[Welcome Address: ADDU Artisanal and Small Scale Mining in the Philippines]
As President of the ADDU it is my distinct pleasure to welcome you to this Conference on Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM).
There have been those who have said ADDU is against mining in the Philippines. Those however who have cared enough to read our position papers on this understand that that is not entirely accurate. We are against mining in the Philippines under the current policy environment defined by the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, which forms the legal basis for the current administration’s EO 79.
Under this policy regime, the large-scale miners like to characterize themselves as the legal miners, and tend to heap all manner of opprobrium on small scale miners for their illegality and their negative impact on the environment. We know of cases in Mindanao, however, where legal miners have undertaken to eliminate small scale miners illegally – sometimes with the incredible participation of the military. We also know of the recent Philex tailings spill which has caused the absolutely worst environmental disaster in the history of the Philippines.
Legality in mining, apparently, is the servant of pragmatism rather than of morality; it is the servant of the interests of capital rather than of the environment. It is official entitlement to exploit limited mineral resources vs. a host of small miners who assert themselves as entitled to share in the wealth of the minerals by virtue of their poverty and their own sweat and blood in the mines. Following the celebrated insights of Justice Antonio in the Labugal B’laan Association case, large scale mining is seen to ship mineral wealth out of the country with a people’s participation in the minerals themselves “from zero to nil”; small scale mining, however, in fact favors the local lords of mining through the managed exploitation of the poor.
The problems related to small-scale and artisanal miners are anything but small scale. That can already be gleaned from recent newspaper articles describing how government is today in a quandary as to whether to tax or not tax one of the major products of small scale mining – gold. The tax apparently encourages the lords of the mines to smuggle their gold out of the country rather than sell it to Central Bank where it would better serve the Filipino people.
Considering that the collective production of small scale mining thoroughly outstrips the production of large-scale mining, this is a problem indeed. It is a genuine quagmire in which government must consider removing the legal tax on gold to attract the illegal miners to favor the Filipino people and not foreigners with their mined gold that according to the Constitution originally belongs to the Filipino People.
Not too long ago I had opportunity with the other Presidents of the Ateneos to discuss the problems of mining with the President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III. He said it was probably not possible to ban mining in the Philippines absolutely, and that the problems related to illegal mining must be solved. I said, if mining is necessary for the welfare of the Filipino people, it would be rash to conclude that it would need to be done by large scale miners who are “legal” but whose environmental impact is humongous and immoral. I told him that if the problems related to small scale mining are related to their negative impact on the environment, there are new technologies in the world today that would mitigate that impact. That is part of the reason why we are having this Conference, and why we welcome especially our keynote speaker from Canada, Engr. Adrian Daniel, MEng. With our co-sponsors Panalipdan and AFRIM we welcome all who have come for this conference.
There are, of course, more problems related to small-scale and artisanal mining than just their environmental impact. There are questions related to human beings in the mines – qualifications, safety, social security, culture, awareness of human- and legal rights. There are questions related to technology, – the recovery rates of the minerals from the ore, the use of toxic mercury, or substitutes for mercury, and how the products and waste products of mines are handled.
There is the question of “how small is small?” and the delicate question of who really benefits from the small mines?
In the world, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are some 13 million people worldwide engaged directly in small-scale mining activities, affecting the livelihood of and additional 80-100 million people.
In the Philippines the total number of people in Artisanal and Small-Scale mining is an estimated 185,000. They are responsible however for 70% of the output mined gold of the country.
Towards making a contribution to how ASM must be properly understood, regulated, and organized for the common good we have organized this conference. I thank all of you who have come to participate in. I welcome all of you, esp. those who you who are Artisanal and Small-scale miners yourselves.
May the Lord, the Almighty One, bless us with a fruitful meeting!