The Presidential Executive Order (EO) outlining the administration’s policy on mining is something to be welcomed as it shows a positive concern in protecting sensitive ecological areas that could be adversely affected by mining, especially the horrific open pit-mining that rips out the heart and soul of mountain-sides and forests, and does untold ecological damage. The EO has positive aspects. It reasserts the provisions of existing laws that protect the environment and ancestral lands. The good will of the presidential order may not be strong enough to combat the age-old tyrant of good laws and good will, namely corrupt officials embedded in the political dynastic system that makes its own laws.
While the Presidential Executive Order expanded protection and declared 78 areas “no-go” for mining, it may be unenforceable as some powerful corrupt government officials especially in Mindanao, are ignoring and defying the existing law. They continue to illegally issue exploration and mining permits to mining corporations in the ancestral lands of the indigenous people where cronies of past governments, even those of the Marcos’ era still hold the power.
The EO re-enforces the mining law, RA 7942, known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. Under its provisions, the officials of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) are strictly forbidden to entertain mining applications for exploration, mapping and any kind of mining in old growth or virgin forest, proclaimed watershed areas, forest reserves, wilderness areas, mangrove forests, mossy forests, national parks, provincial or municipal forests, parks, green belts game refuge and bird sanctuaries, as defined by law and in areas expressly prohibited under the National Integrated Protected Areas System, (NIPAS) under Republic act No. 7586, Department Order No. 25 series of 1992 and other laws.
Ancestral lands of the indigenous people are strictly no-go areas for mining unless there is clear and explicit public approval, social acceptability and informed consent after consultations. It says: “No ancestral land shall be opened for mining without the prior consent of the indigenous cultural community concerned”. Despite these strong laws, the DENR and other government officials have become puppets and sided with the rich and powerful. They have wrongly and illegally given permits for them to operate, no doubt for certain unknown considerations.
The Subaanen people, whose lands and those lands of hundreds of thousand Visayan people on the Zamboanga peninsula have been invaded by mining interests; have stoutly and bravely resisted the incursions of mining companies. For fifteen years they have peacefully protested and made it known that they do not approve mining on their lands but have been ignored. Their lands are targeted for open-pit mining and since 1997; one company after another has sought and obtained mining rights in their lands specifically on Mt. Pinukis and its neighboring mountainous Medau area. The final report on Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Priorities published in 2002 states that the status of Mt. Sugarloaf, a Conservation Priority Area covering an area of 87,963.43 hectares is of extremely high criticality. They have filed legal cases against these officials and most recently a shocking court decision allowed the mining companies to join the court case in support of the government officials.
The Supreme Court granted the people a protection order, an order to the companies to cease and desist, (Writ of Kalikasan) but there seems to be no power that can implement it.
It is in places and situations like this, one of thousands, where the environmental crises of the planet become practically evident. It is here where the irresponsible corporations will violate people’s rights waving an illegally obtained paper, and use that to engage in destructive gauging and environmental plunder.
The American and European laws forbid wrongdoing of this kind. Prosecutors ought to look closely at these operations where their corporate citizens are violating human and ancestral rights. Court cases ought to be taken by NGOs in the countries where the mining corporations are domiciled in order to bring them to justice and save hundreds of thousands of hectares of prime lands and forest.
People around the world ought to take a stand, make their voices heard and write to President Noynoy Aquino, Malacanang Palace, and Manila supporting the rights of the poor, the farmers and the indigenous people.