Yours and Mine All Along

Ompong’s onslaught should be an important lesson for us here. The landslides it triggered in many places, notably and tragically in Itogon, Benguet should teach us what would happen when Mother Nature, misbehaving at its sordid moments, unleashes its force and fury in our neck of the woods, most specially when the woods are no longer there.

Actually, Ompong just served as a triggering mechanism, letting loose of the mountain earth that had no stabilizing force all around it, the forest cover that used to be there, the trees that would have kept the soil well in place. But, stripped down to its stark simplicity, it’s what decades of unregulated small-scale mining that was doing the damage all along, year in and year out even when a private mining company had extracted itself from doing what it had been doing all the time — gouging the earth for mineral resources, then abandoned the area after everything extractable had been mined out. 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.

One thing looms quite as clear as day. Mining the area, whether lawful or otherwise, just couldn’t be prohibited for livelihood reasons. The best that could be done was simply to regulate it, whatever that may mean in a place where thousands of small-scale miners had been doing it through past generations. It was simply a timebomb waiting to explode — and explode it then when Ompong’s fury swept us by.

While government is still figuring out how best to balance environment and economic needs, laboring perhaps under duress lest another of the 2 to 3 more Ompong-like aberrations come our way, still there’s no denying a clear case of livelihood deprivation, if the mining sites are shut down, and the livelihood seekers are left to their own devices, legal or otherwise. While government is amid tough choices, time is ticking by. After hunger comes anger, a situation far worse.

Which brings us to another facet of mining that is just as horrendous. 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 shouldn’t even be allowed to back in business in our dear Philippines. Back in business? You can count on it, all because it’s good for Philippine business, the business of mining that is. It will never be shut down 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 will be back because the mining lobby behind its sordid return just wouldn’t take a No, a Never Again, for a final answer. Really, it’s all up to PRRD and how he can withstand the economic managers that have been pushing for it.

What seems clearer as day is that the reviewing inter-agency mining council is now hemming and hemming despite the President’s firm resolve to put the nail on the coffin, once and for all. There is serious concern that the mining officials and their unabashed protectors in Congress will never hear the end of it, just so they’d be 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?

The issue of mining will never be resolved, unless we accept that it’s our mine all along — yours and mine.

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