day – if the communities around the mine site remain poor and at risk – why do we continue to do it?
5. This was my “fight” with Manny Pangilinan. When he said that the sites where there is mining are largely mined because not much else can be done there anyway. I so very much disagree!! There have been and there are beautiful sites that are currently being mined – which should NEVER have been mined. For example there is mining on top of the rice granary of Palawan. Why was this EVER allowed? There is mining in protected areas. The reality is, our beautiful, protected areas are RE-ZONED to allow for mining applications – which only makes more glaring to the government’s inability to ensure the common good.

6. Mining Threatens Food Security. That is a FACT. Because mining threatens water. We have documents and lab reports where mining operations have damaged farm lands, and fishery resources and the disadvanted continue to lack in compensation.

7. Mining threatens HEALTH. We have documented cases where children and adults have suffered due to the mine sites. In Palawan there are already documented evidences of rivers containing carcinogenic substances.  Friends of the Earth Japan; Environmental Legal Assistance Center Inc. (ELAC), Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) and Department of Health conducted the abovementioned study. Friends of the Earth Japan stated excessive levels of hexavalent chromium in Togpon River near Bataraza, Palawan. 
6. There is another way! In Dipolog City – the sardines business provides jobs and income to 2,000 people from 14 barangays. This is all put to risk by APPROVED mining in Sergio Osmena – since the river that runs through Sergio Osmena is the same river that runs through Dipolog. Last year the sales from the sardines reached Php78 Million! I have projects in Puerto Princesa where poor communites are now able to send their kids to college after only two years of ecotourism and where each family now earns up to Php15,000 a month! The economy of Puerto Princesa is hitting the roof – without mining but through tourism and agriculture. Camarines Sur and Bohol are similar economic models that have gone tourism successfully. Do we have any economic model of mining where the community AROUND is happy and healthy and the enviromment is beautiful and rehabilitated. As far as I know there is NONE. So why are we doing this?!
We must remember we are not vast continents like Canada and Australia. We are 7,000 islands – with abundant natural resources and fragile ecosystems. We have to embark on our own economic programme which is pertinent to the resources that we have. Yes we are abundant in minerals. But if the extraction of these minerals will put at risk the wellbeing of our community and our foods security – then the intelligent choice must be made.
I am not saying ALL mining is bad. Yes it has a role to play in our society. But the current mining situation in the Philippines cannot continue as it is. Our people are suffering. And that is a fact. That is the Truth. We must be able to institute systems and structures to ensure the Common Good, which of course includes the people working at the mine site. Their needs, their families must also be provided – but they cannot continue to earn their keep at the expense of thousands of families around – and the generations of Filipinos to come.
Truth and the Common Good. If the government bases its policy on this we are good. It cannot and must not be based on the desire to make all parties happy. Our commitment to the people must be non negotiable. It must hold sway over political or business interests. Investments will continue to come in if institutions know that our government is steadfast on doing what is right by our people.  It is impossible to please everyone. We need to act responsibly as stewards of God’s creation. In areas where choices have to be made between extracting the minerals and our biodiversity, or our food supply – we must make the right choice. I truly hope that the mining policy of this administration – which has pledged to hold people’s welfare above all else, which has pledged to be unrelenting against corruption – will be manifestative of the spirit on which this administration is based.