Friday, February 03, 2006

CBCP calls for mining law repeal

CBCP calls for mining law repeal

First posted 01:38am (Mla time) Jan 30, 2006
By Christian V. Esguerra

*Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the Jan. 30, 2006 issue of the
Philippine Daily Inquirer *

DECLARING that the "Mining Act destroys life," the Catholic Bishops
Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday called for the repeal of the
law that opened up the mining industry to foreign firms.

In a statement delivered after a national conference, the CBCP reiterated
its request to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo "to recall all approved
mining concessions and to disapprove pending applications."

The bishops said "adverse social impacts" would far outweigh a boom in the
mining industry.

They said it was the people's basic right to tap natural resources and
allowing big mining companies access to these "amounts to violating their
right to life."

"Furthermore, mining threatens people's health and environmental safety
through the wanton dumping of waste and tailings in rivers and seas," the
CBCP said in the statement read by Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes.

The CBCP also expressed alarm over the deletion of the nationalist
provisions in the Constitutionbeing pushed by the Malacañang-formed
Consultative Commission.

If it succeeds, the move could "pave the way (for) the wholesale plunder of
our national patrimony and undermine our sovereignty," the bishops said.

It was the strongest statement of the bishops against mining under the
Arroyo administration, which claims that a revived mining industry could
help propel the economy's takeoff.

"Our mining potential is ten times our national gross national product. It
can easily wipe out our foreign debts and yet leave more for future
generations," Ms Arroyo said in December last year.

The perennially cash-strapped government last year said it estimated a
windfall of up to $90 billion in foreign investments in the mining industry
with 23 major mining projects in the pipeline.

The Church has been at the forefront of efforts to stop the legislature from
opening up the mining industry and has waged a legal battle to have the
Mining Act of 1995 declared unconstitutional.

But in December 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that the mining law was
constitutional, lifting the final obstacle for foreign companies in the

As it is, Ms Arroyo's "Mining Revitalization Program" is not doing any good
by encouraging the entry and operation of large-scale mining by
transnational corporations, the CBCP said.


It said "mining tenements" granted through the program had encroached into
17 important biodiversity areas, 35 national conservation priority areas and
32 national integrated protected areas.

"The promised economic benefits of mining by these transnational
corporations are outweighed by the dislocation of communities, especially
among our indigenous brothers and sisters, the risks to health and
livelihood and massive environmental damage," the CBCP said.

The prelates pointed out that mining areas, such as those in the Caraga,
Bicol and the Cordillera regions remained among the poorest in the


In response to complaints they received, especially from indigenous peoples,
the bishops also called on the government to stop its 24 priority mining

Ditto with large-scale mining projects such as the Rapu-Rapu Polymetallic
Project in Albay, HPP Project in Palawan, Didippio Gold-Copper Project in
Nueva Vizcaya, Tampakan Copper-Gold Project in South Cotabato, Canatuan Gold
Project in Zamboanga del Norte and the San Antonio Copper Project in

The latest pastoral statement reiterated the concerns raised by the CBCP in
its 1998 statement titled "A Statement of Concern on the Mining Act of
1995." Since then, a number of prelates have been very vocal about the
supposed evils of the law.

The bishops said the environmental tragedies and incidents triggered by
mining "belie all assurances of sustainable and responsible mining that the
Arroyo administration claims."

One of the biggest mining disasters in the country happened in Marinduque
province in 1996 when an accident sent millions of tons of open-pit mine
waste into a river.

The Marinduque mine, operated by Placer Dome's partner Marcopper Mining
Corp., was closed by the government. Without compensating the people, Placer
Dome left the country.

Last year, the provincial government filed a lawsuit in Nevada against
Placer Dome, accusing it of damaging the environment and the health of

The latest mining accident happened on Rapu-Rapu Island. Effluents
containing high levels of cyanide were released last year from tailing dams
into adjacent bodies of water, causing fishkills in the coastal community,
according to fishermen.

Members of the Lakas Mangingisda ng Bicol are collecting signatures as part
of a campaign to have the mine operated by Australian firm Lafayette Mining
Inc. closed permanently.

The project has been touted as the flagship project of the revived mining
industry in the Philippines.

*Human rights violations*

Mining has also led to the violation of human rights, according to the

"Increasing numbers of mining-affected communities, Christians and
non-Christians alike, are subjected to human rights violations and economic
deprivations," they said. "We see no relief in sight."

Reacting to the CBCP statement, Michael Defensor, incoming presidential
chief of staff, said Malacañang "recognized that responsibility in mining
should be practiced."

Defensor, the outgoing environment secretary, said the government was doing
everything to address the concerns of the bishops.

He assured the bishops that the Palace would "maintain strong coordination"
with the people, communities, non-government organizations and the Church in
keeping vigilance over these mining projects. *With a report from

Christine O. Avendaño*

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