Saturday, December 10, 2011

To mine or not to mine

If you ask an ordinary Filipino about mining, you'll get ambivalent opinions about it. Why? Because the average Filipino knows that mining is part of life. It is even part of a country's economic development. Take a look at yourself now. If you're wearing something now, what part of it that did not come from mining? That zipper and those rivets from your jeans came from mining, not to mention, that gold ring that adorns your finger.


The only question is--where did you get yours? I mean, of course, manufacturers of your jeans probably do not even know where their supplier got those copper or brass rivets and zippers. What's important is that, when they need rivets and zippers, it's there for the taking. And credit that to mining.


Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, these lands of ours were mined not just by our ancestors but by Chinese, Japanese, Indonesians, Persians, Indians and even Thais. These lands were open, economic zones. You can mine them since no one owns the lands. 


Because of this, our lands were known as sources of high quality gold. Butuan was one. Mindoro, another. Vast gold fields were explored and exploited. Our ancestors mine our lands for gold, copper and other precious stones and minerals that not just adorn their lives, but also used as trading commodities and even currencies. 


Now, we don't have even a National STeel Corporation that processes our minerals. Mining is such an important component of economic development, yet we simply don't have the processing industry that is supposed to complement such undertaking. Why?


For decades, we allow small mining to destroy our forests, our mountains and our lands. These small miners were the ones who destroy those farm lands. And its understandable because these small miners think that they are not accountable to anyone so, they abuse and disabuse these lands like crazy. They pillage and rape. 


Grease money, yes, it flows rather freely from small miners in exchange for continued exploitation of our lands. DENR allows them because they earn from them. 


I am a friend of Dr. Gerry Ortega, yet, when it comes to mining, I am for responsible mining. And the reason why responsible mining practices never took off in this country because we allow small miners to do their own thing. We, as a nation, have never experienced a large scale mining operations that exercise responsible mining practices. 


Nay, we did. Baguio is one example of a booming mining community. Sadly though, other than Baguio, nada.


Large mining activities were conducted in Baguio. And look at it now. It is bustling with economic activity that benefits millions of lives in the Benguet and Cordilleras. 


Of course, let us also admit that not all areas in the country are open to mining. There should be areas devoted only to agriculture. But to say that that is topmost priority and leave mining behind, is bordering on insanity and lack of vision.


Admit it--there are vast areas in this country that is not suitable for agriculture. Lands with high PH or high acidity are best for mining, not for farming. Are we to say that we will not mine those areas?


There is no industrializing country in the world that did not exploit their own mineral resources to achieve the level of modernity and development they so reap now. 


These countries recognize that although food security is top-most, mining should actually be second-best in terms of priority because mining is essentially a complementary industry to economic development.


We should not be too naive and say, let's reject mining altogether. If we do, we will not progress as a nation and those poor communities will never ever taste modernization. 


Are we to say that let's just continue importing steel, copper, and other minerals when we do have them in abundance here? 


For us to fully develop as a nation, we must recognize that the path towards modernization is littered with risks. One of those risks entails seeing some of our mountains carved for ore.