Fool’s gold under Duterte
by PAUL CHRISTIAN YANG-ED
It looks like gold. It shimmers like gold. But scrape it with a piece of unglazed ceramic, it reveals a black color. Such is the nature of the mineral pyrite, also called fool’s gold, a nature that could also be said of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
At its onset, the Duterte regime promised a lustrous mining crackdown in response to the Filipino’s outrage at the unabated mining plunder the country has faced over the past two administrations. It eventually revealed itself an inferior imitation of the far-reaching mining reforms the people have long clamored for.
Warning that large-scale mines had better “shape up or face closure,” Duterte promised tough regulations on the industry as its centerpiece environmental policy. Duterte appointed as secretary of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Regina Lopez, a staunch environmental crusader from the Lopez business clan who has long campaigned against big mines.
Lopez then launched a national audit of all operating large-scale mines that resulted in the closure or suspension of 28 big mines. The crackdown also resulted in the cancellation of 75 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements and the prohibition of prospective open-pit mining projects.
In Congress, Bayan Muna party-list representative Carlos Zarate, a human rights lawyer and activist legislator, was appointed as chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. The progressive lawmaker prioritized the hearings on House Bill 2715 or the People’s Mining Bill, a proposed comprehensive mining policy filed by Bayan Muna anchored on national industrialization, environmental protection, and people’s welfare.
This unprecedented pace of progress, however, was short-lived.
Today, not one of the 28 big mines has been shut or suspended, the closure and suspension orders were stayed by no less than the Office of the President itself. The open-pit mining ban sits on the precipice with the Mining Industry Coordinating Council’s mining oligarchs relentlessly pushing for its revocation.
Congress removed Lopez after a systematic demolition job by the mining lobby and its phalanx of figureheads in government. Former general Roy Cimatu, once a protector of logging and mining projects in Mindanao and a public official involved in many corruption controversies succeeded Lopez.
Rep. Zarate and other lawmakers critical of the Duterte government’s various policies, were stripped of their chairmanships and committee memberships. HB 2715, which has progressed in an incredible pace until the 2nd half of 2017, now remains in limbo.
As if a harbinger of darker times ahead, 2017 was so far the deadliest year faced by anti-mining activists. Twenty-nine (29) cases of extrajudicial killings of anti-mining activists were recorded as the government deployed additional troops in rural communities under Duterte’s all-out war of counter insurgency and Martial Law in Mindanao.
Clearly aiming to perpetuate the current regime in power, the ‘super majority’ in Congress has embarked on railroading proposed amendments to the Constitution. Their Charter Change provisions are dangerous — it include extending the term of the current crop of plunderers in government and opening up mineral and other natural resources, including protected areas and critical ecosystems, to 100-percent foreign ownership and privatization.
This impending ‘more business than usual’ scenario is the situation we find ourselves in as the Mining Act of 1995 officially remains in force after 23 years. Despite the shake-up the industry went through during Duterte’s early months, this policy of opening up with unfettered abandon our mineralized lands to mining corporations has made sure that we will keep unearthing nothing but fool’s gold in the era of Duterte.
What can we expect going forward from the current mining situation? How will the broader context of the global mining industry’s trends affect the local market? What policies and programs of the Duterte regime will shape the industry and the communities and environments it affects?
We dig deeper into the national mining situation to help the environmental and nationalist movement oppose this mining plunder. Our fight is newly spurred by the uproar that followed the full reveal of Duterte’s mining policy. We strengthen our resolve to stand our ground against the big mines.
This is the first of a four-part series of articles discussing the National Mining Situation this 2018 in the context of the 23rd anniversary of the Mining Act of 1995’s passage.