Sixteen Tons and what do you get?

Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms, a policy advocacy NGO. This article was published in Business Mirror, February 15, 2006 edition, p. A10.

Business Mirror’s editorial  argued for a sober re-evaluation of mining because the Rapu-Rapu Island toxic spill  elicited so much hysteria that  it became difficult to tell fact from fantasy.

Mining has always been contentious because it is about costs and benefits. One side argues it’s not right to have one sector pay the costs for another sector’s benefits while the other side argues that certain sacrifices have to be made by some for the “common good.”

The CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) said the Mining Act of 1995 “destroys life” and called for an end to mining. The mining industry called the bishops’ statement “sweeping and extreme.”

The mining industry claims that an end to mining will cause the loss of two million jobs; bankrupt the government which will be sued by investors; and kill future foreign investment. It adds that mining is committed to alleviating poverty, protecting individual rights, freedom, the environment and sustainable development.  But  instead of explaining how they are  going to do all these, mining company executives choose to raise bogus issues.

One executive said “to stop mining is to stop progress.”  He explained, “Mining is part of our daily lives and we cannot live without it unless we are willing to give up forks and spoons; eyeglasses; cement for houses, roads and bridges; cars, buses, planes and ships; cell phones and computers; and electricity, to name a few.”

The executive was not lying, but he failed to add that we don’t manufacture most of those things he mentioned. Unless I was sleeping for the last 20 years and missed the Philippine industrial revolution, I think it’s accurate to say that we still send raw materials to industrialized countries so that we can buy them back as finished products at a much higher price. What’s the name of the last jet, ship or sports car we manufactured?

But suppose, if by some miracle, we woke up fully industrialized, wouldn’t we need raw materials? But by then they would have all been mined. So we will have to skip that stage of industrialization and just dream of the next stage, which is using recycled materials to manufacture new products, a technology that highly industrialized countries are still in the process of perfecting and making cost-effective.

The US has huge untapped reserves of oil they call strategic reserves. The idea behind it is to avail itself of the oil of other countries until such time as it becomes absolutely necessary for the US to touch its own reserves. It is a rational policy that safeguards national interest over the long term, don’t you agree?

The mining industry said the solution is not to stop mining but to make sure that all “mining rules are tightened and enforced.” Fine. But who are we going to trust with this task? The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources)?

{mospagebreak}

Here’s what a mining advocate, Patrick Caoile, treasurer of the Philippine Mine Safety and Environment Association, unwittingly revealed about the cause of the collapse of the mine’s tailings dam: “They used an all-Australian team, including equipment and technology. Australia does not have that much rainfall as the Philippines and that’s just one of the biggest differences that they did not take into consideration.”   What does that tell us about DENR and the mining industry?  Did both simply overlook something obvious? Are there are other “big differences” waiting to be uncovered?

I am not against mining per se but I am against mining at this time. The arguments against mining at this time are many, but this administration and the mining industry choose to engage in propaganda instead of serious debate.

We cannot trust this government to ensure environmental protection. It is neither competent nor capable of evaluating and enforcing environmental compliance, as Caoile unwittingly bared. What’s the solution to this, self-regulation? Promises to do better in the future? With what?

This administration will not protect the locals at the expense of mining companies. Angelo Reyes has been appointed to DENR and Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita tells us why. He said: “Probably because of his experience. Being a former (AFP) chief of staff and defense secretary, he maybe able to put some order in places where there could be trouble because of the role that the NPA (New People’s Army) plays, especially sa mga mining areas.”  How does Reyes’ appointment address the Rapu-Rapu incident?  If another environmental disaster occurs and local protest, is the administration counting on Reyes to blame the NPA and silence locals from opposing the destruction of their non-mining related livelihoods? Is that Reyes’ qualification?

This government cannot be trusted to spend mining revenues wisely and honestly.  It blew the Marcos billions on the 2004 elections and on kickbacks. What makes anyone think they will not do the same with mining revenues?

Mining is vital to manufacturing countries. But to unindustrialized countries like ours, mining is tantamount to selling the family jewels to finance a corrupt and incompetent government whose main preoccupation is its own survival.

Hinay-hinay lang. (Go slow.) Let’s leave those minerals for a more intelligent, responsible and technologically savvy generation.  Pamana na lang natin yan sa kanila. (Those minerals should be kept as a strategic reserve for our children.) Let’s get out of our mess using our wits instead of our children’s future.

If we allow this administration to sell off our mineral reserves, we will end up singing the old country song, Sixteen Tons.

“Well, I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine. I picked up a shovel, I walked out to the mine. I loaded sixteen tons of Number 9 coal, An’ the store boss said: “Well, bless my soul.”

“You load sixteen tons an’ what do you get? Another day older deeper and debt. St Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go: I owe my soul to the company store.”

No comments yet.