Tuesday, March 06, 2012

iron(y)!

A metal is mined from the ground. For example  Iron was mined and it gave rise to the Iron age when people used iron for making tools rather than bronze. But before that copper was mined first and relatively soft copper allowed people to master metallurgy. It's alloy with tin, bronze was harder and has more uses than copper and it brought forth the Bronze age in human history.

The use of iron came much later.  Iron was softer than bronze but required more advanced "smithy" technologies. However it was in more supply and it replaced the bronze technologies in what historians call the Bronze Age collapse. Homer's "The Iliad" describes metaphorically what this collapse involved.

The mining of minerals surely caused a technological revolution in the time when humans shifted from neolithic hunter gatherer and incipient agriculture to a more permanent agricultural state. And the need for mineral resources grows unabated as we come up with more technologies.

Much of The Philippines literally is a giant part of the mineral rich ocean floor thrust above the water. It is not unexpected that mining companies would be attracted to invest in this extractive industry. After all what attracted the imperialist powers to colonize the islands was really precious metals. A metallurgical tradition has been long in the Philippines where the present day Tagalog language preserves  ancient words to describe the purity of gold and silver. However the big question in today's mining debate is "Who gets the money?"

Opponents of mining raise the examples of environmental degradation and that communities where there has been mining have remained poor. These has basis in fact for in the 20th century this was true especially in colonized Africa. But we have to distinguish between two kinds of mining enterprises, one that focuses on exploration and ones that specialize in investments in mining infrastructure needed for extraction. It is somewhat analogous to a visit to the dentist. The dentist can do "exploration" work on your teeth to find cavities  or do "mining" and extract your tooth. But of course dentists would rather fill in the cavity. A dental exam is less expensive that an extraction than a filling!

In a society which had been 1) imperialistically colonized, 2) has a solid religious allegiance, 3) has an elite that controls much of the nation's wealth, 4) has little or no wealth and economic redistribution and 5) has increasing empowerment of the marginalized sectors  it is not surprising that mining has become a socio-political and even a theological issue. Here is what I call a quintessential STS (science, technology and society) issue. There is the science that has empirically demonstrated that it is indeed possible to remediate mine sites or to even design relatively safe mining workplaces. However to convince society that scientific information alone is enough to sway public opinion is to delude oneself. We need to see the context of science here, for example with religious groups

The Christian churches are against mining because Christian theology has moved from mastering nature theology to stewardship theology. This is no longer fringe since Pope John Paul II had made it one of his theological centerpieces of his papacy in his 1990 World Day of Peace message. The fact that it was read for the World Day of Peace links environmental issues with the issues of peace and redistribution of the fruits of the world's resources. His successor Pope Benedict XVI has even developed this theme further. In the Philippines the Roman Catholic Church, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and the Episcopal Church have been most vocal against mining together with the other smaller Protestant churches.  And BTW JP II is on the road to becoming a saint!

And here  is where Pope JP II zeroes in on mining

"Often, the interests of production prevail over concern for the dignity of workers, while economic interests take priority over the good of individuals and even entire peoples. In these cases, pollution or environmental destruction is the result of an unnatural and reductionist vision which at times leads to a genuine contempt for man."

It is a gross act of ignorance to call these faith positions as "emotional". The theology behind this rests on a nuanced understanding of logical development in Christian thinking. Similarly more secularly oriented environmentalist groups have taken a similar development in ethics along the Christian line.

Of course we should not forget the socio-political historical context of the mining debate.  In fact it is part of the Philippine nationalist tradition to oppose mining, especially by foreigners. Read the famous 1908 editorial of Reyes, Kalaw and Ocampo "Aves de Rapina" in El Renacimiento where the writers lost a celebrated libel case filed by American Insular Government secretary Dean Worcester who felt alluded to in the article. This case is a landmark in Philippine libel law and the nationalist struggle. The famous editorial had

"He gives laudable impetus to the search for rich lodes in Mindanao, in Mindoro and in other virgin regions of the archipelago, a search undertaken with the people's money and with the excuse of its being for the public good; when in strict truth, his purpose is to obtain data and find the keys to the national wealth for his essentially personal benefit, as proved by the acquisition of immense lands under the names of others."


and probably more relevant to the mining debate and for the Noynoy administration


"Birds of prey always triumph; their flight and aims are never thwarted. For who can dare detain them?

There are some who may share in the booty and the plunder itself, but the others are left too weak to raise a voice in protest, while some die in the disheartening destruction of their own energies and interests. Yet at the very end, there shall appear, with terrifying clearness, that immortal warning of old:

"MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN."


Thus it is not surprising that mining has become larger than the environmental and economic issue it was thought to be!

Christian Monsod gives a balanced view of the issues here.  It is a social issue now foremost. The fact is that government doesn't have the capacity to regulate mining.

Monsod has the barb as

" just wanted to make the point that history has not been very kind to our poor. And we know this must change.


The increasing inequality of income, wealth and political power is, of course, happening worldwide. In our particular case, the root of the problem is the development paradigm followed by every administration – that rising waters raise all boats – that sustained economic growth driven by investments will eliminate poverty. But conclusive empirical data tell us that sustained high growth is not possible unless we also address the problem of inequality. And that means not only  income reform – quality education, universal health care and livelihood – but also asset reform, which is primarily about land and natural resources and a substantive redistribution of their benefits and costs. As you know, the four asset reform programs are agrarian reform, urban land reform and housing, ancestral domain and fisheries.
That is why it is unfortunate that two major stakeholders on the issue of mining were not invited to speak today – the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and the Department of Agriculture."
And here is the root of poverty in this country. The inequality exists because Filipino society has never had genuine redistribution whether by state diktat or the diktat of revolution. Most noticeably redistribution starts with more access to affordable and quality education. The state has dismally failed in this.
Manny Pangilinan talks about the minerals in a cellphone. But if a cellphone will be a tool to economic growth and a ticket out of poverty, the questions are  1) Where was the cellphone made?  2) Where did the profits of making the cellphone go?, to Filipino workers' salaries? There is a need for mineral reprocessing plants in the Philippines to fully mine the benefits of mining. Corruption in all regimes, from Marcos to Aquino has shot that strategy down. But it is indispensable. You cannot have an industrialized economy if your economy cannot process iron into steel. This is what history teaches us. Only then Pangilinan's cellphone example vis a vis poverty reduction will make sense!
And Gina Lopez of the oligarchy is against mining and has the statistics and would you believe, biogeography for the greener alternative! She had a clash with Pangilinan in the Mining forum last March 2.
Perhaps the irony was best said by my STS  mining engineering undergrad student who knows that a consensus that is favourable for the nation as a whole is needed.
"The reason why mining companies are contented just to extract and ship out ore instead  of investing in ore processing industries and thus having little incentive to clean up is because of high power rates."
"We have the Lopezes and their monopolies to blame in this!"
I answered  in Marxist style "Perhaps Gina Lopez is the much awaited traitor to her class!"
Student answered "Long shot, Sir!"

  




















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