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Duterte should ban open pit mining permanently

Ed JavierFormer Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez is not rolling over following the recommendation last week of inter-agency Mining Industry Coordinating Council (MICC) to lift her ban on open pit mining in the country.

The feisty environmentalist refuses to keep quiet on the issue that she fought tooth and nail to implement during her term as Environment Secretary.

We hope Gina’s faith in President Duterte is justified as she pointed out in an interview that he “follows the pulse of the people” on the mining issue.

Let me just say it plainly: “President Duterte should ban open pit mining permanently.”

As Lopez points out, open-pit mining puts the safety of host communities at risk.

In fact, affected communities have not fully recovered, including Marinduque Island, where mine waste leaked into rivers in the mid 1990s. The island still has to recover environmentally, and economically.

What is open pit mining and why does it have such a negative impact in the environment?

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) website article describes open pit mining thus:

“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.”

No wonder landscapes are transformed into horrible circular hellish open pits. Almost like the visualization of Dante’ s Inferno. Where flora and fauna used to thrive, lifeless, poisoned craters are what remain after the miners leave.

And it is not just the barren landscape. The MIT article says that environmental hazards are present during every step of the open-pit mining process.

Hardrock mining exposes rock that when crushed expose radioactive elements, asbestos-like minerals, and metallic dust.

It points out that 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.

The President should just look at what happened in the aftermath of the Marcopper Mining tragedy in Marinduque province and the Philex Padcal mine leak in Benguet. These disasters have various far-reaching environmental and economic consequences.

A quick research disclosed that the Boac River is dead. The marine life there has all but completely disappeared. Fishermen lost their livelihood.

A fracture in the drainage tunnel of a large pit containing leftover mine tailings led to a discharge of toxic mine waste into the Makulapnit-Boac river system and caused flash floods in areas along the river.

One village, Barangay Hinapulan, was buried in six feet of muddy floodwater, causing the displacement of thousands of people.

In the case of Philex Padcal mines, we recall that at the height of the southwest monsoon season a few years ago, the tailings pond of its mine in Itogon, Benguet gave way.

Dubbed as the “biggest mining disaster in the country”, the leakage dumped 20 million metric tons of mine wastes into nearby water channels. One of the hardest hit was the San Roque dam on Agno River.

The dam provides significant benefits in the North Luzon economic growth quadrangle.

For one, it provides year-round irrigation to more than 700 square kilometers of farmland in the provinces of Pangasinan, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija.

The dam also helps reduce floods brought about by the overflow of the Agno River. It likewise improves the quality of water in the lower Agno River by trapping sediments caused by erosion from sources like mining.

The DENR ordered Philex mining to pay a fine of P1.034 billion, is that it? Experts say that that amount is peanuts compared to the damage done to our environment.

Who will be held accountable for the possible power shortage due to the dam’s reduced hydroelectric power generation capacity?

Who will be answerable for the loss of year-round irrigation benefits emanating from the dam to farmlands in Luzon? Worse, the water itself could already be contaminated by mine tailings causing health hazards to consumers.

Who can we blame if the San Roque dam fails to mitigate floods with the overflow of the Agno River?

No wonder Gina Lopez says the country is not yet ready for open pit mining to resume.

The MICC has recommended, “to lift the ban provided that mining laws, rules and regulations are strictly enforced.”

We are afraid that the former mining executives who are now members of the MICC are wrong on this. What is the difference between now and when the Marcopper and Philex Mining Disasters took place. Are we supposed to just put our trust in the “system” just like years ago?

As Lopez vehemently points out, government is required by the Constitution to ensure mining “should not adversely affect present and future generations od Filipinos.”

She further said, “ Why will we allow for any more new pits when we haven’t even proven we can do it?”

We agree with her.

And yet we are not losing hope. Miracles could still happen, MICC recommendation notwithstanding.

After all, it was only last September that President Duterte said that he agreed with Lopez that open pit mines should be banned because of the damage they do to the environment.

Protect the future generations Mr. President. They’re pinning their hopes on you.

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