Carlos Arcilla: Portrait of a UP teacher as mining lobbyist

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KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

On Wednesday, March 29, GMA News Online ran a story about a UP teacher claiming two things: that Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) employees were ordered by an undersecretary to “find fault” in mining operations, and that students will not find good jobs in the mining industry after graduation.

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These are University of the Philippines students, ones this same professor has taught, ones that taxpayers’ money has put through university education, and they are being told they will have no options outside of the current mining status quo.

The thoughtless statements, the baseless nameless accusations, this doomsday scenario, is unexpected coming from a teacher of the State University. But then again, we have heard this same professor at the Commission on Appointments (CA) caucus standing against the confirmation of environmentalist Gina Lopez as DENR Secretary, as we have heard him countless times defending the mining industry, while always falling silent on irresponsible mining projects and how these have wreaked havoc on communities and the environment.

I guess these statements shouldn’t have been such a surprise.

Arcilla: Tampakan advocate
To the general public, Carlos Arcilla may only be known as that UP teacher who speaks in favor of mining companies.

In 2012, he was in the news about the Tampakan Gold-Copper Project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. in South Cotabato, calling for a debate to be done “reasonably and to refrain from making scenarios that tend to scare people.” For Arcilla, the basis of debate should be “actual field work by actual geologists” (Philstar.com, 12 April 2012), i.e., people like him.

Two months after, Arcilla declared his support to the Tampakan project “as a geologist <and as> someone who wants progress for Mindanao.” He said he believed “the key behind Tampakan” is “managing its impact in the form of tailings or disturbance of the environment that may lead to landslides” (Philstar.com, 14 June 2012).

Four months after, Arcilla asserted that places like Tampakan are “best left to mining” because “sustainable agriculture cannot thrive in highly mineralized soil” (GMA News Online, 1 Oct 2012). This is in stark contrast to his assertion in April, which seems to respond to the question of food or minerals? “I encourage environmentalists… to visit large-scale mining operations in the country that practice responsible mining. If we all work together we can make it food and mining instead” (Philstar.com, 12 April 2012).

Science and society
Arcilla, in relation to the Tampakan mine in 2012, and speaking now against the DENR order to close down mines that are in violation of environmental laws, stands on scientific and academic superiority. It is in his statements against Sec. Lopez, i.e., “The biggest obstacle I see is her lack of scientific training and discernment, which is revealed in her pronouncements” (GMA News Online, 23 June 2016), and “She herself cannot even define what a watershed is (Manila Standard Today, 28 Feb 2017).

This superiority complex also manifests in his insistence that those of us who stand against irresponsible mining just don’t understand mining.

“Mining is a complicated business, it’s easy to condemn but it can do a lot of good provided that it is regulated, the environment is protected and the government is willing to listen to experts” (Philstar.com 23 Aug 2016).

Speaking in relation to the environmental degradation in Zambales, which is blamed on mining projects, Arcilla said: “Since you have an ugly mining operation there, it’s so easy to blame it. Perception is one of the big problems of the industry. They’re (miners) being punished for perception” (ABSCBN News, 21 Sept 2016).

Yet Arcilla himself silences the kind of punishment that communities suffer in the hands of irresponsible mining. Those who lose their sources of livelihood, those that lose their lands and suffer the consequences of polluted rivers, denuded forests, dirty air. He also silences the fact that in many places where there are mines, communities don’t only remain poor, they also suffer the abuse and violence – literal and figurative – of having a large-scale, transnational company lording over their communities.

Also, contrary to what Arcilla would like us to believe, there are countless studies and reports, scientific and cultural, that are based on actual visits to mining communities and projects. It is also a fact that between 2012 and 2016, the Supreme Court had issued Writs of Kalikasan for all the mines that the current DENR has ordered closed.

These prove that mining is not at all a matter that should be left to science, but also one that should be answerable to society.

Bias and transparency
Probably the saddest thing about watching Arcilla go on this downward spiral in such a public way in the name of the mining status quo, is the fact that each time he points a finger at Sec. Lopez and the DENR, he ultimately points a finger at himself.

In a February forum in UP, he said that “<Lopez> has maintained her anti-mining position since the very start. It is okay to order the closure of some, but not all.” (Manila Standard Today, 28 Feb). Yet the DENR mining audit included 12 mining companies that passed the audit (GMA News Online, 2 Feb), so it’s not clear what part of that means “closure of all” mines. Unless Arcilla is deliberately spreading fake news.

When he said in June 2016 that he has “seen hundreds of families alleviated from poverty by mining because the jobs provided the miners afforded the education that eventually pulled them out of the poverty grip” (GMA News Online, 23 June 2016), he also points out that the mines did not pull communities out of poverty – employment did. Which is to say that it is investment and business that’s needed, not necessarily mines.

When he asserts that “he doubts his students will find good employment opportunities in the <mining> industry after graduation” (GMA News Online, 29 March) given current DENR leadership, he forces us to ask: is Arcilla himself losing jobs with the mining sector, too? Does he stand to lose if and when Sec. Lopez is finally confirmed?

Arcilla has been tagged as someone who works as consultant for various mines, including Marcventures and Century Peak Metals (Bulatlat.com, 7 Mar). His own CV lists more recent “Consulting Work” with DMCI Mining Corporation.

Which tells us really, that probably more than Sec. Lopez, it is Arcilla and critics like him who should be called out for conflict of interest and lack of transparency. Lopez has nothing to gain or lose by cleaning-up the DENR and forcing the mining sector to follow our laws. I am confident that a new generation of UP students will rise to the challenge of this promised shift to responsible mining that is heavily monitored and regulated as set in law.

As for Arcilla: he should take his own advice and “refrain from making scenarios that tend to scare people,” especially his own students who, unlike him, just might see the bigger picture of this particular historical moment when we are being challenged by the promise of responsible, regulated mining towards social justice and sustainability.

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14 Comments

  1. Miss Santiago, do you have any evidence to support your claim that Mr Arcilla is not against illegal mining? What is your point of painting a skewed portrait of this man? With or without his lobbying, the fact still remains; that Ms Lopez is not fit to head DENR.

  2. The author of the Article on Dr Arcilla,is obviously,correlating events that that will lead a ready to a conclusion about the contradictions,thus making Dr Acilla look stupid. This is the kind of journalism, I will never believe no even bother to go deeply into all her litany of events. Whoever requested her to write must be ignoramous about issues in the long history of mining industry practice. This ia a typical “GARBAGE COLUMN” and an insult to the geology profession!

  3. ‘Baseless, nameless accusations’, is it? Like the same baseless, nameless accusations Gina Lopez made when she said some members of the Commisssion on Appointments are being bribed? Unlike Lopez who later retracted, Dr. Arcilla stands by his statement, according to his Facebook page.
    This article takes great pains to enumerate Arcilla’s connections to the mining industry. What of it? Geology is his province, and as a geologist, he sees something very wrong with Lopez’ actions and statements. If bias is to be an argument, then one could say both sides are biased. The question is who can support their argument better.
    There is no contradiction at all in Arcilla’s statements on mining and agriculture coexisting. He did not mean they should be in the same specific area. This was in response to Lopez’ favorite: ‘What would you rather have? Rice or minerals?’ One can have both but not in the same area, as Arcilla points out. There are mining areas and there are agricultural areas. Aside from the matter of mineralized soil mentioned, mining occupies less than 3% of the country’s land area so there is no competition with agriculture. (I do not know if this misinterpretation of Arcilla’s statements by the author is deliberate or not.)
    Despite the writer’s claims, Arcilla has long opposed irresponsible mining. It gives the industry he favors a bad name. What he decries, though is the tendency of those who ‘don’t understand mining’ to grab onto the actions of irresponsible mining and point at it as representative of the entire industry. (If we use this mentality of absolutism, could we not also point at killer cops and say that police are corrupt murderers?) He calls for the shutting down of irrespoonsible mines, which is not the same thing as falsifying violations with responsible mines.
    It is utter desperation and splitting hairs by the author to say that it was not necessarily mines, but employment that saved poor communities. Again, this takes the ‘all mining is bad’ mentality by insinuating that any employment is preferable to mining. Would the writer then have Gina’s ecotourism and glamping? To have tourism, there must be something worth going to in the first place. Does the author suggest we sink billions to make theme parks and waterfalls in the middle of nowhere? And will this seasonal industry sensitive to the peace and order situation be secure enough to provide the same level of social development mining has to the neighboring communities, not just jobs but housing, livelihood, medical, education and others?
    I submit that Gina Lopez also makes ‘scenarios that tend to scare people’. The only difference is that Arcilla does it with facts, while Gina uses theatrics and misrepresentation to an untrained public, like portraying normal siltation as pollution (which happens whether there is mining or not), or using unscientific but emotional kneejerk terms like ‘ugly’ when pointing at an open pit mine, which is really no uglier than excavation being done in the middle of a city already choking with excessive urbanization (which is the number one source of pollution, incidentally, and not mining).
    I respectfully suggest that the author remember that Arcilla and she are on the same side; both want irresponsible mining to stop. The difference comes when one does not want to bother with the tedium of reviewing the facts and instead takes the easy way out with a blanket condemnation of both the industry and its defenders.

    • Manuel C. Diaz; on

      The only time mining will stop is when we stop our greedy demand for mineral products. Mining whether illegal or legal will always strive to meet the demands.

  4. If you attack or defend this report, address its SUBSTANCE, independent of your feelings about either Arcilla or Lopez.

  5. “This superiority complex also manifests in his insistence that those of us who stand against irresponsible mining just don’t understand mining.”

    Is it so much to ask for the DENR secretary to at least be evidence-based in her work? Requiring intellectual standards of people isn’t equivalent to having a superiority complex, especially when public policy and hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake.

    “he also points out that the mines did not pull communities out of poverty – employment did. Which is to say that it is investment and business that’s needed, not necessarily mines.”

    What kind of alternative local industry do you propose to establish at these places that would be comparable to the number of jobs and generation of value that the mining projects would be providing? Moreover, who’s going to do it?

    Mining regulation and proper care for the environment is good, and I support measures that seek to make minimize the impact of mining on the environment while taking into account the local industry that it provides. However, the very fact that Gina “…cannot even define what a watershed is” undermines her credibility and simply shows that she is not fit for the job.

    Close down the erring mining operations, sure, but follow due process and be evidence-based when assessing these projects. How you can not find fault with Gina Lopez and her obviously categorical, biased crusade against the mining industry is baffling

  6. ernesto albay on

    I saw some comments that are against each other. Responsible mining render good operational standard but also protect properties as well as undue damage to the environment. If responsible mining is being practiced meaning we do follow the MINING practice that surrounding areas is being protected and no pollution or contamination nor destroy the adjoining properties then we do not had these problem. Its only some of our mining operators had violated and never consider the effect of their violations, how much it cost for its mitigation.

    We are only interested on more benefits and and not the effect of the violations being perpetuated by mining operators. These companies will only comply according to Mining Act and their ISO certification we do not incur these problems that we are encountering. Its a fact that you can see for yourself and visit some sites that RESPONSIBLE MINING was being practiced or not. Calling out these STUDENTS to have a thesis for mining operation for the country to have a sustainable for the future generation.

  7. Ramon Castillo on

    I know Caloy personally and he is an honest decent person contrary to what you are implying. And unless Gina Lopez issues orders that are contrary to her family’s interest, she would always be suspected of a hidden agenda. Gina Lopez may believe in something but it is not based on science and fairness.
    Unlike you, can you give full disclosure on why you are writing this article? For all we know you are a paid PR personnel masquerading as a journalist.

  8. ARLAND GIMENA on

    Miss Katrina Stuart Santiago, I am very much sure you don’t know Dr. Arcilla! You cannot even spell his name correctly! How can you write a fair opinion?

  9. Daniel B. Laurente on

    That’s the problem with the so called experts. They sometimes confused itself in its stand against issues depending whose interest come first. They don’t differ from technicians that says we need to change this part because of damage but the other person says that is not a big deal. It won’t affect the function. Now if you are presumed ignorant of the subject under discussion you are easily persuaded to the fools idea. So it is always wise to consult other expert that has no connection with other.

  10. It’s not true that Dr. Arcilla is silent regarding irresponsible mines. He is also against them. As a UP student I can vouch for this :-)

  11. Brutus et tu on

    Your comments are not only biased but totally self serving.How about the hypocrisy of Gina Lopez exempting her family’s quarrying operation from the same standards that is being rigidly held up for mining companies? How about the pollution of the 117-kilometer pipeline that leaked into the basement of the 22-story West Tower condo in Barangay (village) Bangkal and forced the evacuation of its residents? That was owned by First Philippine Industrial Corp (FPIC), a Lopez company. I am a student of Dr. Arcilla and unlike what your article wrongly presumes to say I and over 500 UP Geology graduates do support him 100% in his crusade against a misogynistic, Taliban-inspired environmental activist who has no scientific credentials or background, who uses fantasy and emotion instead of peer-reviewed scientific data and who willfully violates the law for her personal gain. It is you who should be given advice: either you start acting like a responsible journalist and present an unbiased commentary of an issue or you will be discredited as another self-serving propagandist of a morally bankrupt regime.

  12. Please make your research more reliable ang not biased. You don’t even get his name right so how can we trust this garbage column?