MANILA, Philippines - This priest calls those who oppose mining as ignorant.
Mining is a vital part of everyday life. Even those who are not connected with the industry use materials that result from mining in their day-to-day activities, said Fr. Emeterio J. Barcelon, SJ, of Milamdec Microfinance Foundation Inc. and of Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan.
In an exclusive interview with Malaya Business Insight, Barcelon said the members of the Church who oppose mining are "hyped by a lot of these international groups who are against mining."
"It is part of Filipino culture to be opposed to everything big. This is a result of us being a colony for 400 years. That is how we think.
But we can change," he said.
Barcelon said there is no Church doctrine that is against mining.
"The idea is that we should take care of what God has provided us, but being against mining is illogical," he said.
Barcelon said the Church has always been positive on mining and that the industry could well lead to the country’s economic salvation.
He said the country needs to create wealth so that its people do not have to leave their families behind in order to find jobs abroad.
Barcelon added that people who are against mining have not thought about their position thoroughly.
"If they oppose something, they should have reasons for it. One of the valid reasons is that when a mining company eventually leaves the area, the poor people are just as poor as before they came," Barcelon said.
"What happens is that they (miners) took away our treasures and left nothing. But that is not the problem of mining. That is a problem of politics," he added.
He said gold lying idle in the mountains does not benefit anybody. Gold has to be extracted "so that it will help people live a decent life," he said.
The 83-year-old Jesuit priest also questioned the way anti-mining advocates propose to "preserve" the environment.
"The Philippines is rich in minerals. Maybe some people want to preserve the natural resources for future generations. But the problem in the Philippines is that why should we preserve our minerals for the future generations when we need these for the present generation," said Barcelon.
Barcelon said he favors open pit mining in South Cotabato, saying the method is much better than deep mining (tunneling).
"First of all, areas in open-pit mining hardly entail 200 hectares. Such sizes can be reforested and rehabilitated quite readily. Mining cannot be compared to logging where thousands of hectares are involved."
"How big is the biggest open-pit mining in the world? Two hundred hectares is only three times as big as our campus (Xavier University Ateneo de Cagayan). It is very, very small. Compared with Cagayan de Oro City, our campus is a grain of sand in an ocean. The footprint of an open pit is small, and it can be rehabilitated once it is finished," he said.
South Cotabato hosts the Tampakan copper-gold project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. The project, when fully operational, is the fifth-largest copper producer in the world and the second-biggest foreign investment in the country at $5.9 billion after the Malampaya gas field.
The project covers 9,460 hectares in 10 barangays in the municipalities of Tampakan, Kiblawan, Columbio, and Malungon in the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Davao del Sur.
The area has estimated resources of 2.4 billion metric tons containing 13.5 million MT of copper and 15.8 million ounces of gold at a 0.3 percent cut-off grade.
SMI, which is 62.5 percent owned by Swiss company Xstrata Copper with Australian Indophil Resources NL as a minority partner, expects commercial operations to start in 2016.
During the lifetime of the project, SMI expects to pay $5.1 billion to the national government in taxes and $300 million to indigenous communities.
During construction and development, Tampakan will employ 7,000 workers. It will have a permanent work force of 2,090 when operational.
Barcelon said while he favors the entry of large mining companies, he makes an exemption in the case of mining in Mt. Diwalwal in Compostela province.
He said that were it not for Diwalwal, the insurgency problem would have been worse.
"If it were not for Diwalwal, we would have a lot more NPAs. This is how the people of Davao survived during those years," said Barcelon, who was first president of Ateneo de Davao in 1977, at the height of the insurgency.(Madelaine D. Cabrera)