The President of the Philippines has not yet issued his policy on mining. His administration has not yet disapproved with finality the application of the SMI-Xtrata group to operate their environmentally disastrous open-pit mine in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
The Jan. 26-27 International Conference on Mining in Mindanao co-sponsored by the CEAP and the ADDU, and recently affirmed by our alumni professionally involved in the development of Mindanao, has shown how environmentally disastrous this project would be. The disapproval of its mandatory environmental clearance, in my view, should be immediate and absolute, based not just on a conflict between a local ordinance and national law, but on appreciation of the incontrovertible information that has emerged on the impacts of the project on the environment: should its tailings dam fail, as SMI-Xtrata itself declares, it would bring disaster to countless human lives and irreparable damage to the environment; its location over a fault-line and just 12 kilometers away from Mt. Matutum, an active volcano, recklessly courts the disaster, its 500-ha. open pit would illegally destroy old-growth forests and local bio-diversity, it would negatively impact the water supplies of the community, threaten the acquafers with irreversible toxification, and adversely affect the rice-production of some 80,000 downstream farmers affecting an estimated 200,000 hectares of productive ricelands. The mine would not only contribute to the alienation of the minerals patrimony of the Filipino people; it would the local population of a major source of their food.
The President should not fear that in disapproving the environmental clearance of this particular project he is breaking faith with these foreign investors. The project, from the very beginning was conditioned on the investors showing that it could be implemented without serious impact on the environment. Otherwise, why else would Environmental Clearance be required? Their assumption in making their investments, no matter how big or small, was that they could prove the environmental soundness of their project. If through the intervening environmental impact studies it has been demonstrated that the impacts would be disastrous, the President and his advisers must recognize this and draw the necessary conclusion. Whether the investors are form Australia, Switzerland, England, Germany, China, or even the Philippines, the project must be disapproved, even if, from the very beginnign of the project the foreign investors has been being advised by the highest officials of the DENR.
In this case, the schizophrenic DENR itself, charged to protect the environment and to manage its exploitation, must come to the defense of the environment and protect the interests of the Filipino People.
This is for this SMI-Xtrata case. Otherwise, as the International Mining Conference in Mindanao recommended, echoed now by the First Visayan Conference on Mining and the Ecology held last weekend in Iloilo, the nation must continue its search for a mining policy that is more pro-Filipino and more pro-environment. We are grateful that Trade and Industry and Board of Investments (BOI) Chair Gregory L. Domingo in his paper entitled “Secretary’s Prospects for 2012 and Message to the BOI” recognizes that some of the provisions of the Mining Act of 1995 are “grossly disadvantageous” to government (Cf. Manila Bulletin, 2/27, pg B1). It is this disadvantageousness not just “to government” but to the Philippine State, to which the minerals of the Philippines belongs according to our Constitution, that must be addressed in national and local policy reform governing mining. The present policy allows the foreigners to legally rob the Filipino people of its patrimony.
There can be no wonder therefore that the foreign Chambers of Commerce, and now seconded by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), is issuing warnings about how business might be negatively affected by any changes in national mining policy, whether this be through an executive order or through new legislation. “Amending an existing policy creates a climate of uncertainty and puts in negative light the stability of national policies and the country’s investment environment,” PCCI president Miguel Varela has stated (cf. Business World, 2/27, pg.1). But when the Philippine government is finally realizing that its people are being plundered and raped because of our skewed mining policy and inept governance of mining, both small- and large-scale, are we being asked to desist from reforming the policy because we don’t want business to be negatively impacted and because we want to ne known as a stable destination for investiments?
In his recent speech commemorating the 26 anniversary of the EDSA revolution, President Aquino said, “Pagkalipas ng dalawampu’t anim na taon, muli tayong tinatawag na manindigan para sa kinabukasan. Nakataya dito ang kinabukasan ng ating bayan. Tara na Pilipino, tapusin natin ang laban ng EDSA” – “After 26 years, we are again being called to stand up for the future. At stake here is the future of our nation. Let’s move, Filipino! Let’s finish the fight that is EDSA.” That involves cleaning up not only the judiciary. It involves cleaning up our mining policy – where the Boss is the Filipino people, not foreign investment.
Disapprove Tampakan. Reform mining policy.