Open-pit mining brings destruction
The Mapagba River and the coastal areas of Barangay Maputi, Banaybanay, Davao Oriental turned orange last January 14 after chemicals and waste overflowed from a mine dam. People in the area rely on the river and sea as their source of livelihood, and before the incident, bathed and washed their clothes along the river. In media reports, they expressed fears of getting sick, and lamented that the destruction of the environment will end their fishing.
A few kilometers upstream is the Riverbend Consolidated Mining Corporation that is responsible for the incident. This Chinese company operates a 6,363-hectare open-pit nickel mining. It was granted a concession to operate in 2016 in Barangay Maputi and adjacent barangays.
Earlier, there were also reports of rivers in Mt. Bulanjao in Palawan poisoned by chemicals which overflowed from the Rio Tuba mine. Rio Tuba, now owned by Nickel Asia, which also operates nickel mines in Taganito, Surigao del Norte. In both areas, rivers and seas were also destroyed.
The gross environmental destruction is a slap on the face of the Duterte regime’s officials especially since they lifted prohibitions against open-pit mining last December 23, 2021 despite opposition by environmentalists. As a result, fears abound that such mining methods banned in 2017 will again bring disasters.
Digging and exporting
After enactment of the Mining Act of 1995, open-pit mines in the country have proliferated. Such operations have turned former lush and rich forests into hectares upon hectares of wasteland. Peasant and minority people’s communities are driven away. Mining companies also abandon their poisonous chemicals used for initial purification of minerals before exporting.
The reactionary government reports that in December 2020 alone, more than 729,000 hectares were covered by different types of mining contracts. The biggest mining area is in Caraga region which covers 140,000 hectares. This does not yet cover the millions of hectares that will be covered by mining applications by giant companies.
The Banaybanay incident is the most recent in the history of grave disasters brought by open-pit mining. This includes the tragedy in Itogon, Benguet in August 2012 when 20 million metric tons of mine tailings from the Philex Mining dam overflowed into the rivers.
In October 2005, stored poisonous chemicals and heavy metals leaked from the mine tailings dam of the Australian Lafayette Mining Limited to the river and sea in Rapu-Rapu, Albay. This resulted in fish kills and destruction of crops, and the loss of livelihood in several barangays in Albay and Sorsogon.
One of the worst disasters was in March 1996 in Boac and Mogpog, Marinduque. More than 1.6 million cubic meters of mine tailings from the Marcopper Mines leaked into the rivers and coasts. This killed the Boac River, crops and domesticated animals. A number of residents died, while several thousands from 20 barangays were forced to flee. It was discovered that 16 years prior to the incident, Marcopper had been dumping poisonous waste amounting to 200 million tons to the seas.
Illusion of “responsible mining”
Open-pit mines typically result in the poisoning of bodies of water. This is because foreign companies are interested only in pocketing maximum profit.
The call for “responsible mining” is a sham. This is being promoted by the imperialists only to favor foreign capitalists as against local investors.
For several decades, the Philippine economy has been stunted because almost 100% of the country’s mineral resources are taken out of the country. Among the leading capitalist markets are China, Japan, Canada and Australia. The country’s mineral resources are bought a dirt cheap prices by companies producing steel and other commodities from which they earn huge amounts when sold back to the Philippines.
Thus, the most fundamental evil of mining in the country is how it is foreign-controlled and serves the interests of big foreign capitalists, and not local industrial production.