QUEZON CITY - Alyansa Tigil Mina denounced the Department of Environment and Natural Resources' (DENR) plan to push for more mining and river dredging to jump start economic recovery due to COVID19.
ATM said that the minuscule economic contribution of mining to the Philippine economy poses a bigger threat to rural and indigenous communities and the environment. The group urged the national government to find better, greener and more sustainable solutions to contribute in stimulating the economy under a new normal.
Economic data from the Mines and Ge
osciences Bureau (MGB) reveal that the mining industry contributes less than 1% to Philippine GDP and employs only about 0.4% of total labor force of the country. Research by Bantay Kita also estimate more than Php 50 billion pesos of taxes are foregone by mining companies because of too much exceptions and incentives.
On June 10, 2020, DENR announced mining and river dredging as part of the country's economic recovery response amid the coronavirus pandemic. DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu noted their plan to treat mining as an essential industry rather than a destructive activity.
This was strongly condemned by green activists. "Just because they want to 'treat' mining differently, does not eliminate the reality of environmental destruction, displacement, and its adverse impacts on agriculture and livelihood," said Daipen Montes of Homonhon Environmental Rescuers Organization (HERO) from Homonhon Island, Easter Samar.
"Another thing is the arrival of foreign vessels that loaded chromite from our island. We do not have a doctor nor a functioning hospital. It threatens the safety of our families during COVID19," she added.
DENR Undersecretary Benny Antiporda clarified that they will be introducing responsible mining to resuscitate the economy; citing that the DENR will be stricter in the implementation of environmental policies on mining-activities.
ATM National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera however, criticized this claiming that, “responsible mining is fake news. It solely relies on the voluntary compliance of scale mining companies, there is no legal definition and therefore no parameters to monitor or measure compliance.”
While the country was under enhanced community quarantine in March, cargo ships allegedly staffed with Chinese crew operated in Homonhon Island, Eastern Samar. Additionally, mining companies in Didipio, Nueva Vizcaya; Brooke’s Point, Palawan; Aroroy, Masbate; and Macarthur, Leyte were also reported operating despite quarantine protocols.
“It is evident that the DENR’s approach to mining is irrational. They allowed the continued operations of mining and further endangering the lives of mining-affected communities with possible exposure from
COVID19. Human rights violations have also become more unrestrained during the quarantine,” Garganera concluded.
“It is a disgrace that DENR is campaigning for what they call as responsible mining”, said Judy Pasimio, National Coordinator of LILAK-Purple Action for Indigenous Women. She accused DENR of turning a blind eye to people’s complaints against mining.
In April, OceanaGold Philippines, Inc. (OGPI), together with about 100 elements from the Philippine National Police violently dispersed a peaceful sit-in protest of indigenous peoples in Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya. The protest was to prevent the entry of fuel tankers to the mine site whose mining contract has expired last June 2019. “It is laughable that DENR would call it “responsible” when human rights violations are rampant in mining-affected communities,” added Pasimio.
COVID-19 has multiplied the challenges faced by affected communities. Residents constantly fear for the health of their families, causing anxiety and sleepless nights especially to women who tend to the young and the sick. Livelihood and food security have also been affected. Similarly, areas with river dredging projects worry about the negative impacts of such extractive activity.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of the Diocese of San Carlos City said, “The concept of river dredging can easily be used as a front for magnetite mining activities. Our rivers in Negros are rich in black sand minerals. Without achieving the level of transparency needed by host communities, we will continue to disapprove of this development on our island.”
In Cagayan Province, the Provincial Board approved a resolution last August 7, 2019 asking President Rodrigo Duterte to suspend dredging activities at Cagayan River, in Aparri town. Dredged materials are shipped to a reclamation project in Hong Kong, according to the resolution. The exportation of black sand to Hong Kong was met with protests from locals.
ATM demanded the issuance of a moratorium of mining in environmentally critical areas such as watersheds, primary forests, small island ecosystems, and prime agricultural lands and the expansion and strict implementation of the No-Go Zones for mining should guide the government in crafting policies and guidelines moving to a new normal.