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Are we ready for the jobless miners?

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - October 31, 2016 - 12:00am

When President Duterte named Ms. Regina Paz L. Lopez as the DENR secretary, everyone in the industry already knew what was coming. As the new secretary is grossly anti-mining, with all certainty, the rules were expected to change. Whether done objectively, that remains uncertain. 

To recall, in March 2, 2012 (in a Conference on Mining’s Impact on the Philippine Economy and Ecology at the Hotel Intercontinental in Makati City), in her interaction with Philex Mining Corporation Chairman Manny V. Pangilinan and Chamber of Mines director Gerard Brimo, she claimed that “mining communities were among the poorest in the country.”   She further “dismissed the alleged benefits to surrounding communities where mining companies operate, saying the poorest areas in the country are mining areas.” Moreover, she claimed that “whether large-scale or small-scale, mining is grossly irresponsible.” Simply put, objectivity is, possibly, non-existent during Secretary Lopez reign.

These sweeping pronouncements were quite uneducated. For one, to say that mining communities are among the poorest in the country is downright false. As Cebuanos, we are living witnesses of how the families in the immediate environs of the then prosperous Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp. (now, operated by its subsidiary, Carmen Copper Corp.), lived and enjoyed abundant lives. They had several pockets of self-contained and prosperous communities. They were self-sufficient to some extent. They had a hospital and a top-of-the-line private secondary education provided by a known and highly regarded sectarian school system. 

Businesses do thrive too. In fact, not only was progress limited in the immediate surroundings of the mining site or Toledo, it swelled into the towns of Pinamungajan and Balamban. Likewise, this kind of progress is also replicated in the other regions in the country.

True enough, in most natural-resources-abundant far-flung regions and provinces, the opportunities are crystal clear. Apart from the not-so-manpower oriented tourism related industry which normally thrives along beaches and shorelines, some areas that are figuratively and literally remote are richly endowed with mineral resources. Contrary to some cause-oriented groups’ claims, apparently, the mining industry has continued to provide opportunities in the countryside.

So that, today, it is totally undeniable what the mining industry has done and can still do.  For one, it prevents rural exodus. Rural exodus or rural flight refers to migratory patterns that normally happen in a depressed region or province. Due to limited opportunities, there tend to be a movement of people from the rural areas to the urban areas. The search for better lives has always been their common denominator.   

Moreover, due to this notable contribution of the mining operations to the economic well-being of our rural folks and its commitment to build better road network, insurgency has stopped to flourish. In fact, apparently disadvantaged, in order to assert their (insurgents) continuing presence and scare away investors, they even try to terrorize mining firms unceasingly. 

Worst, they have to go to the extent of terrorizing tribes of our indigenous brothers who have already frowned upon their recruitment activities as they are now gainfully employed.  Truth be told, not long ago, they attacked the indigenous group headed by Datu Kalpito Egua in Sta. Irene, Prosperidad, Agusan del Sur for refusing to cooperate. 

Today, the DENR conducted an audit in all mining companies. Using the audit (objectivity is questionable) as a tool, a substantial number of mining operations have been shut down. Consequently, not only were the mining companies losing billions in properties, thousands of workers were also rendered jobless and, therefore, penniless as well. Moreover, some small businesses, like eateries and convenience stores that thrive within the vicinity, had to close as well. 

Henceforth, some of these miners and small entrepreneurs, may just have to join the long queues of economic migrants leaving the country or join the insurgency movement. Or, probably, some may just have to find their luck in the urban areas. More likely, they shall squeeze themselves through a phalanx of shanties along river banks and creeks adding to a growing population of informal settlers. Or worse, they might just help pad the already burgeoning list of criminals in highly urbanized cities.  

Truth to tell, there are perceived and real downsides in mining. Mostly, these are perpetrated by irresponsible mining companies that never cared about the environment.  Undeniably, however, responsible miners did not just help mitigate damaging consequences of mining but have continually poured billions of investments in the countryside. 

Indeed, as Secretary Lopez continue to lead the DENR, prejudicially, expect hundreds of new seemingly biased pronouncements that will come the miners’ way. Expect differing opinions, as well, from the mining industry players. These are differing opinions that demand tough choices; and tough choices that could even lead to personal animosities and wild altercations. In all these discourses and debates, however, we hope that our democratic upbringing prevails and we shall all wholeheartedly strike a good balance between economic development and environmental preservation. 

foabalos@yahoo.com.

JOBLESS MINERS
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