Friday, October 7, 2011
Mining In Caraga
Before retreating, the rebels held some mining employees as hostages (released later in the same day) then burned down valuable mining equipment, dozens of dump trucks and even warehouse and office facilities. They also carted away a sizable cache of firearms and radio equipment belonging to the three companies and their security forces.
Jorge Madlos also known as Ka Oris, spokesman for the National Democratic Front in Mindanao, has justified the twin attacks as part of the revolutionary movement's goal to penalize "environmentally exploitative and destructive large-scale mining companies in the Caraga region". The Caraga region, which comprises the provinces of Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur, has been seeing in the past few years a dramatic increase in the number of investments in both large-scale and small scale mining activities.
The government in Manila, on the other hand, as well as the military and police forces, have condemned the rebel raids as merely a form of economic sabotage and a ploy by the rebels to extort money from vulnerable mining firms under the guise of "revolutionary taxes". There is talk of investigating "security and intelligence lapses" that led to the local military and police forces being caught unaware by the attacks and promises of "improving future security" for mining firms operating in the affected area. Blah blah blah. And so on and so forth. We have all heard it before.
I am very much dismayed that the Aquino administration only seems to see the recent NPA attacks as an embarrassing "security lapse" for the government which has been going all out in promoting this part of the country as a prime location for mineral mining investments particularly by foreign investors. The truth is, as far as the Claver incidents last Monday are concerned, there are other and more important things to focus on and not just the attacks themselves and running after those responsible for them.
I do not have much sympathy any more for the New People's Army, Jorge Madlos and the discredited ideology they all profess to continue to fight for but it appears that as far as the mining controversy in the Caraga region is concerned, Madlos and the NPA may have become the most effective organized force articulating and ventilating the worries and frustrations of most the people here who are fearful that their own communities may already be suffering the negative effects of the environmental destruction that is the inevitable consequence of uncontrolled and irresponsible mining and mineral exploration.
In recent years, concerned citizen groups and non-governmental organizations, some of them affiliated with the Catholic Church and other religious groups, have been organized in Surigao del Sur and the adjoining provinces in order to oppose what is seen here by many residents as the unregulated proliferation of both large-scale and small-scale mining ventures in the region. These groups have condemned the national government and local officials for allowing mining firms to operate without making sure that proper environmental safeguards are being observed and that responsible mining practices are being strictly followed. They have also observed that the rights and welfare of residents of affected communities particularly in the case of the indigenous people and ethnic minorities (who have ancestral domain claims that include many mineral-rich areas) may have, in many cases, been ignored and set aside in the race to quickly exploit mining claims.
It is also clear that many of these unscrupulous mining operators particularly those categorized as small-scale enterprises whose operations are supposed to come under the purview of provincial governments are often the worst violators of mining laws and regulations instituted to protect the environment. Many anti-mining advocates point to senior local government officials as either partners or investors in many of these small or even large scale mining ventures and it is these same officials they say who turn a blind eye at what may be vicious crimes being committed against the natural patrimony of their very own constituents.
To put the Claver attacks in proper context, mining operations there as well as elsewhere all over the region have not been exactly free from controversy and conflict. Tribal and indigenous people's groups through the Tribal Coalition of Mindanao Inc. (Tricom) have petitioned the Supreme Court in May of this year to cancel the mining permits of TMC, PGMC and other mining companies which they accused of a variety of offenses such as the acquisition of mining permits by spurious means, the forced displacements of lumad or indigenous peoples' communities and the flagrant use by these firms of environmentally destructive mining practices.
These same groups together with many mainstream NGO's have also alleged that the steep environmental cost exacted by the mining industry today, as far as they are concerned, far outweigh the employment and economic benefits their communities may have received as a result of the entry of the mining industry into their areas. This is a view shared by many people in Surigao del Sur and all over the Caraga area who feel they have not been properly consulted or allowed to participate in formulating government policy regarding mining activities in their region.
No one here, except those involved in the communist insurgency, supports or condones the NPA attacks in Claver. Similar actions conducted by the rebels in the recent past against the Surigao Development Company (SUDECOR) in northern Surigao del Sur and against banana plantations owned by the Dole Company in Tago and Tagbina towns also in the same province are contemptible crimes to say the least even if they were indeed in pursuit of the revolutionary movement's goals of protecting the rights and welfare of the rural poor instead of merely "enforcing the collection of revolutionary taxes".
If the NPA and the NDF has been able to paint themselves active and vocal champions for the movement against unrestricted and destructive mining activities in this part of the country as well as being an advocate for the rights of the indigenous peoples and the rural masses, then they have merely been able to successfully do so because the GOVERNMENT has failed to do justice to these same very basic responsibilities. Instead of a knee-jerk response to the Claver attacks, it should instead examine more closely why the communist insurgency (supposedly on the verge of extinction and defeat) has managed to reinvent itself and gain strength and impetus by latching on to an issue that resonates not only among the impoverished masses of the countryside but also among all sectors of society here.
Nobody here can stand against progress and economic prosperity. To do so would be impractical foolhardiness. One cannot also be realistic and be completely against the mining industry per se. Mining ventures or business investments of whatever nature for that matter that are respectful and protective of the environment and those that take into serious account the welfare of the people and communities that may be affected by such potentially intrusive undertakings are welcome partners to economic progress.
By all means, the government must insure the security of business investments, whether foreign or local in origin, even in the mining industry not only in the Caraga region but all over the country. By all means, it must run after those who harass investors and extort money from legitimate businesses. But its first and primary obligation must be to its own people, its land, its mountains, rivers, forests, mountains and seas and to see to it that all are always protected from oppression, abuse and exploitation for the sake of dubious progress and unscrupulous profit,.