Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
Mining is the process of extracting minerals from the earth. In mining engineering practice, it means the extraction of ores, coal, or stone from the earth. Ores are mineral deposits that can be worked at a profit under existing economic conditions. Stone includes industrial (usually non-metallic) minerals such as calcite, quartz, and other similar products.
Generally, minerals are classified into three groups, namely: metallic minerals (like iron, copper, and gold), non-metallic (example: limestone), and mineral fuels (coal is the best example).
Some of these precious minerals can be found in the Philippines, as it straddles the Western fringes of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Its grounds are very rich in economic mineral deposits, according to a speech delivered by Ramon J.P. Paje, then the secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), during the Asia Mining Congress 2011 in Singapore.
The plate tectonics have caused the deposition of rich minerals in this part of the world. “The Philippines is endowed with bountiful metallic and non-metallic mineral resources,” Paje pointed out.
“Currently, gold, copper, iron, chromite and nickel are the most sought-after metallic commodities,” he said. “Among our non-metallic resources, sand and gravel, limestone, marble, clay and other quarry materials are in great demand.”
The Philippines is one of the world’s producers of metallic commodities. In 2010, our country became the third biggest producer of nickel ore, behind Russia and Indonesia, vaulting over Australia and Canada.
According to Paje, the country’s mining industry “has been the subject of intense scrutiny by major sectors of Philippine society, such as local government units, civil society organizations and religious organizations.”
All these can be attributed to the “past and current experiences on the negative impacts of mining on the environment and host communities.” Because of this, “the industry continues to labor under the stigma of its ‘sins of the past.’
“This is aggravated by indiscriminate mining practices, and the lack of a unified information campaign to address misconceptions about mining,” Paje said.
There are several ways of mining – surface, underground, and open-pit, to name a few. Of these, I am familiar with open-pit as I had been to Hibbing, Minnesota, which was built on the rich iron ore of the Mesabi Iron Range. At the edge of the city is the largest open-pit iron mine in the world – the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine.
“Open-pit mining is perhaps the most common mining method due to its relatively low cost.” Explains the book, Mining: Legal Notes and Materials. “Open-pit mining entails the removal of any overburden in order to expose the mineral deposit. This operation is dependent on the type of overburden. In cases where the overburden consists of highly consolidated rock, blasting (explosives) is used.”
Open-pit mining has been in the news lately as the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of South Cotabato lifted the open-pit mining ban in the Environment Code of South Cotabato. As such, it has paved the way to large-scale mining operations in the province, including the controversial Tampakan Mining Project (TMP) of the Sagittarius Mines Incorporated (SMI).
Tampakan is approximately 65 kilometers north of General Santos. The project is reportedly situated on the boundaries of four provinces, namely: South Cotabato, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, and Davao del Sur.
The Sustainable Davao Movement (SDM) called for a veto on the lifting of the ban. “The undue haste,” it said, “betrays the spirit of public consultation and genuine commitment to environmental protection.”
The SDM said public consultations – and position statements – have raised some concerns. First, the impact on water supply and agricultural productivity, and food security. It explains: “(The project) exposes the river system networks and watersheds (on which irrigation, agriculture and the indigenous and local community’s water supply rely), to clear and present danger.”
Another is “the fate and future of the indigenous peoples, those who will be directly displaced and the generations to come who will have no ancestral land to return to.” An approximately 1,000,000 population from 16 municipalities will be affected, SDM stated.
Lastly, “the denudation of vast tracts of forest when Mindanao is down to 6% of its original forest cover.” In its press release, SDM said the Tampakan mining area covers three major watersheds (Padada River, Catisan Allah Valley River, and Marbel River) which cover nearly one million hectares.
“Watersheds are geographical ecological units, and what happens in one part of the watershed will influence the whole watershed from forests, agricultural, urban, and coastal to estuarine ecosystems due to its geomorphological characteristics, connected rivers and tributaries at the surface, and including groundwater reserves,” explained Interfacing Development Interventions for Sustainability (IDIS), another environmental group.
IDIS said that the project “will demand and use groundwater resources and transport highly toxic wastewater through a 150-km pipe from Malalag draining to Davao Gulf. There is a treatment process presented, however, the risks of overland flow, flooding disasters, or possible collapse of tailings ponds will inevitably impair marine and aquatic biodiversity, fish stocks, and aquaculture in the coastal areas…”
“A valid objection is that mining operations sometimes leave the local population with little residual benefit after the mining operation,” wrote Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ, in his Manila Bulletin column.
“This is not true in most cases as, for example, the Baguio area mining,” he pointed out. “If not for the mines, tourism could not have developed Baguio as it is now. But many of the local people are still poor. This is not because of mining but because of the sharing system.
“Why let the mining companies take away all the gravy and leave the community in poverty? This is a problem of community administration and legislation, not of the extraction of minerals from the mountains,” Fr. Barcelon stated.
“We do not need carpetbaggers,” the Catholic priest further said. “We want responsible miners who are willing to give a fair share of the harvest to the community. We need jobs. We need wealth creation. We need mine. We need responsible mining as well as vigilant communities. We do not need blanket prohibitions.
“We do not need environmentalists who cry for the welfare of future generations but are blind to the problems of the jobless in the present. We do not need foreigners who think of vast lands where they come from and can afford to waste resources. We must husband every resource that we have so we do not have to go to distant lands to find work.”