Charter change could worsen destructive mining impact
March 11, 2024

Photo from Katribu


MANILA – For environmental defenders, the government’s push for charter change (cha-cha) could worsen the already dire impacts of destructive mining corporations on vulnerable communities.

The Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas (Katribu) and Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines (YACAP) held a protest in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to commemorate the 29th year of the Philippine Mining Act (which was signed into law on March 3, 1995). They also joined the major mobilization against Charter Change last March 8 which marked International Working Women’s Day.

“The mining law liberalized the Philippine mining industry to bolster the country’s economic growth. However, nearly three decades after, mountains have been flattened, rivers have become lifeless, and the well-being of the people has been severely affected,” Katribu said in a statement.

The same sentiment was echoed by YACAP’s national coordinator Alab Ayroso in an interview with Bulatlat. “If the charter change pushes through, it will be easier for foreign companies to enter our country… We are already seeing the practices and effects of the foreign ownership of mining in the Philippines due to the Philippine Mining Act – displacement, contamination of rivers, militarization, and human rights violations,” she said in Filipino.

The tragedy of large-scale mining

Ayroso cited the recent tragedy in the Davao region caused by the mining operations of Apex Mining Co. According to a report, the landslide in Barangay Masara, Maco, Davao de Oro caused 93 deaths, 8 missing people, and 32 rescued individuals who were all injured, three of them in critical condition. Over 1,100 families were also recorded to be displaced.

Aside from the landslide, the flooding led to fatalities in the Davao de Oro towns of New Bataan, Marasugan, Pantukan, Monkayo, and Maco. In Davao del Norte, where a state of calamity was declared, several died in Kapalong, Santo Tomas and Asuncion towns.

The massive floods also swept away houses, crops, and infrastructure. Some P289 million worth of agricultural crops were damaged due to the floods, according to the local office of the Department of Agriculture.

The report cited that the severe impacts of the landslide cannot only be attributed to heavy rainfall. “Notably, there is a higher than average rate of poverty across eastern Mindanao, negatively impacting communities’ ability to cope with extreme weather events, given their limited and climate-sensitive livelihood channels, including farming and mining, which the majority of residents are engaged in,” it noted.

Ayroso said that the majority of the victims of the environmental tragedy in Davao are indigenous people and farmers who are also environmental defenders themselves. Apex also revealed that nine of those who died were their employees.

According to Human Rights Asia, Apex Mining Co. is largely owned by Mapula Creek Gold Corp, a subsidiary of Crew Gold Corporation based in the United Kingdom; and Mindanao Gold Ltd., a special purpose company formed by Malaysian investment company ASVI Group.

“The local government has not yet done any actions to help the people [search for justice],” she added, attributing the casualties to the large-scale mining operations of Apex.

The local government has not yet issued any announcement or statement to restrict the mining operations in the affected region. However, they have identified the areas as a “no-building zone” since 2008.

Surface mines require the use of explosives and heavy machinery to expose materials near the earth’s surface, causing massive canyons in the land and leading to soil erosion and degradation around surrounding areas.

However, destructive mining can lead to massive landslides due to instability of slopes, mainly a result of weakness in the mountain’s composition or geological structure of rock or soil formation.

“Over the years, environmental disasters and tragedies have plagued communities living around mining sites. In the Cordilleras, the Benguet, Lepanto and Philex mining corporations have wreaked havoc on the lives and surroundings of the Igorot people. Most recently, the landslide incident involving Apex mining in Maco, Davao de Oro, claimed nearly a hundred lives,” Katribu said in a statement.

Despite its detrimental impacts on the environment and communities, mining companies stood by the legality of the mining exploration activities under the Philippine Mining Act.

Incentives granted under the Philippine Mining Act of 1995

Ibon Foundation said that there are 10 incentives to which contractors are entitled:

  • The mining projects have 100 percent foreign ownership.
  • The foreign company can claim 81,000 hectares onshore and 324,000 hectares offshore.
  • Companies can repatriate all profits, equipment and investment.
  • Companies are guaranteed against expropriation by the state.
  • Excise duties are cut from 5% to 2%, tax holidays, and deferred payments are allowed until all costs are recovered.
  • Losses can be carried forward against income tax.
  • The government commits itself to ensuring the removal of all obstacles to mining, including settlements and farms.
  • Companies are promised to prioritize access to water resources within their concession.
  • Companies can sell gold directly to the international market without central bank intervention.
  • Mining leases last 25 years with an option of a 25-year extension.
Photo by Katribu

Ayroso said that while the existing law requires environmental impact assessment and the indigenous people’s communities’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), the implementation is not enough. “In fact, even if the communities call for the halting of the mining operations, the companies continue. And the government continues to allow it.”

Katribu stressed that mining projects often persist in encroaching upon ancestral lands and territories, facilitated by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) through fraudulent and manipulated FPIC. “This is often accompanied by the militarization of communities, commonly supported by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) and state security forces.”

Indigenous and Bangsamoro communities are common targets of terrorist-tagging, resulting in militarization, aerial strikes, and forced evacuation. This has been reported by the Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation to the United Nations, highlighting that impunity reigns in these cases.

What the government should do

The Philippines is known for its rich mineral resources as it is estimated to hold at least $1 trillion worth of deposits, mostly copper, gold, nickel, aluminum, and chromite. However, the IBON Foundation said that 97% of the mining production in the country goes to foreign industries.

Meanwhile, the International Union for Conversation of Nature states that nearly 764,000 hectares are already covered by mining concessions which prompted deforestation, pollution, and rising incidents of human rights violations.

Environmental tragedies and human rights violations would be more recurrent if charter change pushes through, according to Ayroso. It is now being fast-tracked through the Resolution of Both Houses No. 7 (RBH 7), which seeks to ease the restriction against foreign corporations in key industries like mining.

“Right now, there are no strong accountability mechanisms for both the government and the foreign corporations. It always leads to casualties and displacement of the communities in the name of ‘renewable and sustainable projects’ that they are selling,” Ayroso added.

Almost 30 environmental organizations released a unity statement against charter change for its potential dangers to the people and the environment. “The possibility of permitting 100% foreign ownership of lands through cha-cha will invariably lead to the reclassification and privatization of our remaining ecosystems in both rural and urban settings,” the statement reads. They said that it will also affect the livelihood of local communities including farmers, fisherfolks, and indigenous communities.

“Cha-cha alone is not sufficient to effectively address the complex political, socio-economic, and environmental challenges our country has been facing; instead, we need holistic solutions that address both social and ecological issues faced by communities on the ground,” they pointed out in the unity statement.

Instead of the Cha-cha, the groups said the government should realign its efforts to pass the People’s Mining Bill or House Bill No. 259. “It is imperative to call for the repeal of the law and the enactment of pro-people and pro-environment policies, such as the People’s Mining Bill, among others.” Katribu said in a statement.

Photo by Katribu

The bill seeks to correct the weaknesses of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 and reorient the Philippine mining industry toward national industrialization, under the principles of social justice, respect for people’s rights and welfare, environmental conservation, and defense of national sovereignty.

“We are not against mining in general. We should push for resource extraction that is not destructive. Mining should serve the people and the industry that the people need. It should be implemented in a way that does not violate the human rights of the communities,” Ayroso said. (RTS, DAA) 


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