A VIDEO of mining operations and the havoc wrought in the mountains of Surigao is making the rounds of social media and the Internet. It was produced by GMA network as a segment of Reporters Notebook. Unable to watch it on TV, I was glad a friend e-mailed to me the video which shows wide swaths of once forest cover now baring reddish soil as results of open-pit mining—truly destructive of the pristine environment fast vanishing from our land. In Surigao large wooded areas have been gouged with machine hoes and payloaders to harvest mineral ore which are borne by trucks to the sea wharf for loading in cargo ships.
The video came together with a Star report about the New People’s Army (NPA) raid on the mining firms’ camp where dump trucks and heavy equipment were torched, three security guards killed, and two hostages taken.
A reader wrote, “After watching the video, I realized that the rebels’ belligerence is called for and completely justified. Victory to the noble in heart!” The reader, an award-winning fictionist, is not a partisan for the rebel movement, but she must have been so outraged by the miners’ assault on our diminishing forest cover and the pollution it has caused that she could not help but express herself thus. “Victory. . .” may well be for all those fighting for clean air, clean water, environmental protection — the green “armies of the night.”
Another reader involved in anti-large scale mining advocacy in Surigao del Sur wrote that Manobos live in the area. “It is difficult and dangerous to do mass work there because local executives of towns are pro-mining; they get huge amounts and benefits from the mining companies,” she said.
Official reaction to the NPA raid is typical. The president condemned the raid and expressed concern that this would discourage foreign investments. The government’s chief negotiator in the peace talks called the NPA raiders “more of bandits than rebels.” The police chief in the same Kapihan forum cried NPA “extortion.”
On the other hand, PNoy’s adviser on environment is on video saying (prior to the raid) that the mining firms have violated the Mining Act of 1995; his DENR secretary maintains that the government pursues development not at the expense of the people.
Actually the government was remiss in enforcing the laws on mining and environment while the NPA chose to punish the erring mining firms in keeping with the policy enunciated by Luis Jalandoni, chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front in the peace talks. In a statement (October 5), Jalandoni criticized the president’s reaction to the NPA raid as thinking “only . . .of favoring foreign investments, even if extremely exploitative.” He points out that “1) the extraction of nonrenewable resources such as mineral ores for export at dirt cheap prices kills the Philippine prospects for industrialization, 2) the indigenous people are subjected to dispossession of land, mass dislocation and ruination of their lives and culture, and 3) the unbridled mining poisons the environment and damages agriculture and other forms of livelihood.”
Jalandoni reminds the government about the petition filed by the Tribal Coalition of Mindanao et al. with the Supreme Court on May 30, 2011 against the targeted mines that have already poisoned the rivers and creeks and the coastal waters of Claver, Surigao del Norte.
The petition for a writ of Kalikasan (calling for a temporary environmental protection order against the mining corporations) cites a UP study finding nickel levels in the river/water systems in the area as high as 190 mg/l while the maximum level of nickel in drinking water should only be 0.02 mg/l (according to the Department of Health and the Bureau of Food and Drugs).
For years now civil society, environmental groups and church groups like the Ecumenical Bishops Forum and the Catholic bishops have expressed alarm over the destruction of our natural resources to extract mineral deposits as in Marinduque, Negros, Benguet, Zamboanga del Norte, and Surigao. The purported financial returns for the government from the Surigao mining are shown in the video to be a pittance (P 13.7 million in taxes) compared to the P144.4 billion in profit going to the mining companies for 2010.
Now both houses of Congress are agreed in principle to change the economic provisions in the charter apparently to favor foreign investments, in keeping with the lawmakers’ neoliberal tendencies. On the other hand, the progressive party-list groups and members in the House are pushing for a People’s Mining Bill to regulate the operations of mining firms and address ecological concerns for people’s welfare.
It is time for the government to reorient its economic policies for the benefit of the people, particularly the poor and indigenous peoples, and not to endlessly feed corporate greed. It is time to take seriously environmental concerns since the country is experiencing disastrous results (like floods) of past neglect and acquiescence to foreign control.
Victory, indeed, to the noble in heart!