Sunday, February 6, 2011

Problems raise bitter complaints against the industry

ALYANSA Tigil Mina (ATM), a staunch critic of mining operations in the Philippines, said former President Gloria Arroyo’s Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) failed to meet expectations.

The nongovernment organization said Mrs. Arroyo’s government aimed to achieve $4- to $6-billon worth of investment in the mining industry. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources increased the target to $15 billion by 2015.

These targets were not met.

ATM said that estimated worth of investment in mining in 2004 to September 2009 was just $2.1 billion or only 35 percent of the total original target investment of $6 billion.

In terms of job creation, the government targeted generating 239,000 direct and indirect employments within the President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s six-year term.
However, ATM said a study conducted by Colin Hubo and Stan Pado-jinog of UA&P-CRC in 2009 revealed that only 158,000 jobs were created in mining and quarrying in 2008. This is less than 1/2 percent—about 0.46 percent—of the country’s total labor force.

Targets for tax collection were also missed during the period. The government planned to get $5 to $7 billion in excise taxes, fees and royalties from the mining industry from 2004 to 2010. But it only collected P2.6 billion or only about 11 percent of the low-end target, ATM said.

Also, the nongovernment organization said the industry failed miserably in maintaining sustainable development principles. This was true not only during Arroyo’s term but also during her predecessors’ administrations.

Mining hasn’t contributed much to the country’s development and, worse, it displaced indigenous people in mining areas of the country.

However, Leo Jasareno, the acting director of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), defended the government’s performance during Mrs. Arroyo’s term. He said his bureau was able to achieve the target of the MTPDP.

“We were able to meet everything, we even exceeded the targets. We meet all the targets in investment, employment, production value, export, GDP [gross domestic product]. We met all of that even the geo-hazard we were able to met that,” Jasareno said without presenting data.

Nongovernment organizations such as ATM have their own figures, but Jasareno said those data are incorrect. He advised groups criticizing the government to reexamine their data because it doesn’t conform to the developments on the ground.

“First of all please check your figures. Second, we can’t move forward because you keep on opposing.”

Mining opposition
While the government aggressively promotes mining operation in the Philippines, opposition to mining activities is mounting.

For Judith Pamela Pasimio, the executive director of the Legal and Natural Resources Center Inc., said the Aquino government has reacted too fast in embracing mining as top priority to advance the economy.

The center provides support to indigenous people affected by mining operations. For over 23 years now, the center gives direct legal servicing, does research and policy development and campaigns against mining.

“The Arroyo government for nine years we fought against it. We would have thought that this new government that ran under the platform of change would stop for a while and review to see the real problems. But he [the President] had a very fast positioning. In his speech during a US visit he mentioned about opening up the mining industry to foreign investors. Tourism. And the core is mining,” she said.

The President, according to Pasimio, appears to be ignoring the fact that the mining is extensively opposed by the Catholic Church particularly large-scale mining. Also President Aquino hasn’t talked about his natural resources agenda, the indigenous peoples rights and such things, which Pasimio’s groups has been waiting for.

“We’re looking for tiny steps to veer away from the path that the Arroyo government took before. But we’re not seeing anything. So it’s very alarming that what we’re facing right now is a government that does not seem to learn from the past. Are we hopeful for changes? We’re hopeful for the people and hopefully the local government to pursue those kinds of assertion of their rights,” she said.

Pasimio said they oppose mining because it only benefits large mining corporations and not the people hosting the operations and the country as a whole.

Aside from the impact on the environment, mining displaces indigenous peoples, creates human rights abuses and forces people to compete for energy and water sources.

And now the present secretary of the Environment department, Secretary Ramon Paje favors the same things favored by the Arroyo government.

LGUs getting more share
The law essentially says the excise tax sharing is 60-40, 60 percent goes to the local government units (LGUs) hosting the mining activity and 40 percent to the national government. These include income tax, business tax, real property tax, etc.

But Jasareno said they think the government is not getting enough from mining operations and there’s a need to increase the share of the government.

“In our view, we must get more shares. The problem is the President has a platform not to raise taxes. So the department thought of non-tax revenues. We have a program to increase mineral reservations. The mining areas must be made mineral reservations. If they are made mineral reservations we can collect 5 percent of the gross,” he said.

Currently, the leading government earner of non-tax revenues is the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC). In 2009 it collected P3 billion. MGB is at 15th place.

If MGB could convert all the mines to mineral reservation areas in 2011, the bureau could get P7 billion, exceeding NTC’s yearly collection. “That’s for the additional 5-percent gross and that what’s we’re pursuing.”

Of course industry players opposed this additional cost and Jasareno said they are now in the process of consulting with them. While the MGB believes that there is a need to increase the share of the government there are disagreements on the method of how to increase it.

“We want to increase it by 5 percent. We agree on the principle but we disagree on the method. Like in the case of MPSA, the mining contract, mineral production sharing agreement it only means that there is sharing between the mining company and the government.”

The MGB will carry out the plan once the President gives his approval. But it was the President who ordered MGB top consult the industry players.

Rehabilitating abandoned mines
The Alyansa Tigil Mina reports that the worst scenario in post-mining activities in the country is the abandonment of mines by companies once they have extracted all they can.

The government has included the rehabilitation of abandoned mines in the priorities under the MTPDP of 2004 to 2010. The plan targeted assessment of seven inactive mines and started the rehabilitation of at least three mines.

Unfortunately however, the ATM said only one was cleaned and restored by the government.

As of 2008, anti-mining nongovernment organizations maintained that there are around 800 abandoned mines in the country while the MGB insists that there are only seven major mines needing immediate clean up. MGB calls it the “seven dirty” mines.

Abandoned mines leave toxins all over the region. And they become useless for the human beings there.

Countering allegations of incompetence, Jasareno said there is still no major rehabilitation because the industry hasn’t reached the intended life span of a mine.

But he admitted that their primary concerns are the old existing abandoned mines. For example the Bagacay Mines in Samar, which is a surface mine. The operator left it after the company went bankrupt. The bad thing is the mine was left spilling acid to a nearby river threatening wide life and the environment.

“What should we do? Go after him put him in jail? But still the bad effect is still there so the government is obliged to address it. So the government is now spending millions to rehabilitate it, because we can do nothing,” he said.


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