Something made me shiver in fear as I read the news that the inter-agency Mining Industry Coordinating Council will review the ban on open pit mining which was ordered by the former Environment Secretary, Gina Lopez. What worsened my anxiety was the announcement by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau that it has submitted a recommendation to the Environment Secretary, Roy Cimatu, to lift the ban on the basis of internationally accepted and legal mining methods.
Even assuming for argument’s sake that internationally accepted and legal methods will be used in creating more open pit mines in the Philippines, the fact will always remain that once mountains are lopped off and the earth is excavated, destroying everything that’s living in and around it to give way to some 50 or 60 stories deep of open-pit mines, no amount of rehabilitation or technology can bring them back. The open-pit mines will forever remain to be open pits—gaping holes that are unproductive and dangerous to all living things because the artificial lakes created by the open pits contain toxic mine tailings and acid water. But this, in fact, is still just a teeny weeny peek into the horrific scenario caused by open pit mines. The reality is, because of the geographic configuration of the Philippines with more than 7,100 islands when the earth is excavated to create open pits for mining purposes, a water table is invariably hit, wasting the water in it. This is frightening because studies have shown that in 2030 there will be a global shortage of water.
Further, if one traces the history of open-pit mining in the Philippines, one will see the displacement of people and the impoverishment of communities because the land, the rivers and the seas got contaminated by metals, cyanide, sulfuric acid, even mercury. Add to this the many diseases that people contract because of the pollution and the volume of dust in the air.
Consider the following facts. In Sipalay, Negros Occidental where an open-pit mine was operated by the Maricalum Mining Corporation, a labor dispute arose because the company was not paying the mandated wages and benefits of its employees. The company’s operations ceased more than 20 years ago but it left the 60-stories-deep open pit that it created. Four tailings spill incidents occurred between 1982 and 1996 destroying more than 1,000 hectares of agricultural lands and uprooting more than 1,200 families. The continuing erosion of the waste dump has greatly silted the Kalak-an river and caused air pollution. The spill area became barren and the rice lands where the waste water flowed are now completely unproductive.
In Hinalangon, Samar where Marinduque Mining Industrial Corporation operated an open-pit mine, the acid mine drainage contaminated the entire Taft river and the soil turning the area to a wasteland. The company stopped operations in 1992, leaving the government to spend P300 million for the rehabilitation of the site which, to this date, remains barren.
In Dansol, Pangasinan, after Acoje Mining created an open-pit mine with acid tailings, it abandoned the mines because the price of copper went down and it was no longer profitable to continue its operations. It left in its wake an acid open pit mine leaving the task of rehabilitation to government. In Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, the worst mining disaster happened in 1996 when the tailings of the open pit mines spilled contaminating the entire 27-kilometer stretch of the Boac river which used to be the source of fresh water by the locals. The erosion of the waste dump continues, spilling acid and toxic water. In Mogpog, Marinduque, the Consolidated Mines, Inc. directly dumped toxic tailings into the seas and mine wastes in mangrove forests destroying them. Because the price of copper went down, the company abandoned its operations leaving the task of rehabilitation, once more, to the government.
I could go on citing what open-pit mining has done to the environment and the Filipino people, especially the poor living in the rural areas where mining operates. We are perhaps the only country in the world that requires a mere two per cent excise tax as revenues from mining operations and offering mining firms certain tax holidays at that. After open pits are created, destroying our piece of the earth and leaving toxic wastes, who will be left to deal with them or at least maintain them so that the toxic and poisoned mine wastes will not spill into our the waters and the seas? By then the money earned by the mostly foreign-based mining firms will have been sent to bank accounts outside the country. Will the government earn enough from mining revenues to bring back lost mountains and forests, as well as, lost flora and fauna? Will the government have earned enough money to maintain open pits so they will not spill toxic waste into our lands, bodies of fresh water and seas? The Mining Industry Coordinating Council must address these questions.