Mining is a Social Justice Issue
by Christian Monsod
Article from Rappler.com
The mineral wealth of our country, as the mining industry reminds us, is “staggering” – about $840 billion. Its potential to contribute to our country’s development cannot be discounted. While mining has never been a driver of our development, not even during the mining boom of the seventies, we are here to find out if there is a way to realize that potential. And I thank the organizers of this Conference for taking this step toward that objective.
The real question before us today is: Should mining be allowed in the Philippines?
I believe that we should be open to that proposition provided 4 minimum conditions are met: (1) the environmental, social and economic costs are accounted for in evaluating mining projects; (2) the country gets a full and fair share of the value of the extracted resources, (3) and this is addressed to the government, the institutional capabilities of the government to evaluate and regulate mining activities are put in place; and (4) again addressed to the government, since mining uses up non-renewable natural capital, the money from mining are specifically used to create new capital such as more developed human resources and infrastructure, particularly in the rural areas.
In this regard, I refer you to the paper of Prof Ronald Mendoza of the AIM Policy Center and his proposal for a “middle ground” that involves the establishment of an “inclusive growth” trust fund.
With respect to downstream plants and the total banning of ore exports, I did not include these because the mining industry may have a point on the practicality and long-term feasibility of these conditions – hence the need for more consultations.
I submit that mining is a social justice issue. And we cannot discuss it except in the context of our country’s dismal performance in addressing mass poverty and the gross inequalities of income, wealth and political power that persist more than 25 years after the glowing promise of EDSA of a just society.
We are all familiar with the data.
Over 24 million Filipinos are poor, i.e. “poor” meaning per capita income of less than P46/day and about 9.4 million of them are “food poor,” i.e those who live on P32/day, not even enough to meet the minimum 2,000 calories a day. Over 28 years, our real per capita income rose only 20% while per capita incomes of our neighbors increased – like Malaysia (400%), Thailand (500%) and China (1100%) – in the process eradicating absolute poverty.
Even more compelling – the inequality of income has not changed since Edsa. The top 1% of the families numbering 185,000 have an income equal to the income of the bottom 30% of the families numbering 5.5 million. There are many more such data but this is not the forum for them.
I just wanted to make the point that history has not been very kind to our poor. And we know this must change.
The increasing inequality of income, wealth and political power is, of course, happening worldwide. In our particular case, the root of the problem is the development paradigm followed by every administration – that rising waters raise all boats – that sustained economic growth driven by investments will eliminate poverty. But conclusive empirical data tell us that sustained high growth is not possible unless we also address the problem of inequality. And that means not only income reform – quality education, universal health care and livelihood – but also asset reform, which is primarily about land and natural resources and a substantive redistribution of their benefits and costs. As you know, the four asset reform programs are agrarian reform, urban land reform and housing, ancestral domain and fisheries.
That is why it is unfortunate that two major stakeholders on the issue of mining were not invited to speak today – the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Department of Agriculture.
Environmental, social and economic costs and benefits
Mining activities are usually located in rural and mountainous areas and can affect farmlands, rivers and shorelines, where the poorest of the poor are located, namely, the farmers, indigenous peoples and municipal fishermen.
The fact is that mining cannot be conducted without affecting the land, water, and air surrounding the site, as well as the various natural resources found in them. Mining involves the extraction of minerals, but may also involve the use or destruction of non-mineral resources, such as fresh water, timber, and wildlife. This may also result in health problems, displacement of people, social divisiveness, even the need to provide PNP and AFP protection to mining companies. Then there are the disasters that can happen from the cutting of trees, from siltation and erosion, and accidents from mining structures. All these translate into public costs.