BETWEEN the pro-mining students protesting against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) officials, and the insistence that we talk only about the jobs to be lost and the stock market crash, it is clear that we are being distracted from the more important questions about whether or not the mining projects that the DENR has ordered closed have in fact been bad for the environment and our communities.
For some of these mines, there is already enough proof and data, enough studies through the years, enough protests, that prove how these have adversely affected the environment and the communities that are in close proximity to the mines.
Case in point: Zambales.
2012: destructive mining
In 2012, the Movement for the Protection of the Environment (Move Now!), accompanied by farmer and activist groups, went on a fact-finding mission on the effects of mining on communities in Sta. Cruz Zambales. They found that the repercussions on the livelihood and health of the community outweighed whatever benefits might be had from these mining projects.
Working for the mines might mean higher salaries but even the community realized that what they were getting in exchange was environmental degradation: rivers and creeks were stagnant with orange-red water, and whatever fish they catch was infected; rice farms that could produce 70 to 100 cavans per hectare twice or thrice a year, went down to 30 to 50 cavans; irrigation with red water produces hard-as-cement soil that renders the farm unproductive (Bulatlat.com, March 21, 2012). The Move Now! report states that “The forests in the Sta. Cruz mountains are now totally wiped out, <…> the water from pumps cause skin diseases and is not potable” (Punto Central Luzon, May 19, 2012).
Joseph Canlas, chair of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luson (AMGL), who was part of the fact-finding mission, reported: “The atmosphere here is intolerable as trucks that carry ore from the mining site are everywhere, they operate 24 hours a day” (Punto Central Luzon, 2012). The armed private security guards are in charge of the community, disallowing people from getting supplies from the forest and mountains (Bulatlat.com, 2012).
In June 2012, the Supreme Court issued a writ of kalikasan against the LNL Archipelago Minerals Inc. (LAMI) operating in Zambales. It was filed by Agham party-list representative Angelo B. Palmones who said that “LAMI is destroying <…> the environment by cutting mountain trees and leveling a mountain to the damage and detriment of the residents of Zambales without any of the concerned government agencies and officials stopping such illegal actions” (GMA News, June 11, 2012).
LNL Archipelago Minerals is one of the Zambales mines listed by the Move Now! fact-finding mission, alongside Benguet Corp Nickel Mines and Eramen Minerals Inc.
2014, 2015: Suspension, floods
In July 2014, the Mining and Geosciences Bureau suspended the aforementioned mines plus Zambales Diversified Metals Corp for “unsystematic strip mining” (Rappler.com, July 4, 2014). In December 2014, the DENR regional office in Central Luzon gave the mines permits to transport ore, saying this was needed to rehabilitate and compensate communities and prevent disaster. In February 2015, the suspension was temporarily lifted; mining companies had 90 days to comply with requirements in the suspension order (Business Mirror, June 18, 2015).
By June 2015, the Concerned Citizens of Sta. Cruz, Zambales (CCOS) was asking the Court of Appeals to again suspend LNL, Eramen, and Benguet Corp as these have been “the subject of numerous complaints for the pollution of water bodies, including fishponds, in the town of Santa Cruz, Zambales” (Business Mirror, June 2015).
In October 2015, Typhoon Lando happened and Zambales did not only suffer flooding, but the flooding of red mud. According to CCOS’s Benito Molino: “With the rain that poured in our province, flooding was highly possible, but the volume of red mud is a different case. We think nickel laterite may have mixed with the waters that flood parts of the province now. This is the second time that we experienced this, the first time was in July when some of the dams of mining companies were destroyed and flooded our rivers. We’ve had these kinds of problems since mining started in 2011” (Human Rights Online, October 25, 2015).
Seven residents died in those “head-high floods,” animals were killed, farmlands destroyed (Rappler.com, February 10, 2016). Benguet Corp. denied that the mines had anything to do with the floods (Manila Standard, October 28, 2015).
2016: Mining vs community
After the 2015 floods, residents banded together against mining companies in Zambales. The people blocked ZDMC trucks passing through the national highway. Note that in 2014 and 2015, the mining companies had an agreement with local governments to build roads that lead to their sites; the mining companies did not build roads and continued to use the national highway (Rappler.com, February 10, 2016).
Zambales Diversified would sue members of the community for blocking their trucks. Community barricades against mining companies would continue (Bulatlat.com, March 2, 2016).
In March 2016, the Center for Environmental Concerns (CEC) released the results of its fact-finding mission done after the October 2015 flooding, and declared that “the ecological destruction caused by the decade-long nickel mining in Sta. Cruz aggravates the impact of natural calamities” (Bulatlat.com, March 4, 2016).
In May 2016, COSS filed for a writ of kalikasan against Benguet Corp, Eramen, LNL, and Zambales Diversified, plus one other mine (Manila Times, May 21, 2016). On June 21, 2016, the Supreme Court issued the writ of kalikasan, ordering the affected mining firms to prove that they were not hurting the environment (Rappler.com, June 21, 2016).
In July 2016, the new DENR led by Secretary Gina Lopez suspended the licenses of Benguet Corp and Zambales Diversified.
In February 2017, the two mines plus LNL and Eramen became part of the list of mines ordered closed by the DENR.
A reading of this history from readily available sources, allows one to make sense of why these four Zambales mines have been ordered closed by the DENR. And while pro-mining advocates insist on science to prove the adverse effects of mines on the environment, that must be balanced out with the history of protest against these mines, based as this is on the science of environmental degradation and the lives of people who have suffered in the hands of these mines.
Too, if these companies were as responsible as they insist they are, there would be no need for spin or propaganda on the “good” they are doing. They themselves would be transparent. That they are not, is absolutely telling.