Thursday, September 8, 2011
The impacts of mining in the Philippines
Mining is a top and very controversial environmental issue in the Philippines today. It is increasingly becoming a divisive issue too. The government cite economic benefits as sufficient justification to support and encourage mining. In fact, the Intellasia News Online (http://www.intellasia.net) reported on 08 August 2011 that the Philippines' Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) has announced that about 5 million hectares of potentially mineralised areas across the archipelago are now open to local and foreign investors. On the other hand, environmental and religious groups strongly oppose mining because of its well-known negative environmental and health impacts.
A Fact-Finding Team composed of human rights and environmental experts from the United Kingdom which looked into the impact of mining on the environment and peoples' livelihoods in the Philippines highlighted the occurrence of mining-related human rights abuses affecting local communities especially indigenous people; extrajudicial killings of persons protesting against mining; corruption in the mining sector; political pressure on the judiciary resulting in pro-mining decisions; and environmental impacts.
The team observed that "the record of mining companies with regard to environmental protection, disasters and post-mining clean-up in the Philippines is widely acknowledged, even with the government, to be very poor. As of 2003, there had been at least 16 serious tailing dam failures in the preceding 20 years and about 800 abandoned mine sites have not been cleaned up. Clean-up costs are estimated in billions of dollars and damage will never be fully reversed."
It warned that "water contamination from mining poses one of the top three ecological security threats in the world. Many mining applications in the Philippines are in water catchment areas close to the sea, and pose major threat to valuable marine resources." The severe pollution of the Taft river system in Eastern Samar as a result of the mining activities in Bagacay is a vivid example (please see related article in this blog).
The report also emphasized the very high geo-hazard risks in the Philippines. "In the Philippines, over half of the active mining concessions and two-thirds of exploratory concessions are located in areas of high seismic risk where earthquakes are likely."
"The Philippines is considered as the hottest hotspot in the world in terms of threats to its mega diverse biodiversity. Thus there is an urgent need to properly manage its natural resources. It is estimated that 37% of Philippine forests may be exposed to new mining."
Should universities campaign for or against mining?
Some leading state universities in the Philippines are reportedly being pressured by environmental and religious groups to take an “official” anti-mining stand. Universities may take lead in promoting responsible mining and in fact should conduct relevant scientific investigations to prevent or minimize the impacts of mining on the environment and people. But universities should not take an anti or a pro mining stand. They should remain neutral and allow their constituents (the researchers and scientists) to evaluate facts and decide for themselves what stand to take about mining. A university should strive to seek the truth. Always.
Doyle C, Wicks C, and Nally F. 2007. Mining in the Philippines: Concerns and Conflicts. Report of a Fact-Finding mission to the Philippines. Society of St. Columban, West Midlands, UK, 63pp.