POSTSCRIPT / April 29, 2008 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mine firms reap riches, but local folk stay poor

PROSPERITY?: Big Mining and conniving government officials keep telling us that stripping the earth of its mineral wealth is the answer to our poverty. They tell us that mining will enable this poor nation to finally pole vault to prosperity, blah-blah.

Maybe I have not looked around hard enough, but I have not seen one mining town and its residents wallowing in proportionate prosperity. Have you?

What I see are foreign investors and their local runners hauling off wealth by the tons, by the millions of dollars, while their workers and the neighborhood sink into disease and degradation.

And as they slink away, Big Miners often leave behind a patch of Earth that has been bled dry and a downstream wasteland poisoned beyond repair.

Where is the promised trade-off?

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GREED REIGNS: We only have to look at the effects of rapacious mining to see that as greed is allowed to overrun the earth, only a few favored operators, and their foreign partners, grow richer while the natives grow sick and poorer.

We hardly see any genuine concern for the environment entrusted to us by God. Also missing is the promised socio-economic tradeoff, particularly to the local community directly violated by mining operations.

That is the short and simple story of Big Mining in the Philippines abetted by corrupt officials. The same story echoes in the mineral areas being chewed up by insatiable carpetbaggers.

It is the same story that I have been hearing lately from Mindoro folk frantically looking for ways to save their rich and beautiful island from the maws of Big Mining now poised over Silonay island off Calapan.

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BACKGROUND: The Mindoro mine project is a nickel-laterite project developed by Crew Minerals Philippines Inc. The property is held by Aglubang Mining Corp. Inc., a Philippine firm.

Crew has an option to acquire shares in AMC should the project qualify for 100-percent foreign ownership under a controversial Supreme Court decision in January 2005.

Way back on March 14, 1997, Mindex Resources Development Inc. was issued exploration permit to a 9,720-hectare concession in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro, for nickel/cobalt deposits. The site is near the town of Victoria, Oriental Mindoro.

The original project involves mining and ore processing in Pili, Pinamalayan, with disposal of tailings in Tablas Strait. The site is estimated to produce 40,000 tons of nickel and 3,000 tons of cobalt per year. During the mineral leaching process, 130,000 metric tons of ammonium sulfate are expected to be produced.

In Nov. 13, 1998, an application for a mineral production sharing agreement was filed by the Aglubang Mining Corp. covering the same areas of Mindex in Victoria and Sablayan. Aglubang is a subsidiary of Mindex ASA, owning two-third of the concession area.

On Feb. 29, 2000, a Canadian company, Crew Development Corp. acquired 97.7 percent of the shares of Mindex ASA, making the former the surviving corporation in the merger. Mindex then changed its name to Crew Minerals Philippines Inc. (CMI).

The Arroyo administration earlier banned mining in Mindoro, but changed its mind when Secretary Mike Defensor took over the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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OPPOSITION: A broad coalition of Mindorenos formed in 1999 the organization ALAMIN (Alliance opposed to the mine). It included civil society groups, Catholic and Protestant church leaders, NGOs, people’s organizations, schools, teachers and students, mountaineers and environmentalists, peasant groups, human right advocates, and Mangyan federations.

The opposition to the project and any mining operation in the province is embodied in an ordinance issued in 2002 by the provincial council of Oriental Mindoro declaring a mining moratorium for 25 years.

They denounced the destruction of the watershed, the forest habitat and biodiversity by the pollution and sediment loads in waterways. The mine is within a critical watershed area for four major river systems.

Four million tons of mine tailings are expected to be dumped annually into Tablas Strait.

The plant site is 3,000-4,000 meters away from an inactive volcano in Dumali Point. There are also faultlines (the Aglubang Faultline and the Central Mindoro Faultline) running through the site.

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CRITICAL AREA: Mindoro is one of the country’s five biogeographical zones. It is the 7th most important biogeographic zones in the world, because of its high level of biodiversity and endemism. It is host to at least 79 endemic fauna and 74 endemic flora.

The mine site itself is in a once proposed Mangyan Heritage Park teeming with flora and fauna, including the famous tamaraw (Anoa mindorensis). Tamaraw sightings had been reported in the mining concession.

The risk of erosion and sedimentation from the site threatens the fragile ecosystem of Naujan Lake; a national park into which the rivers from the mine site drain. The lake is home to the Philippine freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), a highly endangered wildlife.

The 2002 final report on Philippine Biodiversity Conservation identified Mindoro — and the mining site — as extremely high conservation priority areas for plants, birds and terrestrial animals.

Mindoro is the rice granary of Southern Luzon. Oriental Mindoro, the third largest food-producing province, and Occidental Mindoro have a combined harvest of P12 billion worth of agricultural products annually.

Economic plans for Oriental Mindoro rely on its food sustainability, which will be jeopardized by mining. In fact its physical framework plan (1993-2002) rules out mining in the province.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 29, 2008)

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