By Miguel Rodrigo
The clergy and the mining industry have oftentimes taken diametrically opposed sides on the issue of mining in Mindanao, so recent statements made by some prelates declaring qualified support for large-scale mining have caught many by surprise, shock and disbelief, to mention but a few of the wide gamut of reactions to their pronouncements.
Retired Jesuit Priest Emeterio J. Barcelon, S.J., for one, clarified recently that the Catholic Church is not against mining.
In that interview, Fr. Terry said the Catholic Church is not against mining and that a third of all the bishops in the country are for responsible mining.
Responsible Mining has been defined as honoring people’s rights, building sustainable communities, supporting the local and national economy, promoting good governance, practices transparency, respects indigenous peoples and protects the environment.
Fr. Terry further noted how the potential of mining to address poverty and unemployment, among other social ills in the country, has been severely constrained by the continued opposition of some clergy against it. Which is really a pity, considering mining’s enormous potential to prevent the exodus of Filipinos seeking jobs abroad and unraveling the social fabric of society by breaking up families.
Take for instance, the Tampakan Copper-Gold Project which reportedly contains the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in Southeast Asia. Once developed, the mine could be the largest in the Philippines and among the largest copper mines in the world. Current estimates indicate it could yield an average of 375,000 tons of copper and 360,000 ounces of gold per year over its estimated 17-year economic life.
It is estimated that the project would contribute an average of one percent of the annual gross domestic product for the Philippines, provide around 10,000 jobs during construction, and another 2,000 during its operation.
Fr. Terry has a hands-on experience with the mining industry, having previously been involved with the management of Benguet Corporation, one of the country’s oldest mining companies.
He noted how the reported opposition to mining of some members of the Catholic Church who have allegedly strongly lobbied with the provincial government to pass an environment code banning open-pit mining in the entire province last year, could be based on archaic impressions about mining technology.
In fact, the retired Jesuit prelate who has occupied top executive positions in two of the order’s top universities in Mindanao stressed that open-pit mining is a safer method (for extracting minerals). He further noted how it only takes a year with modern mining technologies to rehabilitate a mining area as big as 300 hectares.
A pastor of one the largest evangelical groups in the Philippines with a roster of 2,917 local churches all over the country concurs.
Pastor Ben Barnuevo, South Central Mindanao Ministry Director and South Mindanao District Minister for the Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches of the Philippines (CAMACOP) further confirmed the Catholic Church as a whole is not against mining, citing Biblical teachings on responsible development of minerals like iron and copper.
Pastor Ben believes the South Cotabato Catholic Church just needs to be assured modern responsible mining exists and has recommended a review of the environment code and expressed his willingness to participate in the review to update the Catholic Church’s views to the modern concept of responsible mining.
Although the code has yet to take full effect pending the required publication of its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), the provincial government has reportedly stopped processing new applications for quarrying permits. The Tampakan project is the biggest project to be affected by the ban, which has also frozen a proposed coal mine project in Tboli, and the local quarrying industry in South Cotabato.
Citing not only the local but even further the potential benefits arising from the global impact of the Tampakan project, Pastor Ben stressed that all stakeholders are obliged to ensure that responsible mining is practiced and observed in South Cotabato.
Not the least, former Davao Archbishop and president of the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Msgr. Fernando Capalla is upbeat on increasing corporate awareness to care for their stakeholders which demonstrate genuine concern and compassion for the workers and the communities in which they do business.
Msgr. Capalla believes developers and miners should make the complete development of the human person their priority, and view development from various perspectives, from the people they will be working with, as well as the beneficiaries of their development projects.
With its focus on honoring people’s rights, building sustainable communities, supporting the local and national economy, promoting good governance, practicing transparency, respecting indigenous peoples and protecting the environment, responsible mining represents a development paradigm which is just that.