Irreconcilable differences?

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Mining companies and affected
communities attempt to dialogue

By Gina Mission

At a recent media forum on mining, Gerry Brimo, chair of the Chamber of Mines in the Philippines and president of Benguet Mining Corporation, asserted that a meeting of the minds among stakeholders in the mining industry can be achieved. But for his part, Gil Reoma, chair of Green Forum-Philippines said that never the twain shall meet.

Even as the opposing camps keep up the debate on the pros and cons of mining, a new book, "Mining Revisited: Can an Understanding of Perspectives Help?" by the Environmental Science for Social Change, Inc. and the BBC, states that an understanding of the different perspectives of the stakeholders is necessary to address all the issues of the mining industry.

   Organized by the Bishops-Businessmen's Conference (BBC), the forum brought together miners, communities affected by mining operations, anti-mining activists, government officials, academics and the to media to "talk". It was an attempt by the BBC to "reconcile the differences in mining perspectives among stakeholders.

   The briefing notes on the BBC-published book say that mining has been the focus of much suspicion "due to its poor track record, unfavorable environmental image, and an ill-informed public." The forum, hosted by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility(CMFR), the Environmental Science for Social Change, Inc, and the Bishops-Businessmen Conference (BBC), was the first of a series of initiatives to raise public awareness of issues concerning the industry.

Four perspectives

   The book explores four perspectives in mining: the development perspective, the church’s perspective, the perspective of the anti-mining community, and the perspective of mining companies.

   The development perspective argues that mining has a rightful and important role to play in the development of the national economy, provided it is properly regulated and supervised.

   The church's perspective attempts to clarify the role of the church in national development, i.e., offer people the opportunity "to be more" by "awakening their consciousness through the Gospel."

   The people against mining assert that mining benefits only a few, while it wreaks havoc and causes damage to the country with the destruction of its natural resources.

   For its part, the mining company's perspective is that the technology has so developed and practices and procedures have so
improved that mining can actually be carried out without destroying the environment.

Free and Prior Informed Consent

   The Philippine mining industry has long been saddled with "contentious" issues, such as alleged manipulation in the acquisition of free and prior informed consent (FPIC) of indigenous communities affected by the acquisition of mining rights. According to Green Forum’s Reoma, FPICs are "being undertaken in a manner that does not allow a thorough understanding of how mining will impact on the lives of the people in the community."

   An example of the absence of "informed consent" is the Manobo-Mamanwa tribe in Santiago, Agusan del Norte in the Caraga Region that entered into a memorandum of agreement with Mindoro Resources Limited (MRL), allowing the company to mine in their area. The agreement was reached through the tribe's "representative," Ernesto Morada, a non-IP earlier "adopted" by the tribe. A month later, when MRL began exploration of the site, the tribes people began asking what the company was doing in their "territory."

   The FPIC is a requirement for all mining companies, as provided under both the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and the Indigenous People's Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997. It is meant to be a potent tool for cultural communities to assert their rights and protect their culture. However, it was rendered inutile when the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) issued Administrative Order No. 3 which recognizes mining agreements, contracts, and permits made before the implementing rules and regulations of the IPRA took effect in

   Other contentious issues against mining are: economic dislocation, cultural degradation, and division in the community. Underhanded tactics like bribery, manipulation, or downright intimidation, Roema said, are usually employed to obtain the consent (or the FPIC) of the community.

The industry strikes back

   Brimo, however, does not think these should be considered mining issues. "We have the Philippine Mining Act which has very strict provisions against environmental degradation. We have a government agency that regulates the industry. We have communities who will not give us their consent if they don't see we deserve to mine in their communities. We have very strict environmental compliance (laws). We have all the NGOs watching our backs. How else can we get away with all these?" he asked.

   The problem, Brimo said, is that mining issues are used and blown out of proportion to advance certain ideological agenda. Without naming names, he said that it is rebel groups that are most against mining. "But if only people will listen to the arguments raised by the other stakeholders, yes, we can achieve an understanding of perspectives. But while people's minds remain closed to other views, we will
never be able to reconcile the issues," Brimo added.

   Brimo lamented that people conveniently live in the past. "We have to leave the past behind. Those incidents in the past, we can't possibly use them as basis to oppose mining," he said. For one, there were no decent environmental laws then. But now, he asserted, "We have a mining law that is very extensive," and "world-class environmental rules and regulations to follow."

   Mining, he continued, is the most-closely monitored industry in the country. Mining companies are bound by "very stringent" laws. The country is very rich in mining potential, he said, but it will remain a potential if left untouched.

   "What we need is proper implementation of laws and use of the right technology. It is ridiculous and illogical to refuse mining just because you are scared of mining accidents that are not even true. Not one mineral-rich country has ever refused mining," Brimo said.

Government chimes in

   For his part, Mines and Geosciences Bureau director Horacio Ramos, gave a litany of how mining can dramatically raise the revenue of the national government. Citing the experience of other countries, he said that in places like Australia, the mining industry contributes 40 per cent of GNP.

   Ramos and Brimo agreed that a pro-mining government is pro-poor and pro-people. Brimo pointed out that a government owes it to its constituents to provide jobs and livelihood opportunities by providing a climate conducive to the establishment of industries and create jobs. The more people who get employment, the more tax revenues, and the more social services the government will be able to dispense. Brimo stressed, "We'll never be able to progress unless we encourage industry participation."

   But neither Ramos nor Brimo convinced Reoma of their position.

Concrete examples

   Taking about concrete situations, Reoma talked about Itogon, a municipality in Beguet province in the Cordillera region, which was a second-class municipality before it hosted Benguet and Philex mining companies. Now, it has deteriorated into a sixth class municipality.

   "Is this progress?" Reoma asked. The mining operations in Itogon have left behind barren mountains and "migrant indigenous peoples" who were displaced by the activity.

   "They are telling us theories," remarked Reoma on the new mining technologies that Brimo said are meant to prevent another disaster like Boac. "We need to see how those technologies work. Can they give us a classic example? Can they show us that they can clean up communities after these have been abandoned by mining operators? Can they re-create a mining site into the same community that it was, and give it back to the indigenous peoples?" he asked.

   Reoma charged that government doesn’t have the will to intervene decisively or represent aggrieved people and communities. He cited the Boac in Marinduque, the site of a major mining disaster in early 1996. A toxic spill affected four barangays, and, according to him, the local people are still living and dying from the effects of the spillage. However, until the present, only 100 victims have been compensated the meager amount of P7,000 each.

   "Did the government do anything other than what the mining company was willing to pay?" he asked. "Did the government do anything about the spillage in Hinatuan, Eastrern Samar? In Sipalay, Negros Occidental?"

   Reoma also brought up other issues such as the lack of clear guidelines in determining the participation of communities and local government units in land use allocations. The government, he said, generally lacks consistency in policy coherence and socio-economic development. In addition, he said there should be greater accountability within the mining industry in terms of policing its own ranks.

   No, Reoma said, for as long as communities are dislocated, local people are disenfranchised, and their lives threatened by mining operations, an understanding or reconciliation of the mining perspectives among the industry's main stakeholders, can never be reached.

- Pan-Philippine News and Information Network Inc.

CyberDyaryo | 2000.01.27

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