Surigao: Bleeding Our Paradise To Death

Originally authored on April 4, 2016

A heart-wrenching image, the barren mountains tell their own story.

Our country is the fifth most endowed in mineral deposits, it is third in the world in gold, fourth in copper, and fifth in nickel – not to mention having sizable deposits of iron, chromite, cobalt, and platinum. This could go a long way towards alleviating poverty and driving our economy forward. But why is it not working for our people?

The Philippine Mining Act of 1995 was liberalized during the term of former President Fidel Ramos in response to the recommendations of the World Bank to encourage foreign capital investment allowing them 100 percent ownership of the minerals owned by our sovereign state, while imposing tax on the mined materials at a rate of only 2%. This was akin to giving our minerals away to the mining companies for a pittance.

As a consequence, the liberalization had brazenly brought miners to find their way inside the towns of Surigao del Sur without business and mayor’s permits asserting that being issued Environmental Certificates of Compliance by MGB and DENR was more than enough. And the rest is history!

It is all about fairness and inclusiveness, our mineral resources are finite. What is extracted does not replenish itself and it is a natural resource but it is not unlimited.

In 2012, under President Benigno Aquino, Jr., the government amended the Mining Act of 1995. Miners are now required to pay 5% excise tax. Nonetheless, this “token reform” failed to justify a controversial provision in the new mining policy, which is the “explicit prohibition” for local provincial and municipal councils to pass anti-mining laws. Their hands are tied.

The new policy is still biased in favor of mining liberalization and foreign plunder of the country’s finite mineral resources. That despite mining moratorium provision, the government can still give mining permits, customarily, to foreign miners which are mostly responsible for the huge mining disasters! LGUs raised a howl that the national government was trying to curtail the right of communities to express opposition to mining activities.

Claver, Surigao del Norte, supposedly holds the largest iron mineral deposit in the world, however, no one could grasp the idea of unforgiving mining operation that is so large a scale as to cover an entire mountain range leaving the whole coastal mountain range DENUDED of its forest cover. Numerous cargo vessels anchored off the shore of Claver. What would necessitate such large number of vessels? Where are they taking them?

The “red mountain” known throughout Surigao del Sur and del Norte coastline, with its significant red dirt from mountain ranges, possessed one of the richest nickel deposits in the world. This part of Mindanao is now referred to as the nickel mining capital of the Philippines. The mountain is considered a billion-peso earner for local and national government hosting 10 mining companies in the Surigao region alone, a region awash with mining cash but remains destitute.

A paradox! Why do most of the regions in Mindanao considered the country’s poorest? Its economy is closely tied with the exploitation of its mineral resources. Some 2.4 million residents still live here in poverty.

How much damage was caused to our environment yet how little has been done to reverse it. The bulldozer and not the atomic bomb may turn out to be the most destructive invention of the 20th century. It is horrifying that we have to fight our government to save the environment!

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed” -Mahatma Gandhi

 

* – credits to the owner/s for the pictures

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