April 23, 2018, 8:05 am
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The MIT on open pit mining

It is to the credit of the former environment secretary that what is perhaps the most destructive form of ravaging that our precious planet experiences remains banned in the Philippines despite the millions of lobby money, the wielding of brazen political influence and patronage, and the numerous killings of innocent upland indigenous people simply defending their right to live peacefully with the mother earth that sustains them and which they mutually nurture. 

The typical imageries of predatory business foisted on innocents was only recently resurrected when presidential spokesman Harry Roque announced the declaration that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its militant arm, the New People’s Army (NPA) are official terrorist organizations.

In the question and answer forum that followed   Roque’s announcement one discerning reporter asked how the declaration by the president impacted on various groups that are either directly related or indirectly supportive of the CPP and the NPA.

What would immediately come to mind from the question are those militant groups, both transport and labor, constantly challenging the government either through wildcat strikes, work stoppages, marches, caravans or simply by sowing anarchy in the streets.

The declaration not only affects groups identified as fronts for the CPP and NPA, but also legitimate, non-militant enterprises that support terrorist organizations. In a previous forum the president identified those groups that support the CPP and the NPA to include mining companies in the remote hinterlands that fund terrorism through payments of huge amounts of money. The funding is known and labeled as “Revolutionary Taxation”, “Protection Money”, tithes, donations and other non-book expenses.

Given the millions earned by mining conglomerates and their funding of terrorism that Secretary Roque’s announcement resurrects, it compels us to review the ongoing debate on a mining activity that not only earns the most revenues but, on scale alone, would have the most funds channeled to off-book expenses.

Former Secretary Regina  Lopez of the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) had tackled the open pit mining debate with what critics had all-too readily albeit inaccurately branded as inordinate if not profuse passion overwhelming the technical, scientific and commercial aspects. Admittedly, passion was indeed a hallmark for the former DENR secretary. But so was honesty, love for her constituencies, patriotism and deep empathy. All traits profoundly absent where mining companies employ private armies to silence the pleas of indigenous people, environmental critics and anyone who gets in their way.

Allow us however to set aside passion and instead dwell on the technical. Allow us to focus on the scientific and engineering aspects of what the former DENR secretary had tried to bring into the environmental equation before a rather vicious multimillion peso public relations and media campaign diverted the endeavor, preferring instead to paint her advocacy as simply personal and passionate.

In the field of technology and engineering the most reputable research and learning institution bar non and primus inter pares is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Founded in 1861, the institute excels in private research in science and engineering focused on industrialization. The institute has produced 88 Nobel laureates and is perhaps one of the best, if not the best university in the world. Its complement of engineers and scientists rival if not best any economy or conglomerate can employ.

Allow us to quote verbatim what the MIT has to say on open pit mining, whether the mining operations are conducted by self-described responsible mining conglomerates that can transform and beautify the irreparable damage they inflict into a visually magnificent albeit artificial landscape, or one that continues to be a gaping infernal cavity on Mother Earth that is not only several hectares-wide but one constantly spewing toxic and fatal effluents into nearby food baskets and fishing waters.

Our bias is obvious and our slip is showing but the following from the MIT is definitive.

“Open pit mining, where material is excavated from an open pit, is one of the most common forms of mining for strategic minerals. This type of mining is particularly damaging to the environment because strategic minerals are often only available in small concentrations, which increases the amount of ore needed to be mined.

Environmental hazards are present during every step of the open-pit mining process. Hardrock mining exposes rock that has lain unexposed for geological eras. When crushed, these rocks expose radioactive elements, asbestos-like minerals, and metallic dust. During separation, residual rock slurries, which are mixtures of pulverized rock and liquid, are produced as tailings, toxic and radioactive elements from these liquids can leak into bedrock if not properly contained.”

Open pit mining continues because of the economic considerations and arguments posited by its practitioners and advocates. Simply put the argument they pose has to do with money. Money in the pockets of those who work the open pit mines and in the pockets of those executives and principals of the mining companies. Invariably, there is also the question of money in the pockets of the foreign principals of mining companies, and money in the pockets of politicians and government officials who support mining.

The debate is prosecuted along all levels from the passionate, to the legal and economic, to the technical. The brief description from the MIT is a formidable argument. Unfortunately, it is typically answered by magnificent and awesome landscaping.
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