Wednesday, January 31, 2007

OPINION: “Deportation Gag” by Juan Mercado

The Bureau of Immigration hasn’t explained, up to now, why it barred an Irish Catholic priest who co-authored a devastating report on the mining industry, from re-entering the Philippines early January.

“It’s the prerogative of a sovereign country to exclude aliens,” mumbled Immigration regulation chief Gary Mendoza after agents denied entry to 52-year old Father Frank Nally. The Justice Department didn’t reveal why it ordered Nally to fly out, he added. Anyway, government is not duty bound to explain to a person why he landed on the blacklist.

No? We have diplomatic relations with Dublin. And what about reciprocal treatment for Filipino overseas workers? They’re flooding into a country that’s among the top five in the European Union today. And we have diplomatic relations with Dublin.

Equally important is the arbitrariness. Filipino taxpayers ask: how does a Catholic scholar, who heads the prestigious Columban Justice and Faith group in Britain, end up, on the same list, as Al’Qaeda or Abu Sayyaf operatives?

And why?Because Father Nally co-authored “Mining in the Philippines: Concerns and Conflicts”. That’s why. This is a 61-page report on the July-August 2006 fact finding mission led by the former UK Secretary of State for Overseas Development Clare Short. Prepared in cooperation with National University of Ireland and Philippine Indigenous People’s Link, that study is rocking government with its findings. Mining has a shoddy historical track record.

The Philippines is among “the worst countries in the world with regard to tailings, dam failures,” UN Environmental Programme records show. It has a legacy of 800 abandoned mines.

The Catholic Bishops Conference, in January 2006, skewered mines in Albay, Palawan, Nueva Vizcaya, South Cotabato, Zamboanga del Norte and Marinduque for massive ecological damage.

“I have never seen anything so systematically destructive as the mining program in the Philippines,” begins Member of Parliament Clare Short. “The environmental effects are as catastrophic as are the effects on the people’s livelihoods.

Government and mining companies should be challenged to demonstrate that (they will) adhere to their own laws and international mining best practice.She flayed the World Bank and the EU for spurring destructive mining.

EU’s “development interventions are failing in the Philippines to live up to (it’s declared) standards: protection of the rights of indigenous peoples and a strong commitment to sustainable development.

The investor community must behave more responsibly in their investment decisions in the Philippines.”

Would that qualify the Honorable Short for this blacklist too? Who draws up that list anyway? Who can scrub names from it? Is there an appeal or review process in what is basically a secret drill? “(We) recognize the external pressures on the Philippines as a deeply-indebted country to generate foreign investments,” the main report goes on to say. (But) the emphasis on export-driven mining” could diminish development prospects.

“Contrary to recommendations of the ‘Extractive Industries Review’, many of the proposed new mining sites are in areas of conflict, including Mindanao. Government should consider repealing the 1995 Mining Act, enact alternative legislation, as well as create a separate Department of Mines, Hydrocarbons and Geo-sciences.

The Philippines is one of 17 mega-biodiversity countries. But it is also a geo-hazard hotspot, whip lashed by typhoons, landslides, volcanoes, etc.It’s environmental stability is already under threat”, raising doubt whether it can meet the eight Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

“Government must therefore exercise extreme caution in authorizing large-scale mining projects.”

The books are relatively strong laws to protect indigenous peoples and communities. But these are honored more in breach than in practice. Mining in vital watersheds is approved. By law, indigenous people must give their free, prior, informed consent (FPIC) before any project starts within their ancestral lands.

But “this consent is often obtained through misinformation, misrepresentation, bribery and intimidation.”

Government agencies…are failing to fulfill their mandate to protect indigenous people’s rights. Many “view the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples as siding with mining companies”. Government should “end the contradictory practice of allowing mining companies to assert prior rights claims over ancestral land. And the Philippine Senate should ratify ILO Convention 169.

“Human rights abuses and misreporting are clearly associated with some current mining activities…” Companies should publish details of payments, taxes and royalties in accordance with the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative.

"Corruption is a serious problem. Plans for extensive mining operations in remote areas will make it worse. And those in government and international agencies seem to lack the capacity or inclination to challenge and end such misconduct.”

Consider setting up a Mining Ombudsman, the report suggests.The team doubts the benefits claimed, by mining companies, in exchange for incentives. “Once revenues are offset against costs – in particular, the environmental costs – the net gain will be far lower than that claimed, by companies and promoters of mining in government.”

In addition, “the country may be left with clean-up costs that run into billions of dollars.” In 1892, the Spanish colonial government sentenced Jose Rizal to destiero in Dapitan, to muzzle his truth-telling. That exile failed. And deporting, in 2007, a scholar who questioned this country’s mining industry, will flop. It will only embed abuses that sell Filipinos short. (Mindanao Examiner)

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