‘PH no place for large-scale mining’
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – On the heels of an international mining and environmental conference in Davao, environmentalists noted that the Davao del Sur mining declaration would seek a moratorium on mining operations until steps are taken to tighten conditions in the mining sector.
“The International Mining and Environmental Conference in Davao just ended last night. Basically, it proposed a moratorium on mining until all these conditions are tightened up,” said environmental scientist Dr. Robert Goodland on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines” on Saturday.
Goodland specializes in the impact of extractive industries on the environment, poverty and human rights, particularly in conflict zones.
“Make the Environment Department (DENR) into an environmental enforcement agency and let other departments deal with mining licenses, make everybody respect the laws that exist,” added conservation and development consultant Clive Montgomery Wicks.
Vulnerable to disasters
Given the country’s vulnerability to natural calamity, Goodland and Wicks said the Philippines is no place for large-scale mining. They said there is no such thing as responsible mining in the Philippines, more so amid the high risk of seismic activity.
“Wherever you’ve got steep slopes, high rainfall, risk of cyclones, that is not the place to put mining,” Goodland explained.
“If you add up all the things Dr. Goodland has said, plus seismic activity, then you create a massive dangerous situation,” added Wicks.
They noted that an area’s vulnerability to natural disasters could worsen with the presence of mines.
They cite the case of the Tampakan mine in South Cotabato, considered one of the world’s most dangerous, more so given its proximity to an active volcano.
“The Mount Matutum volcano, a registered active volcano is within 10 kilometers of where they want to put the mine, and you cannot mine within 10 kilometers of an active volcano. It’s ridiculous, irresponsible, and they want to put 2.7 billion tons of toxic rock with high potential for acid drainage, a high acid content on top of the mountain,” said Wicks.
“They’re going to build a hole 800 meters deep in an area where there are dormant volcanoes, faultlines. That’s going to fill up with toxic water, very dangerous. They’re going to build two dams, 2.1 kilometers long, 280 kilometers high. That’s going to have millions of tons of waste and toxic water behind it.”
In its ESIA report on the Tampakan Copper-Gold Mine Project, mining company SMI said: “… the TSF has been given an ‘Extreme’ consequence classification, during operation and closure, due to the high potential for loss of life and high environmental damage if failure occurs.”
“If that breaks… the engineers accepted, it could be dangerous. If you’re going to mine on top of a mountain or a volcano, next to a volcano and you’ve got faultlines running underneath, and given storms like what we’ve just seen (tropical storm Sendong), and you’ve got a 2.1 kilometer dam, which is 280 kilometers high. I asked them: how many people will be killed if your dam collapses and it goes down the river? They told me that’s an unethical question. I still say to SMI-Xstrata: answer the question,” Wicks said.
The dam is set to be built in the water catchment area just above the irrigation dam which provides water for the whole of Coronadal Valley and for the whole of Davao Del Sur, Sultan Kudarat and Saranggani.
Wicks and Goodland are both part of the Tampakan Forum, which was set up to deal with the threat of open mining by SMI-Xstrata in Tampakan, South Cotabato.
Goodland and Wicks said large-scale mining, not small-scale operations, are to blame for the environmental destruction.
“Let’s make a distinction between small scale mines which are done usually by the very poor because it’s a very difficult job, very dirty, arduous, they wouldn’t do it without any other alternative, so they do earn a living from that. But on the one hand, it’s not as damaging as these large scale mines like Tampakan.
“The Chamber of Mines of the Philippines always blames these small-scale miners…the small scale miners did not create this disaster, not bring down the mountains, did not destroy the island of Rapu-Rapu. You know you should leave these small islands alone. You cannot mine them, you’ll ruin them and you’ll ruin your ability to have ecotourism,” Wicks said.
The issue of mining may need revisiting in light of Palawan’s declaration among the 7 New Wonders of Nature.
They noted that the mining debate has also taken added urgency, amid the spate of deaths involving environmental and human rights activists.
Wicks said 11 people working with the groups they work with have been killed in the last four years.
Fr. Fausto Tentorio was killed by a gunman in Mindanao last October 2011. Wicks said he believed Tentorio was murdered because he protested against the mining activities.
Wicks pointed out that security in mines cannot stand the perennial test of security risks from militant groups. He said the World Bank recommended that no mining be done in conflict zones.
“Not only is this going to destroy the environment, it’s going to create massive poverty… more violence,” Wicks noted.
Mining or agriculture?
Given the clear and present danger mining activities pose to crops and communities, Goodland and Wicks said the Philippines must choose between mining and agriculture.
They co-authored the book “Philippines: Mining or Food”.
Goodland, who is a former senior enviromental adviser to the World Bank Group in Washington DC, added that investments into agriculture, such as aid donations from the World Bank would go to waste, if mining disrupted a farming area’s eco-system.
“There should be a balance between the two, but at the moment we’re nowhere near the balance. The Philippines used to export rice. A couple of years ago when the price of rice spiked, the Philippines became the biggest importer of rice in the whole world. Now, is that sustainable? No it’s not. Philippine rice farmers are among the best in the whole world. You can either have mining or food. Which does the Philippines want? Which is more sustainable? 15 years of mining or perpetuity of rice production?”
‘No efficient system’
Wicks admitted that there is no efficient system in approving mining licenses and making sure requirements are met.
“It’s an absolute mess. It’s being done in the DENR but the DENR is also responsible for selling licenses; it is supposed to be protecting the environment,” he said. “Who makes the decision on when you give a mining license? Is it a second-level official of the DENR or the Presidential committee? Aid agencies like the World Band invested a lot of money in irrigation schemes. If miners come in here and mess up this (system), all the money is wasted.”
reposted from: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com