DU30 should ban ‘tubong lugaw’ open-pit mining

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Marlen V. Ronquillo

OPEN-pit mining can be best described as this. A “tubong lugaw“ operation that involves gouging the earth for minerals. The ruined land—a place ruined for life—is deserted hurriedly after the virtual theft of the wealth of the patrimony. No life will regenerate in those ruined, mined places for a million years.

In Mr. Duterte’s Mindanao, open-pit mining has created vast swathes of non-redeemable wastelands.

We do not know which of the two is worse—narco-politics or open-pit mining operations by well-connected companies and individuals. By the reckoning of environmental scientists, open-pit mining is worse as it eviscerates Mother Earth, and its human inhabitants, on the scale of Armageddon.

It is a “singko tamang barko” operation, with basic earth-gouging equipment as investment, equipment as basic as the ones allegedly used by the Ampatuans and their goons to bury the journalists they had murdered in mass graves. The ROI is just days or months. The open-pit miners, after they have abandoned the areas they have turned into vast wastelands, move on into the next area that they would ravage and pillage. Who knows, some of their kids in the exclusive schools may be even willing participants in those phony “Save the Earth“ forums.

The open-pit miners are the new “malefactors of great wealth.” Don’t believe the canard the open-pit miners tell Congress about mining and responsibility and stewardship. Open-pit mining is just a brazen form of environmental rapacity.

After bribe money allegedly changed hands at the congressional Commission on Appointments to reject the nomination of Gina Lopez as environment secretary—President Duterte’s suspicion, not mine—the full-throttle lobby of the Chamber of Mines to restore the mining status quo disrupted by Ms Lopez, started. The chamber is working on the premise that Roy Cimatu, the ex-general named to lead the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, will not have the courage and political will of Gina Lopez.

And the Chamber of Mines, perhaps the most powerful and most moneyed lobby group in the whole country, is succeeding. After the rejection of Ms Lopez, the policy-setting Mining Industry Coordinating Council held a meeting to determine the fate of open-pit mining which Ms Lopez had banned.

And the predictable happened a few days ago. The MMIC recommended the lifting of the ban and the newspapers just played as a routine act of government, not an assault on the national posterity. Who in government voted for the lifting? The scant news account did not even identify the pro-mining people in government.

The crusading zeal of the newspapers on the open-pit mining story was abandoned and we can only wonder why.

The outraged Ms Lopez, thank God, is not done with environmental issues after her rejection. She fired off an email after the lift-the-ban vote of the MMIC. You can feel her sense of outrage.

The following is the gist of what she said.

The ban on open-pit mining is constitutional, she said. The Constitution does not even mention mining, just the broad general concern that resource utilization would not harm the present and future generations. Open-pit mining spreads harm and despoliation all over.

The tubong-lugaw miners would not even neutralize the acid mine drainage after the open-pit mining is over and done with, said Ms Lopez. They will just leave the place like those abandoned former mining towns in the US.

Open-pit mining in the Philippines is often done in areas close to rivers. Heavy rains often lead to toxic mine tailings spilling over into the productive ecosystems, which then lead to the ruin of these productive ecosystems. It is for this reason that open-pit mining is often allowed in countries with vast continental land masses, and where rains are infrequent, not unlike the Philippines.

An island ecosystem like the Philippines is the least ideal place for open-pit mining due to its vulnerabilities.

The powerful and moneyed mining lobby, after the undoing of the open-pit mining ban, would predictably move on into bolder atrocities. What many Filipinos fear is a pliant and pliable DENR. If the DENR wilts under the pressure of the mining lobby, the feared reversal of the many breakthrough and liberating directives from Ms Lopez may take place.

Gina Lopez closed 23 mines for flagrant and brazen violations of environmental rules and suspended five others.

In a bolder follow-up move, she canceled the mining agreements signed by the government with 75 companies on mineral production-sharing.

The mining lobby wants the current DENR leadership to reverse the bold, radical, pro-country initiatives of Ms Lopez. And from the looks of it, and based on the timidity of Mr. Cimatu, the lobby may just get what it wants.

Mr. Duterte has to intervene.

With his solid grounding as a LGU leader and his long exposure to the ruins left in the wake of mining and other forms of natural resource despoliation, he should tell the DENR, “Stop it!” Then, he should uphold the bold moves of Ms Lopez for the environment.

Mr. Duterte should fuse his pro-environmental pronouncements with action, and he should fuse his environmental theories with practice.

The open-pit mode of mining is a full-scale assault on the national patrimony. DU30 should stop this atrocity.

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