Geological plunder leads to Urduja, Vinta

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MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

GET a map of the Visayas and Mindanao. Better yet, get a geological profile of the provinces in the two regions ravaged recently by Typhoons Urduja and Vinta. Ask the geologists from the academic community not tied up to logging and mining interests to make a realistic analysis of the vulnerability of these provinces to killer landslides and killer floods.

Ask them to answer this question without fear or without bias. Were the mass deaths in the two regions from the two recent typhoons related to man-made folly in the form of reckless and indiscriminate mining and logging? Yes will be the answer. An unqualified, unequivocal yes.

Logging and mining, or rather human and corporate greed, have been the drivers of massive Christmas-season deaths in the Visayas and Mindanao. The newspaper accounts on the massive death toll and massive destruction of property did not say so. It is a known folly and greed—induced calamities is accepted as a fact of life.

Logged-over upland areas with once-thriving forest cover and biodiversity—sad, unstated truth—are a ticking time-bomb in typhoon-prone areas such as the Philippines. This deadly scenario often unfolds in the logged-over upland areas and the tragic outcome is, again, an old, old story.


A few days of hard rain will be enough to loosen the unstable mountain soil. This causes the drip-drip to the lowlands of unstable soil. This is not enough to cause a mini-Armageddon. But when a typhoon strikes, the result is a predictable story.

The soil from the bald mountaintops pried loose by days of heavy rains will cascade, torrents upon torrents, into the lowlands, a force of cruel and destructive nature. Woe to the villages along the path of rampaging mud and rock and dead tree stumps. Very few structures—houses, churches, public and private infrastructure—will survive the onslaught. Humans along the path will be buried and the mud and rocks often turn into their permanent graveyard. That was the story of a Biliran community overrun by the Urduja-induced landslide.

What happened to the billions of pesos invested in supposedly well-though-out reforestation projects undertaken by governments and with massive support from the multilateral institutions? Whatever happened to those corporate social responsibility work of the corporations that are often seen on the PR sections of the newspapers, those jolly men and women supposedly replanting on logged-over areas? The only thing we realize now is that they showed no positive results.

The mined-over areas are more dangerous in the sense that they bring an added element to the mud and rocks of mass death and destruction. The mine tailings, when washed over into the lowlands, carry toxic, lethal contents that kill people, destroy properties, and leave a permanent scar on the inundated areas.

You get death, massive destruction of property, and the toxic detritus that will stay in the affected lowlands for generations.

More often than not, a landslide is the equivalent of a death sentence to the low-lying communities it buries. Death, destruction, poison.

In better societies, the toll from Urduja and Vinta is enough to push leaders into a wrenching evaluation of its priorities. Between illegal logging and legal mining on the one hand and the survival of the entire communities on the other, what is the right policy to do? Should greed that comes in the form of illegal logging and legal mining take the front seat and survival of communities the backseat? Which is the usual story in this sad sack of a country.

Or should policy be guided by society’s better angels, which would then lead to the rethinking of the country’s lax and tolerant policy toward illegal logging and legal mining?

The answer is depressing on the mining front. Instead of Tigil Mina (Stop Mining) and a bold policy that reins in the excesses and recklessness of legal mining, we are getting mixed signals from government. Mr. Duterte’s public statements are against open-pit mining in particular and mining in general. But on the ground, where real policy is made, the Chamber of Mines appears to be the dominant force in the multistakeholder Mining Industry Coordinating Council. The MICC seems to be dancing to the music of the Chamber.

Not only is there a consensus to reverse the ban on open-pit mining. The mining companies closed during the previous leadership of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, owing to the violation of their stewardship contracts with the state may be opened anew due to a more favorable policy climate at the DENR.

In fact, the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), the DENR office in charge of regulating the mining industry, sees a “better year” next year. The optimism is well-placed.

Tigil Mina, a startling possibility a few months back, is now a toxic proposition, like the lethal mine tailings it seeks to stop. The plunder of the country’s geological ecosystem is poised to make a grand comeback next year.

Of course, there is a counterweight to the toxic influence of the supposedly objective mining council, the force whose signature can stop mining once and for all. That is President Duterte and a welcome policy from him that would limit mining to the barest minimum. He can easily do that in the context of Urduja and Vinta.

But will he do it? Will he issue an unprecedented EO to stop the geological plunder that routinely ravages his native Mindanao? Your move, Mr. President.

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