Davao environmental advocates slam Aquino’s new mining policy

Jul. 10, 2012

“The EO is not a policy shift but a fine-tuning of the widely opposed RA 7942 which perpetuates the highly extractive, export-oriented and foreign-controlled mining industry” — Juland Suazo, Panalipdan spokesperson.

Davao Today

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The people be damned.

While 40 out of 81 provincial governments banned large-scale mining in its areas, and while Catholic bishops, academics and miners staunchly oppose destructive big mining operations, President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino signed Executive Order No. 79 that is aimed in “reforming the mining sector.”

On Monday, Aquino issued EO No. 79 signed last July 6 entitled “Institutionalizing and implementing reforms in the Philippine mining sector, providing policies and guidelines to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining in the utilization of mineral resources.”

 “We are concerned that the government still recognizes the existing contract on SMI/Xstrata (Sagittarius Mines Inc.) in South Cotabato and that it undermines a local ordinance ban on open pit mining,” Jesuit priest and Ateneo de Davao University president, Joel Tabora, told Davao Today.  

Aquino’s mining EO does not call for a ban or moratorium on mining.  Existing operations and approved contracts before its effectivity will not be affected.  It stated that the government will respect agreements it has entered into provided they comply with existing law, rules, the new mandates and directives of the EO and mining policies, and that the mines are not in areas prohibited by existing laws.

Zones closed to mining applications, EO 79 states, are the areas in the National Tourism Development Plan; Critical areas and island eco-systems; Prime agricultural lands covered by RA 6657; Strategic agriculture and fisheries development zones and fish refuge sanctuaries declared by the Department of Agriculture; Areas already identified under the existing laws on mining, agrarian and protected areas, as well as sites determined by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).  No new mining operations will be approved in Palawan.

“We are concerned that there is no clear protection of watersheds,” said Tabora.

Aquino’s EO suspends the granting of new Mineral Agreements (MA) — the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement, Joint Venture Agreement and Co-Production Agreement — “until mining laws are amended.”

Tabora said they are “happy with the moratorium on new mining agreements pending legislation giving government a bigger share in mining revenues.”

The EO states the government can’t enter into new MAs since amendments to the existing mining laws have yet to be legislated.  Otherwise, it will bind the government from 25 to 50 years of term from not gaining maximum benefits from the mineral resources.

While the EO suspends new MAs, Exploration Permits “may still be granted by the DENR.”

The DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) may grant exploration permit to a person or entity to conduct exploration for minerals in a specified area.  If they discover materials, they will be given a preferential option in the grant of MA should they wish to pursue it.

“The EO is not a policy shift but a fine-tuning of the widely opposed RA 7942 which perpetuates the highly extractive, export-oriented and foreign-controlled mining industry,” said Juland Suazo, spokesperson of environmental group Panalipdan.

RA 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act allows foreign large-scale mining companies 100 percent ownership of mining sites in the country.  They are authorized to operate for 50 years based on the Financial and Technical Assistance Agreement.  Mining contracts are allowed 25 years of operation and another 25 years for renewal.  Dynamites and other explosives are allowed in the operations.

Mining companies are also given the right to extract and import the country’s mineral resources, allowing them to bring their profit to their mother country.  And once they declare losing operations, they will be given a four-year income tax holiday and income tax deductions.  Their immediate operations are also given priority even if it means demolishing houses and farms.

Belen Galleto, spokesperson of the Save Pantukan Movement, scored the EO, saying it will only “strengthen the entry of foreign large-scale mining companies.”

The Save Pantukan Movement has been petitioning for the cancellation of Nadecor’s MPSA and the Russell Mining, projects that were endorsed by Pantukan town’s local government unit.

“By signing the EO, he (Aquino) easily allows the plunder of the nation’s mineral resources.  It will only worsen our condition and will clearly evict the poor peasants and small-scale miners.  The president is indeed favoring foreign mining companies,” Galleto said.

For Panalipdan’s Suazo, “The EO does not promote national industrialization, agricultural modernization, environmental sustainability and all-around development for the majority, especially the toiling masses.  It gives further license to foreign and local elites to plunder our national patrimony.”

Based on the MGB data, 40 provinces have passed ordinances that restrict, regulate or oppose metallic and large-scale mining.  Albay Governor Joey Salceda previously said that should these be invalidated by Aquino’s EO, governors will challenge it in the Supreme Court.

But Malacañang said these local ordinances will not be overturned, pursuant to EO’s Section 12, provided they comply and are consistent with national laws, rules and regulations.  A dialogue between the national government and LGUs is said to be crucial to avoid local ordinances being challenged in court.  (Marilou Aguirre-Tuburan/davaotoday.com)

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