March 27, 2017, 8:45 pm
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Killing watersheds, killing life

The simplest, most graphic and perhaps the most eloquent argument against open pit mining is found, not in the voluminous academic dissertations where arguments encompass the spectrum from bludgeoned biodiversity and ravaged ecosystems to the abuse of rights and ancestral domain and the brazen murder of their advocates. It is in a simple satellite photograph of an ongoing mining operation. 

Nothing can be uglier and disturbing. Nothing can be more gruesome and scarier. Indeed nothing shocks as much as a gaping open wound inflicted on Mother Nature, especially when we view the environment under those endearing terms rather than the utilitarian perspective of mining advocates where profit and plus ultra are the principal themes highlighted by screaming exclamation marks that boldly punctuate commercialization and exploitation.

Behind these graphic images of abuse the ever-lengthening litany of criminality underlying the ugliest images are just as horrific. They paint a picture in the darkest and bloodiest tones over an industry that’s profited from the vulnerability and misery of the weakest, the poorest and the most exploited. 

From the violent militarization of peaceful, idyllic and innocent communities to the toxic siltation of farmlands and fishing waters, to recklessly mining atop delicate fault lines and the contamination of ground waters and aquifers that nourish communities, to both the continuing maltreatment and the massacres and heinous killings of indigenous families -- these crimes are shellacked over by questionable economics that says we must pay these prices if we want employment and industrial development.

The sarcasm extends to smart-ass arguments that there will be no cellphones, cars and computers if mining had not existed. There will also be no bullets and bombs. No guns, no gold and no goons - the latter three, essential political weapons wielded by those who now decide the fate of a righteous advocacy.

It is a question of power and money. Unfortunately, money blindsides. The glitter of gold and the sheen of chrome, copper and nickel cast such blinding glares enough to obscure both the eyesight of political animals and the intellect a scant inch behind a politician’s small skull. To complete the hypnotic effect, the incessant pinging of cash registers adds another dimension to monetary temptations that back-burner what are essential.

To be fair, allow us to view what mining’s advocates and beneficiaries see in the immediate vicinity of their political reality as they chorus and refrain economic development while secretly horse-trading away behind closed doors and executive sessions our future.

What are the economic upsides that we should be paying these high prices for the development and employment miners promise?

GDP from mining as of January 2017 was P15 billion. Compare that to agricultural GDP of P174.56 billion. Given that total GDP was $292.45 billion, between an industry that desolates and one that nourishes, agriculture obviously leads to greater economic productivity where returns to capital are higher. Moreover, not only is mining a poor GDP contributor, it ravages agricultural areas which contribute to GDP in exponentially higher degrees.

Mining’s relative contribution to employment is worse. At 0.60 percent or about 236,400 low paying jobs annually, mining’s contribution to equitable and inclusive development relative to its destructive costs, its high capitalization and the fact that its fat profits benefit economies other than ours makes it an altogether bad proposition.

The foregoing are important. More for an economy as vulnerable as ours is and an environment exponentially more fragile and constantly at risk. The differences are stark, almost an issue of black over white, good versus evil, and ultimately, right versus wrong.  More so critical when we consider the millions spent by clandestine interests both as lobby money to deny a good person a good endeavor, and the hidden public relations funding to discredit a qualified public official known for equal amounts of passion, drive, zeal, righteousness and honesty brimming in amounts alien and never-before seen at the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

These are actually understatements to describe DENR Secretary Regina Paz L. Lopez when we array what she brings to the DENR against what’s long infested it. As she would probably have it however, our focus is not on her personality but on her programs and her incredible and novel economic paradigm that should forever remain supported and impassioned by righteous indignation as dark forces continue to vilify both advocate and advocacy as they desperately attempt to perpetuate and inflict on both the economy and the environment gaping ulcers on once pristine earth.

Take the $5.9 billion proposal of one politically influential mining conglomerate to inflict on one of the most pristine areas of our endangered planet a gaping cavity carved over our geographical food basket that will the biggest, deepest and most destructive - a hole so wide it dwarfs several football fields.

Natural watersheds underlie the core of Lopez’s exemplary model of economic development, poverty alleviation and genuine inclusive growth. Hers is not the mining model whose $5.9 billion, should these be optionally invested in educational, medical, or even high-value crop communities might benefit Filipinos a thousand times over the profits earned through domestic taxes, employment of disenfranchised farmers and fisherfolk, and the offshore income earned by foreigners when raw ore is exported. 

Go ahead recompute the GDP contribution arithmetic. Lopez’s area development paradigm, which she presented before a decidedly partisan entity with no other gene than the political absent of DNA that produces the brain and the heart and, in its place, growing instead overly developed testicles and gall, takes us through similar arguments mining companies spin to justify their operations. They talk of employment, poverty, welfare and domestic economics. Skillfully, Lopez founds hers on the same albeit with a slew of other factors that focus primarily on protecting the earth’s watersheds thus catalyzing poverty eradication ab initio rather than as an accident of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.

Captioned under Lopez’s own “Killing watersheds, killing life” her advocacy for watersheds should be ours as well.
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