Mine All Along

IT’S BEEN an open-and-shut operation. Stripped down to its stark simplicity, It involves gouging the earth for mineral resources, then abandoned hurriedly after everything extractable is gone. As for the mined land, it’s irreversibly ruined for life. Experts say that the ruined mined places stay just that not just in this lifetime, but in generations next.

This is open pit mining, a mining method that creates vast swathes of irredeemable wastelands. In sum, a totally ravaged, eviscerated place. Long discarded worldwide, hold your breath now, open pit mining is back, it’s back in business in our dear Philippines, all because it’s good for Philippine business, the business of mining that is. It’s back despite being banned for the rapacious effects it inflicts, not just on the mined land, but on the communities and its inhabitants as well. It’s back because an inter-agency task force of business protectors gave the imprimatur, subject only to President Duterte’s final OK.

Are we startled that its reincarnation came too soon? Take note that when the new broke out just a week ago, it merited scant banner attention, lost in the flurry of pre-holiday concerns. In fact, it was purposely buried down below the front page of the major mainstream media, as if unworthy of the national consequences, as if just part of the routine happenings of the day.

What seems clearer as day is that the reviewing inter-agency mining council has finally been liberated from the utter discomfort of the hemming and hemming that had marked government’s position on the issue. Never mind that the mining officials and their unabashed protectors couldn’t mask their exuberance that they’re back in business, in very good business.

Environmentalists can only express dismay that this turn of events should even happen, given the President’s apparently stern and uncompromisingly attitude no less pontifically intoned just a few months ago: “Be responsible or be taxed to death. Shape up or ship out.” Every now and then, miners would be told to their face — they who have long ravaged the environment with their pillaging ways — “Go somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth or in the depths of oceans out of the nation’s boundary; better yet, just go to hell!”

People knew what was meant, for they agreed with what has gone far too long in so far as Philippine mining has historically been. Far too long have the Filipinos been at the long losing end of the bargain. Far too long have communities been blithely forgotten, their mined lands reduced to places of perdition. Far too long have the afflicted people been downtrodden, while their lifeline to inhabited lands was left severed.

Yet, in a country where business interests are constantly clashing with environmental concerns, was it pure naivete to expect that the nation’s welfare would predominate? In times when every foreign investment has become a daily catchphrase as the means for economic survival, when every foreign trip taken is measured in foreign currency pledges, was it sheer foolhardiness to think that truly Filipino interests would prevail?

Is everything lost? Can we still hoist all hopes that our leaders — they who truly care for our environment, for our people, for our future — may yet see the light of awakening and get us out of a long-standing mess the country is in? Just for starters, let’s ask our legislators to go over our mining laws with nothing less than a fine toothcomb done in all resolve. What government gets by way of shared income from mining activities is way too much of a mere pittance. Shouldn’t this now be changed to ensure that higher revenue money is levied from the mined products and allotted for the host nation and the communities where the resources were drawn?

Till now and since time immemorial, the government’s revenue-sharing arrangement has amounted to nothing more than a token give-away from the mining companies. Communities damaged by mining activities have remained forgotten and their constituents invariably set aside in the scheme of things. There must be leveled a proper compensation package, and this must be clearly stated in reform-seeking mining laws and regulations, so basic an arrangement that deserves no less than stern compliance by the miners, foreign or domestic.

And while we’re at it, why not require mining companies to get mineral resources extracted from the bowels of Philippine mountain and the depths of Philippine oceans processed locally into finished products, using Philippine processing industries and Philippine labor. Right now, what are drawn from the country’s resources are exported out and processed elsewhere for subsequent re-entry int our shores as imports commanding exorbitant rates. For heaven’s sake, why pay sky-high for what are ours in the first place?

After all, it’s our mine all along — yours and mine.

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