The very last thing in the minds of sleeping Pantukan, Compostela Valley residents is a landslide greeting them a (not so) happy new year. Fresh from welcoming 2012, they were immediately faced with something that this year usually connected with–disaster.
Pantukan–a town at the foothills of the Diwata Mountain Range, a mineral-rich region in that corner of Mindanao–houses a bustling hamlet inhabited by miners around the country seeking their fortune buried within these very mountains.
Hundreds of miles north of Pantukan, mining activities in the Cagayan river’s watershed and the hydraulic flush mining along the Iponan River were partly blamed by experts for the December 17 flash flood that wrought damage to the city. The dislodged soil from mines flows toward the river and settles on the riverbed, effectively making the river shallower and losing its capability to hold more water in the case of a strong rain.
The recent tragedies in the city and in Pantukan are the latest in a long line of miningrelated accidents that occurred in the Philippines. And there’s been plenty of mining-spawned environmental hazards and accidents already.
Mining in the Philippines: at a glance
Look around. Chances are, you will see a thing that is a product of mining. The metal tip of your ballpen is one example. Same goes for the necklace you wear. Even the pavement you’re stepping on comes from a mining process. It is no doubt, then, that we are reaping the benefits of mining.
The mining and quarrying industry of the Philippines contributes about $1.87 billion (2010) in exports. Leading export partners are Japan, Australia, Canada, and China. The industry employs about 197,000 people. Taxes relating to mining amount to about P9.1 billion (2010).
Due to our location at the Pacific Ring of Fire, we have some of the most extensive deposits of mineral ores in the planet; there is an estimated $840 billion worth of untapped minerals beneath our lands. Deposits of copper, gold, and chromate are among the largest in the world. Also, the seabed at the disputed Spratly Islands is widely believed to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas.
22 large-scale mines are operating in the Philippines, with a yet-determined amount of legal (and illegal) small-scale mines. Two methods of mining are widely practiced by these mines: open pit and underground, though in recent years the hydraulic method has been gaining prominence.
Notable mining mishaps
In the island province of Marinduque, the Marcopper mining accident of 1996 made shockwaves across the country, and even worldwide, as it demonstrated how mismanagement of a mine can kill a community’s livelihood and its surrounding ecology. Toxic mine tailings spilled from the Tapian pit into the Makulapnit and Boac rivers at a rate of 5-10 cubic meters per second. At its aftermath, the spill effectively destroyed fishing in those two rivers and made the Boac River ecologically dead. Residents along the river complained of skin and respiratory problems; in a study made by the Department of Health in 1996, nine people were found to have zinc in their bloodstream being more than 200% above tolerable levels. Closer to home, mineral exploration and mining-related activities have threatened the ecological health of Lake Mainit, the country’s fourth largest lake. Seven mining companies are cleared by the government to explore for minerals for 19,773 hectares of land around the lake. Residents, particularly the Mamanwa tribe (original inhabitants of the area), have protested the presence of these companies as they pose an environmental risk to the lake and its surrounding forests.
Recently, the landslide at Pantukan is a telling example of the threat that the proliferation of mining poses to hillside communities. Strong rains dislodged the soft earth of the hillsides of the mining community at Pantukan. Rocks, soil, and trees crashed toward the miners’ houses at around 3 am, catching sleeping residents entirely by surprise. Destruction was widespread: about 60 houses were buried by feet of mud. As of press time, there are 40 persons confirmed dead with about a hundred more missing.
XU takes a stand
There is growing sentiment against mining recently as the Save Palawan Movement was conceptualized following the murder of environmentalist and journalist Gerry Ortega. Since that incident, the movement has launched a nationwide signature campaign in hopes to convince national and Palawan officials to effectively halt mining operations in the island.
Within XU, a grassroots initiative was spurred by the Kristohanong Katilingban sa Pagpakabana (KKP) in the mining issue. According to KKP Faculty Program Officer Lezlee Escalante, the organization started this initiative last year.
“As far as I know, the initiative against mining, specifically the Save Palawan Movement, last year pa lang gisugdan na gyud siya. Kaning karon nga activities on Save Palawan against mining, and the other initiatives in relation to mining such as the efforts to localize it sa Surigao ug sa Taglimao […] karon siya gitutukan, gihatagan ug attention. […] Our efforts are towards that direction and though maingon nato na medyo minimal pa lang.” Although the movement is in its infancy, it has been active in terms of information dissemination. “There are initiatives like forums, information education campaign. At the same time, we are trying to integrate it in the NSTP alternative classes,” Escalante explains. She adds, “Students have to take a stand on this issue because we have to remember that the world is finite and this world is the only home that we have. And if we do not make a stand, if we do not engage ourselves, if dili ta magpakabana kung unsa gyud ang gakahitabo ani, then I think it’s like saying mura gud ni ang unsa naa sa atoa.”
With every pound of ore extracted from the mines comes pounds of rock blasted, scores of trees cut down, and tons of toxic tailings deposited and taken for granted. Yet, as modernization continues its course, the pressure is on us to find a solution to this before it gets too late. Or we can find ourselves not only digging for gold, but also for our own graves. C