OPEN PIT MINING — a mining method that appears to have been discarded worldwide — is back in business in our dear Philippines. The news of its reincarnation came out three days ago, hardly worth noticing as it got scant banner attention, buried down below the front page of the major mainstream media.
The rest of the traditional outlets saw it fit to be included in the inner pages, perhaps underscoring the disrespectful attention it deserves at a time like this. Nary a word of sense from DENR’s top man Roy Cimatu, except to say that the matter is still up for review.
Never mind that the reviewing inter-agency mining council formed by His Excellency has had enough of the hemming and hemming which has characterized government’s flip-flops on the issue. Never mind that this council’s top man, Finance Sec Dominguez, couldn’t mask his exuberance in virtually giving the hitherto embattled and besieged mining companies the tight welcoming hug.
The ousted Gina Lopez, she who has stood four-square against open pit mining, minced no words in decrying the apparent change of heart in this government, emphasizing how blithely forgotten in the balancing of interests are the most affected: the Filipino. Banning open pit mining in a country long abused by mining interests has long been overdue, she asserts once more, pointing out how downtrodden life has been in affected communities, how badly damaged the environment has been, how screwed up the future of the generations next.
Just last July, the President, in his STATE of the Nation Address, had a bare-knuckle message in underscoring his policy on mining: be responsible or be taxed to death. But something happened along the way. Before anyone could catch a breath, Madame Gina got the heave-ho from lawmakers whose hearts unabashedly beat out for the stricken mining companies. She may have been much of a non-conformist, much of an environmental protector, much of an adversarial fighter, but in a country where business interests are constantly clashing with environmental concerns, it was pure naivete to expect that the nation’s welfare would predominate.
Despite Gina’s departure from DENR, the President has been upbeat about the country’s environmental future. He would assure the nation that he’s unyielding in so far as environmental issues are concerned. Every now and then, he would tell the miners who have been messing up our country’s environmental future, to go to somewhere deep in the bowels of the earth. He intones, shape up or ship out, be responsible or be taxed to death. Of course we all lapped up every single Presidential cursing word. And for a while there, we had a Presidential whiff of fresh air amid the stench of abuse that had been heaped for decades on the nation’s mineral resources. For a while there, we thought that all was not lost.
Since we’ve lost the open pit mining issue, can we hope to bring about some essential changes that can capably make our mining magnates act responsibly? Can Congress do it, can our lawmakers change hearts and really uphold national interest? Even for once, can they really do what is simply the right thing to do?
Just for starters, let’s ask our legislators to go over our mining laws with nothing less than a fine toothcomb. What government gets by way of shared income from mining activities is way too much of a pittance. This should be revised to provide for higher revenue levels from the mined products to 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 proper compensation, and this must be clearly stated in reformed 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, instead of exporting them for processing and for re-entry as imports at exorbitant rates? For heaven’s sake, why pay sky-high for what are ours in the first place?
After all, whose mine is it anyway? Isn’t it yours and mine?