KASAMA Vol. 12 No. 3 / July-August-September 1998 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Report from: Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center, Manila, Philippines

The past local elections had nothing better to offer. Our economic managers still wish to lull us with dreams of equality through unrestricted competition and globalization, weaving tales of unseen hands and conspiracy theories to explain the dismal state of our economy. And our so-called leaders still choose to peddle our natural resources for short-lived returns that reach nowhere but for the money bags of the clique in power. The earth itself constantly signals out a warning.

Two years ago the local communities along Boac River in Marinduque suffered one of the major mining disasters in the country [see Marcopper Disaster: Two Years Later in Kasama Vol.12 No.2]. A disaster that turned out to be an accident in the making as the Marinduque Copper Mining Corporation (MARCOPPER) was driven by so much greed that it did not bother itself in ensuring safety measures in its operations, while the DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] mandated to ensure that such measures are in place, lived up to its tradition of irresponsibility and greed.

And it would come as no surprise, happening as it is under the Ramos Administration, that the perpetrators of such a crime have not felt the force of law.

After giving the Canadian investors a public scolding and gaining media coverage for that, the DENR proceeded to deliver our mineral and other resources to the hands of the exploiters, foreign and local. In response to the recent statement of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) [see A Statement of Concern… in Kasama Vol.12 No.2] calling for the repeal of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (RA 7942) and the revocation of the mining agreements, the MGB [Mines and Geosciences Bureau] defended their actions, stating that the mining Act is significant as it protects the indigenous peoples and the environment, and that it, "ensures equitable sharing of benefits among the four major stakeholders, the national and local governments, the mining contractor and the host communities." These are big words coming from a bureau which had approved from 20 to 25 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs) days before the effectivity of the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), presumably to grant vested rights to mining firms, to the public prejudice of indigenous peoples who may be affected.

Shortly after the IPRA was signed into law, MGB Director Horacio Ramos announced that they would be stalling the approval of Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements (FTAAs) until after the implementing Rules and Regulations of the IPRA are formulated. Ramos echoed the views of International Mining and Exploration Committee (IMEC) chair Malcolm Norris, that the IPRA presented a potential period of uncertainty, and that, until a number of issues are settled, they are not willing to invest large sums of money in the Philippines. Not surprisingly, this has been the same reaction of the mining firms to the Native Title Act of Australia, which was enacted in 1993.

Late last year, Western Mining Corporation (WMC) had published full page advertisements in Australian newspapers claiming that they were forced to seek for operations overseas because of uncertainty and confusion about exploration and mining titles. This assertion was disputed by a study commissioned by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.

WMC corporate philosophy, be it overseas operations or their homeland, seems to be geared towards constantly gaining more leverage and concessions through underhanded power plays.

That IMEC seems to hold considerable influence in policy making should not at all come as a surprise. The IMEC is a committee of the Chambers of Commerce of America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, organized during the formulation of the Mining Act. It was IMEC, working through the office of then Senator Francisco Tatad, that drafted the act. It was IMEC that dominated the 'public hearings' that the DENR organized to revise the Mining Act's IRR, and threatened to pull out investments in the Philippines when the DENR seemingly became too environment-friendly.

It was IMEC with which the DENR held clandestine negotiations to formulate and then again threatened to pull out when the terms of the contract were seen as too onerous. And it is IMEC which now raises concerns regarding the effect of the IPRA. And, of course, threatens to pull out if their interests are not protected.

The people have for so long been waiting for IMEC to make true their threats which most likely will never be forthcoming, given that the MGB has connived with the foreign mining corporations in the processing of MPSAs and exploration permits that ensure that these corporations will have access to the mineral resources.

The plea of the Catholic Bishops is not the first, nor will it be the last. Indigenous Peoples, rural communities, NGOs, church-based organizations, and local government units have been clamoring for the revocation of mining agreements and the policy regime which underlines this bias for large-scale commercial mining operations. In February of last year, a B'laan federation, the La Bugal B'laan Tribal Association, sought recourse in the Supreme Court to declare the Mining Act as unconstitutional and to revoke the FTAA of Western Mining Corporation covering areas in Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, North Cotabato and Davao del Sur.

WMC is being represented in the case by some of the largest law firms in the land, including those of Estrada's adviser, Fulgencio Factoran, and senatorial candidate Haydee Yorac.

To date, the Supreme Court has not rendered a ruling. This is the same court which had earlier in that year acted to ensure that a part of our national patrimony, the Manila Hotel, would remain in the hands of Filipinos (particularly Chinese businessman Emil Yap). The Manila Hotel was deemed to be a part of our national patrimony partly because it played host to dignitaries and official visitors. Perhaps the indigenous peoples should have invited Gen. Douglas MacArthur to their ancestral domains.

Congress which, in their last special session, and their most productive moment (quantity-wise), fashioned out a flawed Cordillera Autonomy Act and a law to protect the rights of canines and felines, as well as the 1998 budget with tremendous remunerations for their re-election bids, saw it unnecessary to rectify an error they made in March of 1995, the enactment of RA 7942.

If only to momentarily block the entry of foreigners out to exploit our resources in the guise of 'assistance' , the Mining Act should have long been scrapped. But as the MGB would say, three years is simply too short to determine its efficacy or failure. Three years, it turns out, was not too short a time to amend the [Overseas Development Aid] ODA Law, to give the president the option to waive a provision which foreign aid agencies and banks considered too nationalistic: the preferential option for Filipino contractors in ODA projects.

It was then Speaker Jose de Venecia who gave assurances that they would allow time for the law to be implemented. But of course no one takes the promises of a traditional politician too seriously. Especially not when it would mean going against the wishes of the World Bank.

What is clear is that while this government continues to pay heed to the demands of the World Bank and similar institutions, they still have not learned to value the cries of the marginalized. They are instead asking us to give the mining industry time to prove that it is not only a viable development alternative but also able partners of the community and stewards of the environment.

Kasama sa Kalikasan (Friends of the Earth) - Philippines,
Legal Rights & Natural Resources Center,
No. 7 Marunong Street
Central East District, Diliman
Quezon City 1100
Tel: (632) 927 9670 / 928 1372 - Tel/Fax: (632) 920 7172

Source: NORDIS Vol.9 No.27, 7/4/98,
Northern Dispatch
Suite 314 Laperal Building,
Session Road,
Baguio City,
Philippines 2600
Tel: 442 4175