“The church wants the people to be poor so that people constantly supplicate to them. We should not allow them to dictate to us. How will the anti-mining advocates solved unemployment? Everybody will have jobs because of mining.”
These words spoken just a few months ago by Surigao del Sur provincial governor, Vicente T. Pimentel Jr., in defense of mining operations in the northern part of his province which is being faced with strong opposition coming from Catholic religious leaders, local community heads and environmental protection organizations spells out clearly the dilemma being faced by many Surigao del Sur residents whose very communities have become affected by the recent influx of industrial mining activities in their part of Mindanao.
In truth, Pimentel's province is considered one of the country's poorest in terms of industrial development and, in theory, any capital investments pouring in, even those from the mining industry, should be welcomed because of the employment opportunities they bring to the local people, the tax revenues they generate for local governments and the needed stimulus they often bring to the largely tepid local economy.
But, in the Philippine context, large scale mining has always had a devastating impact on the natural environment. Responsible mining practices, mineral excavation methodologies and techniques that are the standard in many industrialized countries and which are designed to minimize damage to the environment are,as a matter of course, set aside and ignored in the haste to produce maximum profits quickly and with the minimum of fuss. Thus the result is the unmitigated rape of the environment and the resulting negative impact on the health and quality of life of affected communities.
In the case of Surigao del Sur which has a rich and diverse geography ranging from a long stretch of coastline peppered with white, sand beaches and emerald-green islets to rich, flat agricultural plains (which has earned it the label as the rice breadbasket of the Caraga region) and thickly forested mountains, the consequences of such disregard for the preservation of an exceeding rich environmental and ecological heritage can be doubly catastrophic.
Thus in the balance sheet of pros and cons, anti-mining groups see the entry and expansion of industrial mining activities in Surigao del Sur particularly in the northern municipalities of Carrascal, Cantilan, Madrid and Lanuza as overwhelmingly disadvantageous not only to the people and the communities directly affected by them but to the whole province as well. Yet, it is glaring to note that the mining issue has never been the subject of extensive dialogues and consultations between the local government and the residents of the province even in the very areas where mining companies have already began setting up operations.
In most cases, the commencement and very existence of these mining operations have been presented as a done deal, a fait accompli , as if the people of the province do not deserve to have a say at all on the matter. Or is it simply being done that way by local government officials particularly in the provincial capitol in Tandag because they, themselves, actually have things to hide specifically the fact that many of them are directly or indirectly involved in the mining operations themselves?
In a previous blog post I already mentioned two or three companies with approved or pending Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSA) with the government. They are simply the tip of the iceberg. Government data shows of, at least, twenty-three MPSA's currently being processed by it, most of them for mining operations along the coastlines of Lanuza Bay. The government has already, in fact, approved six MPSA's for mining operations in the towns of San Miguel, Cantilan and Barobo. The first two towns are right smack in the middle of the province's richest rice-growing area while the last is only 14 kilometers from my hometown of Lianga.
Mineral exploration permits have also been issued or currently under consideration by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for eight other companies. Three other applications for Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) are also currently under review. This makes it clear that the whole of the province and not just the northern sections are being opened up for exploration and mining operations.
So it is high time for Governor Pimentel and the rest of the leadership of the province to stop badmouthing and trying to discredit those opposing the mining operations within his province. It would be best for him to get down from his soapbox and, with his underlings, initiate a genuine and sincere dialogue with all parties on the mining issue and come up talking points that may eventually result in a transparent and comprehensive policy on industrial mining that may be acceptable to all.
In the meantime, a total halt to all existing and planned mining ventures in the province pending a thorough review of local mining policy is the logical step. If ever, mining operations will ever be allowed in the province, it must be with the full and informed consent of the communities that will be affected and with the complete assurance that full safeguards to the environment be in place and that the vigilant and consistent monitoring of the mining companies total compliance to all relevant laws on environmental protection be made.
Gov. Pimentel must make that supreme effort unless his motives for vociferously defending mining interests will remain forever suspect. After all, one does not shoot the messenger bringing the bad news unless the intended recipient does not want to receive the bad news in the first place.