The Gardener went to Bicolandia mid-March on invitation of the Bicol Bishops Commission on Mining as a consultant to their technical working group.

Bishop Bastes briefed the group on how this Commission came about and the purposes of its creation. Mining in Bicolandia, he explained, had become a big threat to the life and health of the people even as it was always simultaneously bruited about as an attractive solution to the ills of the economy.

What is the proper way, he asked, in the light of the Church’s Social Teaching (CST), to understand things that are currently moving at fast pace? CST had always shown concern for the environment long before such concerns became fashionable or laden with economic interest. In this view nature is neither an adversary to be conquered or destroyed nor an evil from which one must be freed.

Rather, it is the garden from which God fashioned the human being, and which God gave as gift to man and woman to keep and till (cf. Gen 2: 15); it is the place and plan for which man and woman, who were made “in his own image” (Gen 1, 27) are to feel truly responsible.

In this view the Creator willed the human being to evolve more and more into a co-creator, not an exterminator, though this latter role is what we’ve seen humans often choose to play. Bastes asked: is the current over-emphasis on mining in the Philippines going along this very questionable route?

The collective inputs from the group consultants included the following

 In Sum, first of all:

Mining in the Philippines today is a tale of two powers, the Church and Government, at loggerheads with each other on two aspects of the issue – the legal and the moral or geo-ethical. It is a tale of incredible wealth and incredible danger to life and health. It is a story of a captive state showing of late a desire to be freed from captivity. It is a challenge of stewardship and an invitation to respect the national patrimony. It is an area fraught with human rights violations and environmental degradation. It is an activity crying out for a Code of Ethics, Good Governance and, overall, a hope for sustainable action and productive responsibility.

A Tale of Two Powers

Government – from the Congress that gave us the Mining Act to the Executive Branch that so eagerly implements it and the Judiciary that upheld it – forms one side of the divide. Principally active on this same side is the Chamber of Mines – a powerhouse of some thirty-six mining companies as regular members, six non-metallic exploration companies as associate members, forty-three equipment manufacturers and supply companies together with top-notch legal firms as special members, four associations as affiliate members and three professional societies as professional members. And most of them are strongly in bonds with big global foreign corporations.

The other side is the Church. Define Church in any way you want: as a single institution or as churches, as religiously motivated change makers in civil society or in ecclesial communities, as Magisterium to include Bishops together, or Bishops alone in each diocese and as a group, – or as a mixed commission of Bishops with their authority, or as Religious Orders with their charisms united in serving God’s people, or as an Ecumenical Communion, or as a vibrant laity representing 96 percent of those who humanly compose a divine institution. When it comes to the issue of mining, this Church diversely defined is, today, one — 90% one, and quite tenaciously growing in unity for a cause they consider transcendent of all administrations and legislation.

A Tale of the Legal and the Moral

Government says that what they do, what they propose, what they advocate in the area of mining – are all legal. At one time the Supreme Court declared otherwise, viz. that the whole thing was not legal and not constitutional. However, it changed its mind in record time: now everything is legal, and constitutional. After all, the Supreme Court is supreme and, right or wrong, the law is whatever that Court says it is.

Unfazed, the Church, on the other side, talks of morality, of ethics, of what is right and wrong – not only describing what is, but prescribing what ought to be. And it has come to this – that, in the area of mining, what often the Government calls legal, the Church denounces as immoral.

We have here a situation reminiscent of the early Christian era during the late Roman Empire when both Western and Eastern Church leaders denounced Roman law, no less, as immoral in its idea and practice of the absolute ownership of Earth by a few for the benefit of a few at the cost of nature’s destruction, in violation of the integrity of creation and the intention of the Creator.

A Tale of Incredible Wealth

Brace yourself for these figures, dear reader. The Philippines is a part of
earth that is so incredibly rich in gold, silver, copper, nickel, chrome and zinc that there is now a consensus among governments and industry in the valuation of the mineral wealth within the territorial limits of the Philippines at more than a trillion dollars’ worth, at least.

The Mines and GeoSciences Bureau of the state will proudly inform you that their estimated valuation of Philippine Mineral Resources at 10% Potential [for the period 1973-1996] goes to a Grand Total of US$2,115,600,326,005.00 — inclusive of metallic, industrial or non-metallic, and energy materials together. (Metallic Minerals – est. value US$ 464,966,247,400; Industrial or non-metallic – $ 71,765, 078, 605;and energy minerals – $1,578,689,000,000. For more details, view the website for “Mining Potential in the Philippines”.

In fact, don’t be surprised to hear again and again from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) sources during mining conferences how our country has more than seven billion metric tons (BMT) of metallic mineral reserves and 51 BMT of non-metallic deposits – with values so many times bigger than our GDP or our external debt. The Philippines has the fifth largest mineral resources in the world. So, their side asks: “What are we waiting for? We must lure those big investors in.”

The DENR had gladly announced: “In 2010, the Philippines became the 3rd biggest producer of nickel ore behind Russia and Indonesia, vaulting over Australia and Canada….(W)ith government support the Philippine mining industry has been growing well in the last five years. With favorable metal prices and the opening of new producing mines, the metallic sector grew by 39% in terms of gross production value.”

In Bicolandia, one finds the biggest limestone or cement (1990s) reserves, and the third biggest shale reserves in the country.

In Bicol provinces: Albay – you have gold, copper, coal, lime, clay, gypsum, perlite, coral rocks; Camarines Norte – gold, silver, iron ore, lead, zinc, uranium, iron ore, gold, silver, uranium, zinc and copper; Masbate – gold, manganese, limestone, silver, iron, chromite, lead, zinc, coal; Camarines Sur – chromite, nickel, copper, iron, gypsum, pumice; Catanduanes – gold, silver, manganese, marble, kaolin, phosphate rocks; Sorsogon – sulphur, coal, limestone, iron ore, manganese.

And the value of production in Bicol, by 2009 estimates include metallic minerals (copper, gold, silver at zinc) – at P4, 654,818,424. 31 and non-metallic minerals (shale/clay, sand at gravel, limestone, decorative stones etc.) at

P57, 483,032. 45.

A Tale of Incredible Danger

This “other” side (Church) quite simply says that this ambition of large-scale extraction at whatever health and environmental costs, merely so that more minerals can be exported and more money made in the world market (for whom?) is, indeed, an immoral ambition. The government should review the fundamentals of its “development” strategy whether it conforms at all to true development, which is “populorum progressio. (development of peoples).” It should make a realistic comparative study between the advantages for the nation and the people of pursuing agriculture, forestry, fishery and tourism on one hand versus mining on the other hand. Some officials of Palawan and South Cotabato and many other provincial officials are beginning to do so now. My little town by the Pacific has joined this group.

In mining, says this side, the question should be articulated morally: “Shouldn’t we allow the development of our mineral resources primarily for our own use or should we do so mainly for money-making by a few in the world market?”

More precisely, “Is the current utilization of our mineral endowment result of a policy to serve the basic needs of our people who live and work in a backward agricultural mode of production? Is it even nominally geared to addressing the need of making a successful leap to becoming a strong industrial state?”

Or isn’t the current utilization of our mineral advantage being used again merely to develop underdevelopment in our land – with our mineral resources extracted purely for the benefit of the developed nations’ economies and for the super-profitable advancement of a few mining corporations [a situation the social encyclicals refer to as “neo-colonialism”]?

A Tale of a Captive State

The problem really is – again – the fact that the State and the Filipino people do not really own and control mining as a crucial part of basic industry. They do not think or behave as stewards of the national patrimony. In no other sector than in mining is the Philippine state exposed to be unarguably weak, captive and thoroughly unenlightened.

This is worsened when one sees that social and environmental impacts are not really a factor in a mainly profit equation: verbally, yes, maybe; but really, not at all.

At the present time, the Mining Act does not guarantee that the government will receive an equitable share on the mining contractor’s profit. The government’s share in the mining deals only includes taxes, duties, and other fees paid by the contractors.

The payment of these fees does not immediately benefit the Philippines as the contractors are given the privilege of first fully recovering their pre-operating and property expenses before paying their financial obligations to the government, not to mention the aggressive grant of tax holidays to foreign investors in mining, which does not make sense at all since mining is that kind of investment which is neither market-expansion-seeking nor efficiency-and-cheap-labor-seeking but merely and clearly asset-seeking. In short, the only reason the global mining corporations come here is because the asset is here, regarding which the Philippines is a give-away country.

The Philippines has become such a give-away country – one wonders why any one should even respect it as sovereign at all. We have been so remiss in our duty as stewards of the Philippine garden.

Section 80 of the Mining Act expressly states that the excise tax on mineral products shall constitute the “total government share in a mineral production-sharing agreement,” which under the Tax Code is only two percent of the market value of the gross output of the minerals. Section 84 reiterates essentially the same thing. From an ethical standpoint, prescinding from any changing Supreme Court decisions, the law does not make sense when one looks at the provision on the state ownership of mineral resources, because, in effect, the government concedes to the foreign corporation practically for free its beneficial ownership over the mineral resources.

Most important is the recovery of the share of the national patrimony, which constitutionally is owned by the State. Such would be/should be found in the government’s pre-tax share of the cash flow generated by a mining project.  In most countries around the world where there is mining this pre-tax share representing the national patrimony averages a hefty 38% (Chile 15.00%, Bolivia 27.06%, Venezuela 32.82%, Peru 36.52%, United States 36.61%, Mexico 37.21%, Botswana 40.10%, Brazil 40.85%, Argentina 46.13%, Canada 46.71%, Guyana 48.16%, Australia 50.60%)! In the Philippines, however, it is exactly 0%, believe it or not. Why not bring it up to 50.00% soonest?

Focus on the Moral

From the very outset, the objective of any country that seeks to derive any good from the mining industry should be to ensure that mining is done the right way. Only such a view stands to reason, which posits that mining is not purely an economic or merely a legal issue. It is primarily an environmental issue and as such, must be governed and justified within the context of environmental ethics or what is now called geo-ethics. In fact, underlying any mining law and the economics that appertain to it should be a solid geo-ethical foundation – a foundation of rules for the use of mineral resources, which are designed to protect people against environmental catastrophes – immediate and for the long term.

The scientists of the Rapu-Rapu Fact-Finding Commission patiently reiterated the simple fact that mining as an activity frees heavy metals like cadmium, lead and mercury, which are harmful to people and fish, even at low concentrations, in a chain reaction that can go on for a long time.  So the Commission was asking Lafayette: do they know if there was mercury in the ore that they mined?  The reply was they do not, and would not know. They said they used cyanide and not mercury in their mining methods. They did not analyze mercury in the ore because the law does not require them to even if, ethically speaking, responsible mining does.

Likewise, Lafayette did not feel any legal obligation to make a disclosure on the initiation of AMD (acid mine drainage) in the open pit, in the tailings and run-off of pyretic materials. They were less than honest, and even cruel in their non-disclosure because once AMD is initiated, it is difficult to control, but they were proud they did nothing illegal:  the law does not require them to even if, ethically speaking, responsible mining does.

A given mining operation, therefore, will have to be viewed by people and the State according to this perspective and first be evaluated as either ethically right or wrong, good or bad, before it could even be considered legal or illegal, before it can be judged economically profitable or non profitable, before it can be tested as socially acceptable or not. Without a full respect for the principles of geo-ethics, the exploitation of mineral resources will not only be very dangerous but really quite mad.

A certain way of exploiting some mineral resources could bring irreparable, and therefore irreversible, damage to the environment. Any damage to the environment in this way can in turn bring irreparable harm and injury to human health. The dramatic example of the Minamata disease in Japan took years and years to establish, before effects could be linked to original causes beyond reasonable doubt. In our own country today, after Marinduque and Rapu-Rapu, the question necessarily arises: What is the right thing to do? Undoubtedly whether or not it is recognized as such, this is, quite properly, an ethical question.

Ethics is a good reminder that Nature is to be creatively transformed but not to be madly exploited.  People should not wantonly engage in activities without taking into consideration risks and negative consequences. Local governments that readily allow rare-earth-elements-seeking foreign companies to haul off hills and lands for the sake of immediate revenue windfalls must be stopped from their utter madness.

Who will foot the bill for programs in the area of footprint reduction, innovations in waste management, mine closure and rehabilitation, and ecosystem risk management? Can a company extract millions of tons of rock from the Earth and still manage to be a friend of the environment? If your answer is in the affirmative, should not communities be made aware first on how you are going to do it?

And is it good enough merely to “contain” mining’s toxic by-products indefinitely, as current ‘green’ mining companies do? Should there not be utter transparency in reporting toxic mining waste, in the methods used for battling AMD, and maintaining dam integrity and passing the so-called 100-year flood tests?

Another fact is the non-renewability and non-inexhaustibility of mineral resources. Once they are depleted, there is no way that they can be replaced or restored. But they are recyclable! Which is more than a hint on what is the moral thing to do. Let us recycle rather than keep mining anew.The slogan should be, “Need rather than greed.”

We know that the essential resources upon which our global progress depends are not inherently and exclusively created by human ingenuity and technology.  The essential resources upon which global progress depends are inherently natural in origin so that resources are fundamentally in limited supply.

Generally speaking, then, mining projects that cannot absorb the environmental and social costs of modern responsible mining must not be allowed to proceed. Given this, gardeners urgently call for an immediate moratorium on new mining projects and a thorough review of existing ones in the light of geoethics – taking into account as well the numerous complaints of human rights violations and environmental degradation voiced out the past few decades all over the Philippine archipelago.

The mineral abundance in our garden does not mean we have to dig up everything and make the land ugly and toxic because of money madness. From a gardener’s point of view, the minerals are there primarily to prop up the forests and thus prevent the erosions that destroy agriculture and fishery and all garden life and beauty. And such food-producing, tourist-attracting many-splendored green is wealth in itself forever.