■ Mark Verndick Cabading
I remember walking along the beaches of Lingayen when I was in high school. I usually find myself walking alone in the desolated stretch of black sand, save for some trucks exiting an enclosed mining area.
One time, I tried climbing over the concrete walls to see where the trucks usually go, but I was not tall enough to glimpse anything at the time. Since then, it has puzzled me what lies beyond the walls.
I was already in college when the walls were broken down. The trucks stopped coming in, and Xypher Builders, Inc—the mining company which operated inside the wall—was even featured on national television. The trucks carried black sand illegally obtained from our beaches and we did not know it until then. I was already learning the ins and outs of mining as a metallurgical engineering student, yet that was the only time I had my first-hand encounter with the plunders of mining.
That same year, more repercussions of mining were revealed to me as I met the Lumad who travelled from Mindanao to Manila for us to hear their stories—how they are displaced from their ancestral lands to give way for multinational companies, mostly under the mining industry.
Prospecting and Exploitation
When I first entered the university to learn more about the mining industry, I was unaware of its negative social impact. Mining industry is an irony of its own—it recognizes its own potential, yet it presents a hindrance to itself.
The mining industry is full of potential given the country’s geographic location. The Philippines has one of the richest mineral deposits worldwide—fifth in rank with largest nickel deposits, fourth in copper, and third in gold. This potential attracted multinational investors which increased the demand for mining and metallurgical engineers in the country.
The industry has relatively high-paying jobs that attract students to be part of the field. Even the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) reports mining-related jobs as one of the top-paying jobs of 2016.
One of my batchmates, Juicel Taguinod, also entered the Metallurgical Engineering program with a background on mining since she came from Central Luzon where quarrying is actively done. “Tinry ko i-search online and mukhang maganda naman yung mga job offers. Actually, dun talaga ako nahatak, yung income sa future.”
Mining is an essential industry in the Philippines. The department where we came from, UP Department of Mining, Metallurgical, and Materials Engineering (UP-DMMME), serves as the leading institution where most experts in the mining industry come from, and it plays a vital role in promoting and advancing the industry.
In both mining (EM) and metallurgical engineering (MetE), most discussions are devoted to the technical basics of mining and metallurgy.
Mining is a five-stage process that starts with prospecting and exploration or the search for valuable minerals and ores. Development of mining plans comes next. Then, exploitation is done, which is defined as the actual recovery of minerals from the earth.
It occurred to me—the first time I encountered mining was the first time I encountered exploitation in its connotative sense. It is no different with the daily experience of the Lumad who were displaced from their ancestral lands due to the infiltration by multinational mining companies.
The undeniable exploitation of the Lumad necessitated them to take action by leaving their homes for the Lakbayan and register their dissent to be heard out. This is the same struggle that we share, one that I will always carry amidst the contradictions of the mining industry.
Exploitation is highly evident especially in rural regions with rich natural resources. Think-tank IBON Foundation named a few of the biggest mining operations in the country: Taganito Mining Corp. in Surigao, Sagittarius Mines Incorporated in South Cotabato, and TVI Pacific Inc. in Zamboanga del Sur.
The regions hosting these mining activities are one of the poorest in the country, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Caraga has the second highest poverty incidence in the country at 39.1 percent, SOCCSKSARGEN placing fourth at 37.3 percent, and Zamboanga Peninsula at 33.9 percent.
One of the poor families from these areas is the family of Bebe, a Lumad teenager from SOCCSKSARGEN.
We were taught under responsible mining that mining operations in ancestral lands of indigenous people (IPs) are subject to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the IPs, as stated in the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA). However, the FPIC is often violated by mining companies through illegal ways such as treachery and bribery.
Bebe’s experience with IPRA violation was with mining company Alcantara & Sons which infiltrated their area with the help of paramilitary groups. The Alcantaras are known to control the controversial Tampakan Copper-Gold project. The Tampakan mining area, characterized by rainforest, is inhabited by around 5,000 people. Most of them belong to indigenous groups who will need rehabilitation if the project gets to be launched.
The IPs expressed disagreement with the mining project which started on 1995. It has not commenced yet, but there are already three cases of extrajudicial killings in the Tampakan area related to the project.
On the other hand, black sand mining operation by Xypher Builders, Inc. in Lingayen was illegal since Lingayen was declared as an eco-tourism and environmentally-critical area by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Through the complaints filed by anti-mining organization Aro Mo Ako Sambayanan to the Office of the Ombudsman, former Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino Jr. and 13 officials of mining firms were found guilty of graft. This ended the black sand mining operations in Lingayen.
Beyond the Mines
As I went on with my studies, I focused more on how UP shapes me to be a more capable metallurgical engineer. As UP-DMMME states in its mission, we should aim for socially-relevant and exceptional professional services in mining, metallurgical, and materials engineering.
The current curriculum, however, falls short in realizing this mission. The absence of rehabilitation and environmental management classes in the mining and metallurgy program is a challenge for the department to practice what it aims.
‘Mining and Environmental Laws’ for EM students and the basic ‘Principles of Mining’ for MetE students are the only principal courses devoted for the environmental and social impacts of mining. This can be aided by subjects outside the department like the General Education (GE), but the impending GE Reform lessens this opportunity by cutting the required 45 units to 27 units for DMMME students.
National industrialization should also be promoted by the department. Currently, even with existing mining operations, mining has contributed a relatively small portion to the country’s domestic income. It has contributed P30 billion to the P15.8 trillion income of the country, as of the Second Quarter 2017.
The Mines and Geosciences Bureau also indicated that extracted minerals are mostly exported. In 2016, 67 percent, or P118 billion of the P176.3 billion total value of extracted minerals were exported.
The country must break through the dilemma—the widespread exportation of raw materials essential for local production and the absence of developed and expansive metal processing plants in the Philippines.
As a future metallurgical engineer, it does not escape me for a second that I have an obligation to serve the people. With the contradictions in the mining industry, it remains far from realizing its potential to serve the Filipino people.
But as an Iskolar ng Bayan, it is imperative to persist and thrive in the struggle towards giving back to the people—those of my kababayan back in Pangasinan, the Lumad and national minorities from different localities, and those who are exploited by the system that we fight to change. ■
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