Oceanagold’s mining operations in Didipio, Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya have dried up the sources of water, polluted the environment and crippled the livelihood of farmers.
“We won’t be fooled by the pretext that reopening our natural resources to large-scale mining would help revive the pandemic-battered economy as it would inflict serious damage than repair.”
Environment defenders, including scientists and fishers, have debunked President Rodrigo Duterte’s justification for the lifting of the nine-year ban on new mining contracts.
The Duterte administration has decided to end the moratorium on making new mining agreements in the Philippines purportedly to stimulate its ailing economy during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Last week, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) held consultative meetings for the implementing rules and regulations of Executive Order (EO) No. 130, which lifts the mining ban imposed during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
Creating new mining deals will also spur employment opportunities in rural areas, as well as provide support to its flagship infrastructure program, the president said in the executive order.
According to the DENR, over a hundred mining projects in the pipeline could potentially generate P21 billion or around $438 million in revenues, which would also be allocated for the government’s pandemic response.
But Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment refuted this, saying the move is a “fake Covid-19 economic recovery program.”
“We won’t be fooled by the pretext that reopening our natural resources to large-scale mining would help revive the pandemic-battered economy as it would inflict serious damage than repair,” Fernando Hicap of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), who was a former House lawmaker, stated.
In an article, Ibon Foundation, an independent think tank, claimed that the government has “exaggerated” how mining investments could help in recovering the pandemic-battered economy.
Ibon Foundation cited the following “paltry” gains of the mining sector since 2001:
Taxes, fees and royalties from mining made up 0.5% of the total excise taxes and 0.07% of total taxes in 2020.
The sector’s annual average share in total employment from 2001 to 2020 was 0.49%.
Share of the sector’s foreign direct investments to the country’s total was 0.95% or an annual average contribution of $39.7 billion from 2002 to 2020.
The average annual share of the mining and quarrying sector in the gross domestic product has been 1.02% in the past 20 years, despite growing its gross value added from P54.5 billion ($1.14 billion) to P136.9 billion ($2.9 billion).
Environmental disasters, rights violations
Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, also feared that the new mining order would lead to the “doubling, if not tripling, of environmental disasters and human rights violations in mineral-rich areas” across the country.
The potential entry of 291 mining projects also spells “doom” to affected communities of farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples, according to Pamalakaya.
“This is an impending environmental catastrophe that would fuel violations of socio-economic rights,” said Hicap.
Since President Duterte came into office, at least 124 Filipino environment defenders were subjected to red-tagging and criminalization, threats and intimidation, illegal arrests, harassment lawsuits, and forced displacement.
For instance, in April last year, the Philippine police nabbed Roland Pulido, chairman of Didipio Earth Saver’s Movement Association, when they dispersed people forming a barricade against the entry of fuel tankers into the operation site of Australian-Canadian mining firm Oceanagold in Nueva Vizcaya.
To recall, the people of Dipidio in Kasibu town were blaming the activities of the foreign miner for the massive flooding around the Cagayan Valley, as well as for the depletion and pollution of their water sources. The government has been working on renewing the financial and technical assistance agreement or FTAA with Oceanagold which expired in 2019.
“This mining plunder drive will only result in more human rights violations and ecological disasters, which shall never be a good offset to the so-called revenue that these mines will bring,” Dulce claimed.
False stance, public betrayal
Pamalakaya also counted EO 130 to Pres. Duterte’s so-called “record of environmental destruction and sell out of national patrimony.”
For Hicap, the order showed the “complete turnaround” in the president’s former stance against mining. Duterte had warned to completely ban mining in the Philippines for its supposed environmental damages.
“Akin to his West Philippine Sea pretense, Mr. Duterte’s anti-mining stance was nothing but a false show; his crackdown against big mines was a toothless tiger merely declared for public image building… Duterte is a national traitor at its best in this respect,” Hicap said.
Recently, the president admitted that he had only joked about riding a jet ski to Panatag Shoal and planting a Philippine flag there to assert the country’s territorial integrity amid its dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea.
Pass ‘green’ recovery measures instead
Kalikasan PNE urged the government to enforce what it called a “green recovery policy,” instead of reviving pro-mining measures.
The group was referencing House Bill Nos. 7620, also known as the SHIELD Act, and 9089, or the Ayuda Act, both measures on economic stimulus and aid.
The SHIELD Act provides for the allotment for renewable energy, land distribution, and a moratorium on land conversion, while the Ayuda Act aims to give out P10,000 in cash assistance for the poorest Filipinos.
“These measures are sound, reasonable, and much more realistic than the trickle-down revenue expected from mining operations,” Dulce claimed.