This introductory article was written for Corporate Watch by activists from the Stop Mining Network, a new eco-defence project in the Phillipines aimed at spreading information about the destructive mining projects in the country, building solidarity with communities of resistance and supporting their struggles against this little-known corporate encroachment.
The mining industry is one of the biggest industries in the world. In every part of the world where there are minerals – in Canada, the United States, Australia, Asia, Japan and Norway and many parts of Europe – mining companies compete to exploit natural resources for profit. Consequently, this has lead to the horrendous destruction of the Earth’s biosphere. Life support systems, such as water forests and wildlife, are destroyed everyday in the interests of these companies and their shareholders.
In addition, local people’s livelihoods are destroyed in the process. Farmers, fisher folk and indigenous tribes end up being harassed, bribed and displaced. People have even been killed when they attempted to seriously oppose a mining operations in their region.
Mining is a vital industry for techno-industrial societies. Throughout the centuries, people from different corners of the globe mined for different kinds of minerals which they used in their daily lives. However, the advent of neo-liberal capitalism has made the mining industry more powerful and tyrannical. In just a few hundred years, the industry has brought tragedy to various countries and regions. It has destroyed the planet’s biosphere, including wildlife, affecting farmers, fishermen, indigenous people, and causing the degradation of the last remaining forests, rivers and oceans of the world, which have existed for millions of years.
Mining in the Philippines started in the pre-colonial period. In a number of regions in the archipelago, indigenous communities mined for gold, copper and many other minerals. Natives from all over the Philippines used gold, pearls, agate, and so on, for body ornaments. Gold was also bartered, through the Arab world, with merchants all over Asia and Europe in the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods. It is noted that many merchants from Luzon (Northern Philippines), Brunei and Jolo traveled continually all throughout Mindanao in search of slaves and gold.
The first commercial mine in the Philippines was in Benguet, in Central Luzon, established by the Benguet Mining Corporation. The Spanish colonisers took advantage of whatever mineral resources they could get. In fact, gold was the main reason why Spain colonized the Philippines, mainly for their so-called Royal Service. They even made a law, called Inspeccion de Minas, to inspect the existence of minerals in the archipelago.
It was the Americans, however, who made strategic steps to exploit the minerals of the Philippines. They did a geological survey, which validated the Philippines as a mineral-rich country, and issued Act 468, a law that basically gave the government the right to reserve mineral lands for its own purposes. They claimed a number of areas as “reserved areas” for future mining, hence the commercialization of the Benguet gold mining.
In the year 1914 in the south, Surigao and other parts of the Caraga region were declared as an “iron reserved” area for future mining. By then, the mining industry in the Philippines was on its way to boom and the Commonwealth US government took more hold of it, forming a Mining Bureau to regulate all potential operations in the future.
Up till 1921, there was no large scale mining but many were making a living from small-scale gold mining. Between 1933 and 1941, gold was the dominant and most important mineral in the mining industry.
Under the tyranny of the Japanese, Filipinos in many regions of the country were coerced into mining for metals to be used for war weapons in Japanese imperialism. This paved the way for further commercialisation, exploitation and degeneration of the Philippines. Large-scale copper mining reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. By the late 80s, world demand for copper decreased in favour of gold. However, a number of gold mining companies closed down in that period because of law violations and so gold mining went into decline.
With the help of the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the neo-colonized Philippines was again coerced to adjust its economic policies to adhere to neo-liberal policies. By 1994, pro-development politicians, such as Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, lobbied for a Mining Bill which would later become the Republic Act 7942 or the Philippine Mining Act of 1995. This law basically gives power over land, resources and life to corporations; many areas became mining hot spots.
By 1996, the Philippine mining industry got back on track, allowing offshore companies to operate fully in the ‘reserved areas’ – a disaster for a number of places in the Philippines. In March 1996, the Marcopper tunnel in Marinduque collapsed. In rough estimation, 1.6 million cubic meters of mine tailings flowed from the mine pit to the Makulapnit and Boac river, trapping 4,400 people in 20 villages. The government declared the Boac river officially dead. The disaster caused massive siltation in downstream communities and coastal areas.
Among the tragedies that happened in 1998 is the Malangas Coal Corporation case in Zamboanga Del Sur, Mindanao, where an explosion occurred in the mine site, killing almost a hundred workers and injuring 35 people. In 2004, another disaster took place in Surigao Del Norte, Mindanao. This time it was caused by one of the largest and longest-standing mining corporations in the Philippines, the Manila Mining Corporation (MMC). Three disastrous incidents occurred, where approximately five million cubic meters of waste materials containing high levels of mercury were released, damaging local people’s agricultural lands and temporarily poisoning the adjacent Placer Bay.
Today, 20 large-scale mining operations, 10 medium-scale and more than 2,000 non-metallic small-scale mining operations exist in the Philippines. Yet, hundreds of mining applications are pending to prey on what’s left of the country’s resources.