MANILA, Philippines - Anti-mining advocates on Thursday presented their case on the ill effects of mining before the Senate committee on agriculture.
The group "Save Palawan Movement" insisted that irresponsible mining practices in the country have resulted in the reduction of forest cover, water pollution, and displacement and health problems of farmers, fisher folk and indigenous communities.
The Save Palawan Movement is a mutli-sectoral coalition that launched a "No to Mining in Palawan" signature campaign in the hope of putting an end to mining activities in the province, known as the Philippines' last ecological frontier.
"When the Chamber of Mines says that their footprint is very small. Agreed. They occupy a very small area but the effect of their mining goes far, far beyond their operations. It goes into 55 hectares of rice fields, it goes into coral reefs," said ABS-CBN Foundation Managing Director Gina Lopez, who is spearheading the movement.
Aside from the ill effects of mining to the environment, Lopez also cited the increase in poverty incidence among communities engaged in the mining sector.
Lopez, using data from a study made by University of the Philippines economics Prof. Arsenio Balisacan, said that poverty incidence in the mining sector has gone up from 27.84% in 1988 to 48.71% in 2009.
"Prof. Balisacan told me that it's not that the mining sector has caused poverty, but people are going in the sector poor. But I asked 'if people go in the sector poor and they stay poor year after year for 20 years, isn't that indicative of the sector?' There are also poor people going into construction, manufacturing but poverty incidence in these sectors is going down," she explained.
The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines has said a government moratorium on mining permits and a concerted campaign by environment activists are threatening billions of dollars in potential investments in the Philippines.
Atty. Ronald Residoro, who represented the chamber in Thursday's Senate committee hearing, said that mining companies have helped "assure sustainable growth" in rural communities and provided a basic platform to improve their way of life.
Residoro said the government should fight illegal mining activities and not the industry altogether.
"MGB (Mines and Geosciences Bureau) stats indicate that 300,000 people are engaged in illegal small-scale mining, generating P42.8 billion in unreported gold output. If regulated, this could have given government P857 million in additional taxes."
"Members of the chamber are advocates for responsible mining. The chamber maintains that mining is not the cure all... But when mining companies come in, we bring in development," Residoro added.
But former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod, who is now with the Save Palawan Movement, pointed out that the benefits of mining are not as great as the industry claims.
"When making their case, the mining industry focuses on financial benefits, but seldom on the costs, whether financial, environmental or social."
He said that from 2000 to 2009, the contribution of mining to the total excise tax collections of the Bureau of Internal Revenue was "minimal," averaging only 0.7%.
He also said that there was a "disturbing" discrepancy between the value of mining exports and the reported production of minerals in the country during the same period.
"The country is not getting a fair share of the value of the mineral resources," he said.
Former Marinduque Rep. Edmund Reyes, meanwhile, reminded senators about the environmental and social costs of mining, like what happened in the Marcopper mine disaster.
The incident made global news in 1996 when massive amounts of mine waste were released to the Boac River, leaving it virtually dead. The effects were so devastating that a United Nations assessment mission declared it a major environmental disaster.
"We will serve as a horrible warning for other provinces and localities that are about to make a decision or have made a decision to mine," Reyes said.
Senators, for their part, said they hope to resolve the issue while balancing economic and environmental interests.
"Considering we are in the midst of a financial crisis, it will be negligent of us not to look at mining as a source of income and employment for our people. On the other hand, there is very clear understanding that there have been abuses and very terrible experiences around the country when it comes to mining," Sen. Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos said.
"Hopefully, we can find that middle road, that fine line... so we can take advantage of what natural resources we have and not ruin the rest of the economy."