Advocacy Mindanow: DAVAO’S “PUNCH” ON MINING PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 January 2012 14:22

BY Jess Dureza

LEADERSHIP  EXAMPLE —       Just after boldly giving a “knock-out punch” on Davao City Mayor Sara’s veto of the coal-fired plant and  thereby allowing it and insuring the generation of additional power to the Mindanao grid in the future, I read in the newspapers that   the same Davao city council  “approved” on First Reading, a measure to impose a total ban on  mining in Davao City.

I was initially disturbed by this. For a while I thought that was another of the already famous  Davao punch! But really, from my experience in Congress, “ approval on first reading” is a bit exaggerated and does not mean what it says. We know that first reading is NOT approval but only the READING of the title of the proposed measure and its endorsement to the proper committee for study and further action. The legislative work has just started. That’s just a half punch!

What the city council did in over-riding the mayor’s veto, which by the way is unprecedented, is already a good indication on what to expect from the present crop of City Councilors. They have shown that collectively and responsibly, they can rise over and above the noise and stay above the fray, although bruised by the attacks and criticisms of those who opposed. In the end, they are assuaged by the thought that they did the right thing in approving the coal-fired plant.

A lot of that gumption and focus can be attributed to the leadership of the legislative body, marshalled by Vice Mayor Rody Duterte.

A total ban on mining  (open pit and underground) in Davao City is disturbing not so much for the loss of economic opportunities, although to some extent this is also a factor, but more on the leadership signal the city council will give to those other cities and local government units who wish to emulate and take a cue from how Davao officials conduct their business and affairs responsibly.

IMPLICATIONS — Davao city, by the way, is not known for its metallurgic resources and mine deposits as far as I know so there is not much to ban anyway. Although I was told there were a few tenement applications pending. But the implications of a mining ban are serious.

The most affected of course, just in case, is the Holcim cement plant in the north side, which will have to close down. Then of course the quarrying of sand, aggregates and other materials for construction from existing quarry sites. To exempt them, by the way, just to make a sector happy and to soften what otherwise is supposed to be a principled reason for the measure smacks of escapism and a clear act of self-contradiction. For how else can one
justify a position that draws its rationale from its supposed finding that mining is bad and in the same breath allow it to some extent?

From my experience, mining if properly regulated and responsibly and sustainably programmed and implemented is a boon rather than a bane.

ENVIRONMENTAL — The main issue of course is environmental. If that were the case, then it may be best to take a good look at this aspect vis-à-vis the long years of existence of the Holcim cement plant, formerly the Bacnotan cement in Lasang-Panacan area, logically the lone big victim of that proposed ordinance. I have always been a resident of Davao City since my teens but I have yet to hear some major and serious reports about environmental issues brought about by that cement plant. Or maybe the anti-mining advocates can dig up something that I am not aware of. It is principally doing open pit mining for extraction of lime and raw materials for cement. So, where’s the beef?

AN EXAMPLE — I call to mind again that open-pit mining ordinance by the provincial government of Zamboanga del Norte, which is now challenged in court by TVIRD, a mining company that has been operating for years and will face closure unless the ordinance is stricken down by the Courts. In the course of the hearing on preliminary injunction, observers note that the environmental issue is becoming lost. Rather dominant is the province’s complaint that the excise tax and other revenues due to government are low and slow in coming.

At the sidelines, the Subanens, the host lumads, the LGUs not only of Siocon municipality but the surrounding towns that benefited from the mining operations were literally taking to the streets and protesting the ban Ordinance. By the way, the court ruling is due anytime this week and its outcome can be instructive to all of us, especially on the power of LGUs vis-à-vis the national Mining Act. It may rule on whether local governments can ban what the national law allows.

SMALL SCALE — What about small-scale mining? My personal take on this is that first; we should focus on taking drastic action against unregulated, small-scale mining. This practice is actually destroying the environment and endangering our health and lives. This must be addressed decisively. This is the culprit that spews poisonous substances here and now. Local governments and national agencies must act. Their destructive footprints are latent for all of us to see. But we do not totally ban small-scale mining. They must be brought within the ambit of regulations. Decisively!

By the way, why are the so-called progressive anti mining groups and the anti mining church not so forceful, —in fact so deafeningly silent, —with small-scale miners but very vociferous on big companies, mostly multi nationals when the former are unregulated and palpably destructive while the latter are paying obeisance to laws and regulations.? Just asking out loud.

BIG SCALE  —What about big mining companies?

The big scale mining of responsible companies who are earning billions must be strictly required to spend a big part of their earnings  for the benefit of the host communities and LGUs. The lumads or indigenous peoples, whose ancestral domain areas are the usual mining sites, must be made veritable partners, not only “beneficiaries or receivers” of benefits.  Along this line, the government and the private sector must capacitate our lumads so they don’t get lost in the maze of handling the affairs which, I predict, they initially and absolutely have no idea on how to go about.

The government and the people must get a reasonable and fair share of their “take” . Most important, the mining companies must devote a proportionate share of their earnings to rehabilitate  the mine site that they disturb,  even while  the mining operations are still on going,  converting these areas into veritable sustainable havens for the local communities when these companies eventually leave. As we know viable extraction has a mine life. What happens when they have closed shop matters much  to those left behind. Especially on how to manage their newly  acquired lifestyles and upscaled needs nurtured by the mine benefits that come their way so easily while it lasts. The mining companies face this responsibility - just as any  other benefactor must have exit plans for the purpose.

MINE VISIT   —To totally ban mining, in my humble view is a mistake. It is not the solution. Although this is the easiest — perhaps the seemingly popular — thing to do! Seemingly popular because the minority “ antis” are  noisy while the  majority remain silent!  It is best that the city officials and  councilors find out for themselves  and be informed about the actual issues and facts. Just as they did in seeing for themselves the STEAG coal-fired plant in Misamis Oriental before they made a decision about the city’s own coal- fired plant.  It may  be good for them to take a trip to the TVIRD mining plant in Siocon, meet the perennial town mayor, a former Davao ABS CBN broadcaster, Ceasar Soriano and see for themselves and get the answers to their questions. Mayor Sara I suggest should go too. I  suggest they bring along the leaders of the anti mining groups so they can get some answers to their questions and apprehensions. And Davao media, too. I did that mine visit  myself several times! I can help arrange.

Don’t  worry, unlike that STEAG visit, there  will be no “freebies” on this trip. LOL!