With mining, incompetence runs deep: Reviewing Factoran’s response to EO 79

Last week’s commentary “How Incompetence is killing the Mining Industry,” posted by Phil Ferrel, rewritten by B. Muyco as “Thoughts of former Natural Resources Secretary Jun Factoran,” digs deeply with shallow thought in an attempt to justify an industry that is hostile to Filipinos’ social and economic interests. Given Muyco’s convoluted arguments in the 2,603-word rant, we wonder if he and former Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Jun Factoran actually believe what they have written. It is almost inconceivable to believe a public servant would espouse such arguments. Their comments seem to represent foreign interests, not civil service, unless of course, Secretary Jun Factoran does not care about his country and fellow citizens. (Read:http://philippineminingdigest.com/2013/01/how-incompetence-is-killing-th…)

While Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) shares Mr. Muyco and Mr. Factoran’s frustration with Executive Ordinance 79’s too-broad definitions and lax regulation, we are not inclined to indulge their gerrymandering of the serious matter of mining. However, we welcome the opportunity of this public forum to clarify a few discussion points in regards to the much-debated EO.

The facts are simple.

To begin, we advocate a responsible approach to mining and seek a rational management of mineral resources. We hope to see EO 79 continue to develop in intent and execution by including and involving — to a greater extent — all sectors of the community – industry leaders, civil organizations, indigenous peoples communities, LGU and barangay alike. The arguments made by the authors of “Incompetence” reek of the graft and corruption that is exercised by the industry at regional and local levels, preventing effective governance.

The current policy focuses on “earning profit” in an industry that rarely reinvests in the local or national economy. This statement is true for most parts of the world, especially in developing countries that lack governance to enforce even well-conceived policies. Additionally, the low tax levies are insufficient to offset the damage to lives and the environment, because the profits are rarely retained in the country of exploitation. Likewise, in “Incompetence,” Muyco trumpets short-sighted financial objectives under the guise of “financial concern” that favors few and takes precedence over a social contract for land use, environment, and human rights.

Within the screed, the author frets that the EO may “give agriculture undue primacy as an economic activity should agriculture’s economic value fall below mining.” Worry not, Mr. Muyco. A 2012 report from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau reveal that the mining industry has made minor, almost-insignificant ‘contributions’ towards the Philippines despite the profit reaped from metal. The mining industry made PhP88-billion in 2011 from large-scale mining alone; small-scale mining brought in PhP34.1-billion that year. However, despite these numbers, there was only a 1% contribution to the overall GDP, with a miniscule 0.6% contribution to overall employment. The same report from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau also reveals that PhP122-billion in Gross Production Value was earned in the previous year, 2011. Out of this number, a paltry PhP168.5-million was reinvested in the Revitalization Program stipulated and required by EO 270-A, s. 2006. Taken together, the combined sum of the Revitalization Program and the collected taxes is underwhelming to say the least. This is not an industry that needs subsidies. In comparison, the agriculture that Muyco complains is given “undue primacy” actually is a far greater resource in terms of GDP, contributing 13.04% to the national GDP according to a 2012 World Bank report.

Though Mr. Muyco, Mr. Factoran, and Mr. Ferrel may want to see an expanded mining industry in the Philippines, we cannot ignore that the bulk of the profit will return to the foreign-based companies to pay for materials, supplies, and manpower – not to mention a return of investment required by the foreign financial backers. Incidentally, this also happens to be the “earning profit” that Mr. Muyco, Mr. Factoran, and Mr. Ferrel worry about. By and large, money spent by the mining industry for infrastructure or education is not directed at improving Filipino’s lives. Rather, it fosters the mining industry’s myopic objectives. The “educational initiatives” touted by some mining companies send disadvantaged youth to school, only to train them how to work in the mines. Rather than enabling and empowering these scholars, the training puts them at a disadvantage with their limited skill set. Worse yet, the largest foreign-managed concessions have spent enormous sums to reprogram those youth against their ancestral values and our national heritage. If this industry was properly taxed, those revenues could be directed to better educate youth for more productive enterprises.

More troubling in “Incompetence,” the author bemoans “nearly no appreciable support” from the government. This statement completely ignores Section 1 of EO 79: “Mining contract, agreements, and concessions approved before the effectivity [sic] of this Order shall continue to be valid, binding, and enforceable.” As such, there should be no reason for complaint from Muyco; the broadly written clause seems to absolve mining companies and practices from complying with the EO reform. One may argue this is already plenty demonstration of institutional support. Despite this, Muyco ungratefully laments a lack of direct, blatant government investment, and implies that there is little or no reason to heed policies currently in place. In lieu of complaint, ATM’s stance is that bad practices cannot and should not be grandfathered. Instead, we recommend revising loopholes such as this, which permits prior action to be unaccounted by reform. Mining is not an industry that needs government investment. It is an inessential industry, especially when compared to other sectors such as agriculture, as mentioned above.

Questioning the “strength of policy statements,” Muyco compares the ordinance’s power to unchallenged rubber stamps. Finally here, we agree. At present, EO 79 requires substantial reforms and amendments to be effective.

Previously, ATM has recommended that all mining projects be subject to detailed evaluation of compliance to Environmental Impact Statements and other established regulations. We need to shift from rules followed by stunted, developing governments to jurisdictions where best practices in the industry are exercised and social contracts preserve environmental and human rights. Additionally, all sectors such as LGUs, civil societies, and other communities must be involved to properly enforce these standards, as the author’s argument reeks of the graft and corruption that is exercised by the industry at regional and local levels, preventing effective governance.

Attempting to whittle down the territorial boundaries of “no-go” zones protected from invasive mining corporations, Muyco takes issue with the definition of a “critical” area as specified in Section 1(e) of EO 79. His hackneyed attempt illustrates how trying to parse a definition to the point of splitting hairs becomes a slippery slope towards abuse.

These “critical areas” critiqued by Muyco are, by definition, protected areas aside from island ecosystems, most of which are already at-risk such as: ecological keystones; sacred lands or ancestral domains; already-disaster prone territories; communities already are too-effected by the country’s constant natural disasters. As such, these “no-go zones” are exempt from mining companies and practices that, far from mitigating disaster, would only intensify it. While we agree that “Critical area” should be better defined, we resent Muyco’s implication that these high-stake areas are simply territorial claims of “presidential sycophants” [sic] or the whim of political “pork barrels and Palace support.” Doing so is dismissive and disrespectful to the current policies and measures taken to safeguard the rights, security, and livelihood of the Philippine people.

In his response, Muyco mentions one of the highlights of the EO, “the inclusion of tourist areas” in these “Critical areas.” He seems to distrust term, describing it as “undefined” and “requiring official declarations following clear-cut parameters.” Here, we agree again and seek greater definition. Empirically speaking, eco-tourism has far more potential to boost both the Philippine economy and global reputation than the finite-resource-driven mineral mining. It has the additional benefit of preserving the scenic beauty of the Philippines.

To plan for the future, we must act in the present. To have an environment that has long-term sustainability for our citizenry and an economy that feeds masses, not a few; we must take pains to preserve a land we care so much about. In order to do so, we must pay attention to both the benefits and the costs involved in environmental, social, and economic development while seeking sustainable alternatives and renewable resources.

Anyone invested in the future of our community, our country, and in future generations of Filipinos would be ill advised to ignore the recommendations and measures listed above. The eventual resolution of this debate will answer these questions.

Incidentally, we are reminded of our responsibility to protect the environment by an extensively cited Supreme Court case, from 1993, “Oposa and Factoran,” The landmark ruling urges our present generation to look towards the future with our descendants in mind:

“Needless to say, every generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve that rhythm and harmony for the full enjoyment of a balanced and healthful ecology. Put a little differently, the minors’ assertion of their right to a sound environment constitutes, at the same time, the performance of their obligation to ensure the protection of that right for the generations to come.”
(G.R. No. 101083 July 30, 1993)

The eventual resolution of this debate will answer these questions: Are we more for sale now, than in the past? How would our forefathers see this generation of leaders selling the country’s best interest to a selfish few and to foreign interests?

Alyansa Tigil Mina is an alliance of mining-affected communities and their support groups of NGOs/POs and other civil society organizations who are opposing the aggressive promotion of large-scale mining in the Philippines. The alliance is currently pushing for a moratorium on mining, revocation of Executive Order 270-A, repeal of the Mining Act of 1995 and passage of the AMMB. (30)

For more information:
Jaybee Garganera, ATM National Coordinator, nc@alyansatigilmina.net, 09277617602
Farah Sevilla, Policy Research and Advocacy Officer, policy@alyansatigilmina.net, 0915-3313361

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