In the name of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines and of the Ateneo de Davao University it is my pleasure to welcome you to this International Conference on Mining in Mindanao. As a Catholic, Jesuit and Filipino University, it belongs to the mission of the Ateneo de Davao to “engage vigorously in environmental protection, the preservation of bio-diversity, and the promotion of renewable energy.” Grateful for the vast cultural wealth of Mindanao in its many diverse peoples, the university is also missioned to promote “communities touched and transformed by the faith, culturally resilient yet able to adapt to the modern world.” In addressing through this Conference concerns related to mining in Mindanao affecting its environment and its peoples, we echo the oft repeated concerns of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines as well as of the Dioceses of Kidapawan, Marbel, Digos and Davao about the effect of especially large-scale mining but also of small-scale mining on the environment and on the peoples of Mindanao.
In a local advertisement of a company engaged in mining in Mindanoo, there is an image of a pick breaking the earth, then of a sapling emerging from the earth wonderfully developing into a tree; the voiced-over declaration then is, “Mining is about forests…”
Our view however is that in the real world mining is about business. It is about returns on investments. If the investments soar into billions and billions of dollars, mining is about taking the necessary means to assure that the investments return appropriate profits, even if this entails felling precious old-growth rainforests, damaging local bio-diversity, compromising the fresh water supply of the region, shamelessly shortcutting processes of free- and prior consent of the affected local communities, gaining local consent through payouts of short term benefits, and disrespecting the ordinances of the local government units against open-pit mining. In the context of national policy governing mining today, our view is that mining in Mindanao is about short-term benefits for some at the cost however of serious, long-term environmental destruction for all; it is an activity within policy framework that provides foreign investors with a legal permit to rape our environment with impunity, leave a hole in it 500 hectares large and 800 meters deep, use precious fresh water to transport toxic slurry through a 150 km pipe to the Davao gulf, then alienate the minerals patrimony of the Filipino people with a bottom-line benefit to the Filipino people “from zero to nil.” Contrary to the ads in the media attributing roads, development and trees to mining, our view is of mining bringing irreparable environment damage to Mindanao, cultural alienation, undermined local government, destroyed prospects of sustainable economic activities in agriculture, agri-business, and tourism, prevarication, lying, bribery, and the murder of such environmentally concerned pastors of the people as Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio.
It is in this context that I welcome you all to this International Conference on Mining in Mindanao. I welcome you who represent government, local and national, the Churches, the Muslim and Lumad communities, academe, non-government organizations, local supporters and friends. I welcome especially those of you who have come from the other side of the globe to share of your expertise with us today. May this Conference be an opportunity for all of us together to search for truth, to grow in insight and courage, and to further network in friendship towards a reformed national policy environment, complemented by a corps of capable enforcers, that would effectively govern if not eliminate mining in the Philippines today! May our Powerful and Compassionate Creator-God bless you in your concern for the environment and peoples of Mindanao! May he strengthen you and in one another fill you with hope!