[People] Paradise Lost to Destructive Mining by Fr. Shay Cullen

Paradise Lost to Destructive Mining

President Aquino plans to issue a historical Executive Order (EO) to regulate the mining industry to protect the environment and the rights of the people. A strict order is needed and hopefully, it will levy at least a 20% tax on mining profits. Hundreds of thousands of justice loving Filipinos live in hope and expectation that it will be so.

Mining in the Philippines has a bad reputation for environmental destruction, bribery, low tax and even extensive “tax holiday” privileges despite soaring commodity prices. It has provoked reaction and a strong people’s power opposition. (See the resistance to these incursions http://www.preda.org/environment). The investors in mining don’t need low tax incentives. The high commodity prices of minerals worldwide assure big profits. There should be no mining allowed where there will be serious environmental and community damage.

Without strong taxation on the mining industry, the government and the people will get practically nothing from the vast wealth of the nation’s minerals. In Australia, the profits of mining corporations are recently taxed to 35%. Now that is what we need in the Philippines.

If ever mining is allowed, the minerals must be processed in the Philippines, not shipped abroad as raw materials. Processing gives added value and bigger tax revenue and more jobs for Filipinos. Communities, schools, hospitals and homes must be built in advance to highest standards for the people of the area where mining is allowed, if ever, then only under the strictest regulations and supervision. Mining sites must be open to media and NGO’s for transparency and monitoring of compliance with the law.

Employees must be paid the highest wages and must be from the locality and not foreigners. Today, Chinese workers are brought in to work in some mining operations. Even If we have responsible mining, a hefty bond must be paid in advance for the restoration of the environment in case of any damage.

We see damage everywhere in the mining industry. When opposed by the people protecting the environment, they harass them with baseless legal complaints like in Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur where the Columban Missionaries are criminally charged together with the people for defending the environment against the mining company. It is a travesty of justice just like the damage done by mining to the environment.

As I look out my window across Subic bay towards Matain, I can see the remains of the long conveyer belt and the abandoned wharf. There, the ships bound for Japan berthed year after year and greedily swallowed the millions of tons of black chromate with its mixture of precious sparkling gold flakes.

The once great storage warehouses now stand empty, silent witnesses to the plunder of nature and the destruction of the mighty mountain in Pili, San Marcelino, Zambales. There, the once majestic mountain covered in forest solid against a blue sky stood proudly providing a bounteous home to the indigenous people for generations. In the 70’s, I often traveled there to the villages of the indigenous people on my pastoral visits.

Then one day, with a single stroke of pen, a scribbled illegible signature by a distant government official, its fate was sealed and doomed. Then came the killer chain saws and the bulldozers, the backhoes and the dynamite, the crushers and the trucks. They roared and ranted in a frenzy, attacking the serenity of nature, ripping it apart, year after year. Digging, scraping, scarring, killing all living creatures and reducing to powder all the earth and rock in the rollers of the mighty crushers.

The huge trucks transported its dying heart to the waiting ships. Insatiable appetites demanded more and more until it was almost all gone. Then nature reacted. The mighty Mt. Pinatubo belched forth its angry torrent of protest and ended it all. Today, the mountain and valley is abandoned and dead, a gaping gigantic wound in its side, a white shroud of volcanic ash covers its ugliness. Below in the valley, a poisoned lake of toxic chemicals has killed all life.

Here can be seen the evidence that the promises of mining companies and their corporate and government backers are but falsehoods and lies. Here is seen the evidence of empty promises that we hear today from the Chamber of Mines and their members and backers. This is what President Benigno Aquino will surely regulate and it must be strong and for the people.

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Contact Fr. Shay Cullen at the Preda Center, Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City, Philippines. e-mail: preda@info.com.ph, newsletters@preda.org
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(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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