To mine or not to mine, that is the question.
Some noisy “environmentalists” are pushing the envelope, so to speak, with the incoming president’s statements against how some miners have despoiled the soil of Mindanao. They now push for a total stop to all mining activities.
Legitimate investors in the mining industry are expectedly worried about the situation. Is the new president going to decree finis to their multi-billion dollar investments? It isn’t easy, after all, to go into the mining business. You spend a lot trying to figure out whether your mine has the right amount of mineral deposits, whether it would be cost-efficient to even mine the area at all. Not that you did not spend much to get the concession from the DENR to begin with. That’s what economists call “sunk costs,” to make a play of words.
“Wala ka pang nahuhukay, nakalubog ka na,” as the Tagalogs would say.
Smart DENR and mining officials of course have staked their claims on several mine sites which they have themselves identified as “viable,” and either got some “small miners” with foreign financiers to “buy” these claims outright (which is probably why President-elect Rodrigo Duterte should add the natural resources department to his potential “to-the-laundry-list” of the most corrupt agencies he will have to clean up), or worse, claimed the sites themselves, using dummy companies and groups.
Legitimate mining companies with legitimate foreign financial partners who invest “long-term” money on long gestating projects and that comply with environmental standards that Duterte himself once described as “Australian standard” are thus hemmed in from both sides: One, the threat of misplaced environmental purists who want ALL mining stopped, and two, the destructive mining practices of “small” miners who invest “short-term” in cahoots with corrupt government agencies, both national and local (courtesy of the Small Mining Act) who because of their “dig and leave” (in forest malpractice, these are akin to slash and burn “subsistence” loggers, a.k.a kaingineros) have given the mining industry a bad name. And shallow media practitioners grist for their “crusading” environmental posturing.
Okay, let’s enter the realm of theological divination: Why did the Supreme Being create minerals to begin with, and why did He emplace these beneath the earth’s crust? Why did the Old Testament talk of gold, and silver, of how both the “faithful” and the heathen adorn their altars with precious metals, all “mined” from the bowels of the earth that God created for man? Surely, not because the Divinity disliked mining per se?
There really are times when some priests can drive government people nuts. They preach against artificially controlling the growth of people, but in the same breath, they preach against almost anything that will create jobs for the miserable people brought to existence by the multiplication of miserable genes.
Straddling the boundary of the two Surigaos, there is what they call “Red Mountain.” It is practically a bald mountain because the soil is lateritic, which leaves it rust-red in color, where very few plants and trees survive. When it rains heavily, you see the adjacent sea which is part of the mighty Pacific turn red. Beneath these mountains and the areas surrounding it are nickel, chromite, and low-grade iron deposits. Nobody “farms” these areas, because plants do not grow well, if at all. So what economic activity will bring livelihood and jobs to the inhabitants other than mining? Tourism? Who would swim in reddish sea?
Now, admittedly, mining has its impact on the environment, even of surrounding areas. So which miners should government allow—the responsibly big and few who protect the surrounding sea from leach and tailings, or the irresponsible many who claim to be “small,” who just dig and leave?
The forests of Mindanao were once lush and verdant, until the colonialists began to cut for timber that they used for their construction needs. With “independence” came the local loggers, very few of whom were responsible enough to replant, but many of whom, especially the local politicians favored by the national politicians, just cut and cut, sold and sold to Japanese and other foreign buyers, and left the lumad inhabiting these mountains poor and destitute, fodder for their vote-buying spree every election season. While they parlay their ill-forested gains into construction companies that earn big profits from (again) crooked government deals. Rent-seeking then; rent-seeking activities still, all at the expense of the republic and the helpless citizens these political overlords call their constituents. These are the “scum” Rodrigo Duterte must seek out and obliterate.
So should it be in mining. How do we create jobs in places where huge mineral deposits lie beneath the earth if we totally disallow mining, refusing to make use of God’s natural gifts for the benefit of His beloved creatures, using capital and risk-taking to optimum economic benefit? Did not the Roman Catholic priests tell the poor to follow the Biblical exhortation to “go forth and multiply” even beyond their capabilities to feed and clothe their multiplied progeny? So what do we want the children of the destitute to do, just burden the government who must perforce spend for their education, only to leave the country to their parents in search of survival in foreign lands? How very irresponsible, n’est-ce pas?
To mine or not to mine?
The logical answer should be to mine, but responsibly. Apply strict standards, ensure best practices. And jail the irresponsible, along with those who gave out those “small” mining permits among local dynasts and their “national” patrons.
On a systemic front, maybe the new government would do well to carve out the mandate of environmental protection from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Why should the agency in charge of “responsible” natural resource development and exploration be the same agency to “protect” Mother Nature?
Create an Environmental Protection Authority (or whatever Agency) and place it under iron-fisted Rodrigo Duterte’s direct charge in the Office of the President.
Meanwhile, let’s not go overboard and say Duterte should stop all mining activities. The new president knows what he will do, even if sometimes he has to say “stop” to instill fear of authority in the hearts of those who have despoiled our environment.