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Transforming Extractive Industries in the Philippines: Locating Spaces for People’s Participation in Mining Policies

31 May 2012


Transforming Extractive Industries in the Philippines: Locating Spaces for People’s Participation in Mining Policies
This is part of a series of think pieces reflecting on the importance of bringing the social dimension back into discussions about green economy and sustainable development.

Many in the Philippines consider mining an important industry that generates employment, taxes and foreign exchange earnings. But such economic potential is not translating into the well-being of local communities. More often than not, resource extraction is associated with social conflict and environmental degradation. The 1995 Philippine Mining Code requires environmental monitoring and includes provisions for public consultation. According to the author, however, these processes are often mired in corruption; a lack of transparency and consultation means that the communities most affected are deprived of their right to determine how best to use their resources and the freedom to define their own development.

Marie Joyce Godio is reading for an MA in Asian Studies with a focus on the Southeast Asian region at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines.


Setting the scene

Extractive mining is one of the major industries in the Philippines, a country with an estimated $1 trillion in mineral wealth. Mining is seen as an important industry that generates employment, taxes and foreign exchange earnings, and contributes to local socioeconomic development.

However, mining involves processes such as drilling and excavation that are intrusive and disruptive of the environment. For example, the Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company in Benguet Province—just one of many mining sites in the Philippines—has polluted the Mankayan-Abra river system and deforested surrounding watersheds for more than half a century. The collapse of Lepanto’s tailing dams in the 1960s and 1990s damaged rice fields surrounding the area and, in 1986, led to siltation of the Abra River. The most recent incident was in July 1999 when an elementary school was buried, a number of families displaced and a Lepanto employee killed.

Today, concerns about environmental degradation caused by the extraction of non-renewable resources have prompted a need for more sustainable alternatives. Unless a substitute to mining and non-renewable resources—which have become necessities—emerges, the only solution is to minimize the environmental and social impacts of mining, and of extractive industries in general.

One of the most important ways to make this possible is through good mining policies, which incorporate effective public involvement through consultation/dialogue/hearing. Mining policies should provide space for public involvement where all stakeholders—mining companies, national and local government, civil society (organizations and individuals), and especially the communities living in proposed mining areas whose lives are immediately affected by extractive activities—can discuss and deliberate the decisions involving the mine processes. These public consultations should be spaces where everyone’s concerns, ideas and opinions are heard and considered at all stages, including planning, implementation and assessment. Equal participation also includes ensuring transparency and enabling all stakeholders to make informed decisions.

As the first step in the natural resource production chain, extractive industries can be said to contribute to development and people’s well-being through the generation of material wealth and resources. But experiences of people in the Philippines with mining suggest that as long as mining communities are deprived of their rights to determine how best to use their resources and the freedom to define their own development, a better life is unlikely (Begonia and Leonen 1996). People should have opportunities to sustain an adequate standard of living in an extractive area even after mining operations have ceased. This was not possible, for example, in the case of the operation of Benguet Corporation1 in Antamok Mines where people were forced to leave land that was rendered dry and barren.2


Local knowledge and participation

Participation is a core requirement for achieving development that is sustainable both socioculturally and environmentally: it opens spaces for deliberation, discussion, sharing and learning from all participants’ ideas, experience and knowledge. Learning and understanding local knowledge, for example, can be very valuable. In the Philippines, local mining communities often comprise indigenous groups that have their own understanding of the environment and way of managing natural resources, born from decades/centuries of interacting with it. Denying local communities the right to participate in decisions about resource use can hinder or reverse development (Sajor and Resurrection 1999). By contrast, local knowledge and participation “can lead to better informed decisions [of managing resources] and may result in reduced environmental degradation” (Bravante et al. 2009:6).

Integrating local knowledge can make mining more sustainable. Small-scale miners in the Cordillera region of the northern Philippines, for example, use a low-environmental-impact method called ga-id. Ga-id is a local term referring to the crushing of ores using two big blocks of stone. The ores are continuously crushed until they are pulverized before the gold particles are separated through panning. Unlike industrialized mining, ga-id does not use harmful chemicals such as cyanide when separating the gold particles. Although ga-id is no longer practiced these days as it is a very tedious and time-consuming method, the likelihood of improving it, while maintaining its low-impact, is not impossible.

Sociopolitical conflicts can also often be avoided when people are able to anticipate the effects, especially the negative effects, of a particular "development" initiative. As Bravante, Holden and Ingelson argue, "[a]fter stakeholders have had the opportunity to express their opinions they may be more inclined to accept the final outcome decided by the regulators, as they have had the opportunity to express their views" (2009:6). In the long run, local people’s participation in decision making will thus prove to be beneficial not only to the environment but also to the mining industry.

Despite the demonstrated advantages of including local people in natural resource management in general, there remains a need to incorporate spaces for broad-based civil society participation in specific laws and policies related to mining. While there are legal ways where communities can have their voices heard, such as claiming their "freedom of information, speech and participation of civil society organisations at all levels of decision-making", these are general constitutional rights (Begonia and Leonen 1996:19). The extent to which mining policy specifically incorporates civil society participation varies, as the following discussion of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (Republic Act 7942) illustrates.


Identifying spaces for participation

Mining has long existed in the Philippines and reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s when President Ferdinand Marcos identified it as a key industry to economic progress which, in turn, was expected to improve people’s well-being. The national mining industry dwindled in the 1980s due to falling investment, which affected the Philippine economy and paved the way for the creation and passing of the Philippine Mining Code, RA 7942 (Undangon ang Mina, 10 September 2011).

RA 7942 "legitimizes the entry of large foreign mining companies and control of the country’s mining industry. Large foreign mining companies are allowed to mine a maximum area of 81,000 hectares for a period of 25-50 years in exchange for a minimum investment of $50 million into the country’s mining industry" (quoted by Begonia and Leonen from Corpuz 1996:i-ii). RA 7942 is therefore strongly market-driven and profit-oriented (Lopez 1992), and has been framed as such by the Philippine government. It is largely supportive of mining corporations, but seems to disregard the potential negative effects on the environment and people living in mining areas.

The implementation of RA 7942 requires the Environmental Management Bureau to administer an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which includes provisions to carry out public consultations where civil society can raise concerns and even oppose a proposed mining project. The result of these public consultations should subsequently be reflected in the environmental impact statement (EIS)—which is needed to secure an Environmental Compliance Certificate—before a mining company can obtain permission to operate. However, the public consultation component of the EIA is not required when a mining company is only securing an exploration permit (Begonia and Leonen 1996). Apart from the EIA, there is no other mention of civil society participation under RA 7942.

RA 7942 is problematic not only for its minimal requirements for participation but also for the potential for corruption of the process. Unequal power relations among stakeholders have resulted in fraudulent EIA and EIS, with a lack of monitoring and transparency of the stages of mining further compounding the corruption. For example, there have been experiences where free, prior and informed consent (required in areas declared as ancestral lands of indigenous peoples) have been obtained "through misinformation, misrepresentation, bribery and intimidation" (Doyle et al. 2007:8). As of 2003 there have been serious environmental and health concerns in areas where 16 tailing dams have failed and 800 abandoned mine sites have been left without a proper mining closure process (Doyle et al. 2007). There have been 11 mining-related killings since 2001. These cases of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings are said to be heightened by the deployment of government-supported paramilitaries (Mines and Communities 2011). Set up to protect the mining companies’ safety, these paramilitaries are found in mining areas where environmental and anti-mining activists are present. Calls to the government to withdraw these paramilitaries have not been addressed.


Conclusion

Large-scale mining in the Philippines has been marred by human rights violations, grabbing of indigenous land, corruption and environmental destruction (Doyle et al. 2006). Many of these negative human, social, environmental and developmental impacts might have been avoided if there were more formal spaces for civil society participation, given that consultation is, to some extent, incorporated in mining laws and policies. Limiting the space for civil society engagement leads to underdevelopment. If people are involved in decision-making processes and are aware of the outcomes of a particular initiative such as mining, social conflicts can be eased (Bravante et al. 2009). Policy makers must incorporate spaces for civil society participation—where people can freely express their views and judgments, and share their knowledge and ingenuity—if genuine development and human progress are to be achieved.


Bibliography

Begonia, F.G. and M.M. Leonen. 1996. Mining: Legal Notes and Materials. Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Inc.-Kasama sa Kalikasan, Quezon City.

Bravante, M., W. Holden, and A. Ingelson, . 2009. ”Philippine Environmental Impact Assessment, mining and genuine development.” Law, Environment and Development Journal, Vol. 5/1, pp. 3-17.

Doyle, C., C. Wicks and F. Nally . 2007. Mining in the Philippines: Concerns and Conflict. Society of St. Columban, West Midlands.

Lopez, S. 1992. Isles of Gold: A History of Mining in the Philippines. Oxford Press, Singapore.
Mines and Communities (MAC). 2011. Philippines: Where is the Safety? 8 November. www.minesandcommunities.org/article.php?a=11298, accessed on 1 December 2011.

Sajor, E.E. and B.P. Ressurection 1999. “Beyond dichotomies: Dissecting power in environmental issues.” In S.E. Edsel and B.P. Ressurection, People, Power and Resources in Everyday Life: Critical Essays on the Politics of Environment in the Philippines. Institute for Popular Democracy, Quezon City.

Undangon sa Mina. (n.d.). Philippine Mining History. http://undangonangmina.alphabetthreat.co.uk/?page_id=70, accessed on 10 September 2011.


Footnotes

1 Benguet Corporation is the oldest mining company in the Philippines.
2 I grew up at Antamok Mines, but we had to leave when I was 10 years old because there was a decision to mine the area where our house stood. Today, the place is unrecognizable, except for the presence of the mill left to rust. Antamok is a district of Itogon municipality in the province of Benguet.

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This article reflects the views of the author(s) and does not necessarily represent those of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.