By Lina Sagaral Reyes
Second of four parts
GOVERNMENT and mining industry officials push for reforms in the implementation of the mandatory Social Development and Management Program of mining corporations for communities affected by their operations. But most of their recommendations sidestep the necessity to ensure the inclusion of disadvantaged sectors like the Mamanwa, one of the indigenous peoples of Surigao del Norte.
From the air-conditioned office of the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines in Pasig City, executive director Ronald Rex Recidoro could be heard ruminating over the relationship built by mining companies and the indigenous peoples (IPs) in whose mineral-rich ancestral lands, projects of member-companies are located.
Speaking to Gold Star Daily over the phone, lawyer Recidoro asked, his voice crackling thin over the phone lines: “Are we (mining companies) forcing our idea of development on the IPs? Baka kaya di sila pumapansin sa mga projects (could it be that they’re ignoring projects) like schools because these are not what they want?
“We can build the best schools but still the IPs won’t attend classes. We hear of stories of very high attrition rates in schools even where IP learning systems are taught.”
He asked again, as though thinking aloud, “What is development really? What kind of development do we see for these people?”
Meanwhile, Dr. Erlinda Burton, cultural anthropologist and curator at the Xavier University Museum of Mindanao Cultures here, sees the need for a master development roadmap that harmonizes the plans of all mining companies engaging with the Mamanwa in Claver.
Aside from Taganito Mining Corp. (TMC), these companies could include Platinum Group Metals Corp., Adnama Mining Co., all mining for limonite and saprolite nickel ore; and Taganito THPAL Nickel Corp., a nickel processing plant which TMC supplies with low-grade limonite ore.
“I would like to know what the projects of the mining companies are. Are these integrated and related to one another?” said Dr. Burton.
“I would like to see the mining companies getting together with the Mamanwa to create an integrated master plan, and they should have consulted anthropologists and other academic experts who can help, also including development workers and NGOs (non-government organizations) in order to fully develop the potentials of the Mamanwa,” she added.
At present, each of these mining companies engages with the Asosasyon sa Madazaw nga Panaghiusa nan mga Mamanwa sa Taganito ug Urbiztondo (Ampantrimtu), an association of Mamanwa of Taganito and Urbiztondo.
Recidoro also mentioned the need to bring in development experts and to capacitate everyone, from the MGB personnel and the company staff to the IP leaders, on sustainable development principles and concepts to enable them to provide a qualitative assessment of the SDMP impact through the years. He noted that monitoring and review had been limited to reporting compliance.
Fifteen among the 26 large metallic mining projects that participated in the Philippine Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI) in 2015 and 2016 are members of the COMP who had engaged with the IPs in the conduct of the Free and Informed Prior Consent (FPIC), a decision-making and consensus-building process mandated by law to protect the rights of IPs and give them a voice on matters affecting them. Most of these projects are based in Mindanao, particularly in Caraga.
In the EITI database, the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) lists 191 Mineral Production Sharing Agreements (MPSAs) given Certificates of Precondition, certifying that the mining companies concerned have engaged IPs in the FPIC process. Of these, 45 are in Caraga, 29 in Palawan, and 22 in Region 11.
According to Recidoro, the ideas he has put forth, alongside those of others, could form part of a law amending Chapter 10 of the Mining Law of 1995, which deals with social development in mining communities.
While the provisions in the Mining Act of 1995 are in general terms, the latest Department Administrative Order (DAO) from the NCIP on the FPIC process gives more powers to IPs. Yet according to Anton Miguel Ragos, researcher at non-government think tank Action for Economic Reforms, mining companies still have discretionary powers over the SDMP and implement it directly, spending its own allotments.
Recidoro of the COMP wants the previous powers of mining companies to have a say over the IP royalties back.
“We are hobbled by the law; we cannot do more than release the funds,” he said. “An administrative order like the one issued as IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the Mining Act is only temporary.
“It is best to amend the law to make the provisions more permanent. The DAO is only enforceable in dealing with MGB and mining companies, but it has no legal effect on the local government units,” he added.
His call for an amendment to the Mining Act of 1995 signals a shift from his earlier stance that the 22-year-old law does not need to be amended, thus he, on behalf of Comp, opposed the Alternative Minerals Management Bill (AMMB) in the 16th and 17th Congress.
This time, Recidoro thinks that the local governments, the host municipalities and the barangays, are key players in making the SDMP impactful and sustainable, since these local governments identify and push for the projects in their localities.
Yet, still Recidoro’s suggestions do not address the issue of the exclusion of the IPs, as what happened to the Mamanwa in the TMC’s Social Development and Management Plan (SDMP).
But neither do the framers of the radical AMMB, that Comp had opposed, have the foresight to anticipate and prevent the Mamanwa’s anomalous predicament.
Entitled “An Act to Regulate the Rational Exploration, Development and Utilization of Mineral Resources, and to Ensure he Equitable Sharing of Benefits for the State, Indigenous People and Local Communities, and for Other Purposes,” three identical versions of the bill was separately filed by Reps. Kaka Bag-ao (HB 54), Teodoro Baguilat and Lawrence Fortun (HB113), and Tomasito Villarin (HB2366) in the Lower House and by Sen. Risa Hontiveros in the Senate at the start of the 17th Congress in 2016.
In Chapter 9 (Development of Communities, Science and Technology) of the AMMB, a provision has been added that says: “… Community development projects shall in no way decrease the obligations of the corporation with regard to royalties and fees due to communities and local government units.”
However, the Mamanwa’s plight is the reverse: their having received royalties due them appears to have excluded them from the community development projects.
Meanwhile, in Surigao City, Roger de Dios, MGB regional director for Caraga, agrees with Recidoro. He acknowledged the vast powers of the barangay officials of host and neighboring communities in setting the agenda of the SDMP roadmap.
“The mining companies listen to them and cater to their perceived needs. They cannot say no to their requests because they (local officials) might delay approval of company annual permits and make it difficult for the company to operate and be acceptable to the communities.”
He believes, like TMC’s senior community relations officer Judy Ubiztondo, that the exclusion of the Mamanwa in the two cycles of the TMC-SDMP could not have happened without the approval, if not recommendation, of the concerned barangays, which stand to gain at least eight percent more of the funds allotted to IPs in the previous cycles. Without the projects for the IPs, more funds are available for the taking by the barangay local governments.
Like Urbiztondo, de Dios thinks it is to the interest of “equitable sharing of resources” that the Mamanwa leave the SDMP to the barangays as the royalties that they get from four mining companies are more than enough for their relatively small community of less than a thousand individuals in more or less 200 households.
De Dios insists, however, that there is no MGB policy to exclude the Mamanwas or any IP group from the SDMP. He recommended that Ampantrimtu be placed back on the SDMP on-demand.
But Anton Miguel Ragos of the Action for Economic Reforms, in a study on the SDMP for Bantay Kita, said “the current (SDMP) system lacks legal safeguards against the possibility of deliberate exclusion of perceived critical stakeholders,” particularly IPs from consultations on the SDMP formulation.
Bantay Kita is a coalition of civil society groups pushing for transparency and accountability in the extractive sector.
Even the revised IRR on SDMP issued in 2013 also does not penalize the exclusion of a disadvantaged or vulnerable groups like the IPs. Only mining companies who do not submit and/or implement their SDMPs are fined. And only at a minimal fine of P5,000 per year of violation.
In 2016, de Dios instituted reforms in the regional SDMP guidelines toimprove the implementation of the SDMP beyond compliance, particularly in prioritizing enterprise and human resource development. He called in development experts, as provided for in the revised guidelines under DAO 2010-13.
“We had scrutinized the livelihood projects and found out that these are mere palliatives and had no long-term effect on poverty alleviation,” he noted, citing projects like “beauty culture,” pedicure, manicure, livestock dispersal, welding, tocino-making.
“These are not sustainable in the long-term. Even infrastructure were too luxurious. Barangays end up with huge gymnasiums that become white elephants. Now, infra must be integrated into livelihood programs,” he said.
Taking a cue from the DAO 2010-13, he urged mining companies to develop livelihood projects for groups, particularly cooperatives.
He saw the need to change the SDMP regional guidelines as he sought support from government development agencies like the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
The Neda presented to MGB-13 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority and the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Listahanan 2015, which showed that poverty incidence was high in areas where mining communities are located, said Emmanuel Gidacan, a senior staff at Neda-Caraga.
Listahanan 2015, otherwise known as the National Household Targeting System for Poverty Reduction (NHTS-PR), is an information management system that seeks to provide national government agencies, among other social protection actors, with information on who and where the poor are in the Philippines.
Gidacan noted that poverty incidence in Caraga in2016 was at 51.9 percent, highest in Agusan del Sur at 61.94, but Surigao del Norte, where the mining town of Claver is located, stands lower at 47.58 percent.
“By 2016, around P600 million yearly was spent for the SDMP, and previously more than P400 million a year in 2014 and 2015, respectively; but it was not making a dent at all,” said de Dios.
The estimates were taken by consolidating the previous year’s operating costs of mining companies, a report of which is submitted within 30 days from the end of every year.
De Dios is well aware of the inadequacy of MGB’s staff to assess SDMP impact, prompting him to ask for technical support from Neda, DTI and DSWD. “We lack expertise in determining which programs are effective as our staff are mostly engineers,” he said. He said 34 more staff
are needed at MGB-13. “The workload is tremendous but this immediate need has been overlooked in the MGB plantilla rationalization program,” he said.
“We have to monitor more than half of the country’s operating mines that are in the region. We lack personnel and we lack expertise.”
He agrees with Recidoro about the need for more capacity-building training for MGB and the community relations staff of mining companies so that monitoring will go beyond quantitative compliance and submission of reports.
This gap was pointed out in the first EITI report, which came out in 2014 (covering the fiscal year 2012). The report noted that “there is no concrete indication that the implementation of the five-year SDMP program of the extractive companies is strictly and diligently monitored by the agency (MGB).”
The third part of this series tackles the woes of educating the next generation of the Mamanwa and the side of Taganito Mining Corp. in the controversy regarding its exclusion of the tribe from its social development program funds. (to be continued)
(This four-part series was funded under the Covering the Extractive Industries fellowship program of the Philippine Press Institute in partnership with the Philippine Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative.)