02/01/2006, 00.00
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Bishops of the Philippines: the current mining system "destroys life"

According to the Bishops' Conference, multinationals controlling mining are damaging the environment with no benefit to the population.  In a document criticizing the Arroyo government, the bishops call for immediate change.

Manila (AsiaNews) – In a document released on January 29, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines energetically attacked the country's mining system and called for the interests of the population to prevail over those of multinational companies.  This warning is seen as a criticism of the government which is favourable to maintaining current policies.

According to the bishops, the current system allows "the interests of big mining corporations to prevail over people's rights."  "We believe that the Mining Act destroys life", by taking natural resources away from the population and allowing for massive environmental damage.

The Bishops' Conference is contesting President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's "Mining Revitalization Program", which foresees an increase in mining tenements that "have encroached into 17 important biodiversity areas, 35 areas of national conservation priority areas, and 32 of national integrated protected areas. The promised economic benefits of mining by these transnational corporations are outweighed by the dislocation of communities especially among our indigenous brothers and sisters, the risks to health and livelihood and massive environmental damage."  In fact, "mining areas remain among the poorest areas in the country", also because mining companies destroy "the cultural fabric of indigenous peoples."  Previous environmental disasters "belie all assurances of sustainable and responsible mining that the Arroyo administration is claiming."

Pollution is a very topical question in the Philippines today.  In October 2005, a mining company spilled waste containing cynide (used in gold mining), killing fish in the waters surrounding Rapu-Rapu Island, 380 km south-east of Manila, leaving over 3000 families without means of sustenance.  In 1996, millions of tons of mine waste spilled into a river on central Marinduque Island, creating an environmental disaster.

The bishops' document calls for the government to halt its plans to award new mining concessions and to immediately revoke authorizations granted to major foreign companies.

Alarmed industries responded immediately; the Chamber of Mines said the country risked loosing foreign investment and jobs.

Growth in the mining sector is an important element of President Arroyo's economic policy which aims to generate 240,000 new jobs in 6 years and mineral exports for a value of $US 7 billion dollars annually.  The Phillipines' foreign debt amounts to over 75 billion dollars.  The government says the country has trillion of unexplored mineral deposits.  The 1995 Mining Act allows 100 percent foreign ownership local mining projects, compared to the 40 percent previously allowed.  Experts say this gives foreign multinationals full control over the industry.

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