EARLIER this month (August 3, I think) the New York Times published a report about the efforts of the Peruvian government in driving out illegal gold miners in order to save their precious rainforest.
The reporter detailed how it took her team more than a day to travel non-existent roads and pathways, cross rivers and hack their way through the jungle to get to the numerous illegal mining operations deep within the rainforest.
More than being illegal, the problem was the environmental damage the operations were causing. So much so that the article had this quote:
“Statistics undercount the amount of illegal mining. But Víctor Torres Cuzcano, an economist with the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, calculated that unregistered and informal mining increased by 540 percent between 2006 and 2015, while production from legal mining, which brings in tax revenue, fell by 28.5 percent.
“I fear that illegal mining is crowding out the legal activities,” said Guillermo Arbe Carbonel, an economist with Scotiabank. “You see social protests against the legal mining all the time. But the illegal is growing, and it is the worst kind of mining when it comes to the environment.”
There is, I submit, much that is common between the Philippines and Peru when it comes to dealing with the problems of illegal mining operations.
But the same, I am told, can be said of illegal logging.
Years ago we rejoiced when, in a fit of environmental awareness, the country passed a “No to logging” law that banned logging throughout our archipelago. Now, we said to ourselves, our forests – or whatever was left of them – could heave a sigh of relief as new trees sprout from the ground and hopefully we not only stop the deforestation of our islands but better still reverse it.
What we either did not realize in our naivete – or refused to see – is that human nature is such that when something is banned – be it alcohol or in this case logging – the illegal form reappears and reappears with a vengeance.
And the illegal often does more damage than the legal.
So it could very well be with logging. Despite the ban on logging, I can imagine that our forest cover continues to be depleted. Not because of mining, mind you – the Chamber of Mines can show you that over the last maybe ten years or so it has planted over 20 MILLION trees – but because of illegal logging.
You see, here is the difference when you stop the legal and open the field to the illegal. The illegal, because it is illegal, will simply go out, do its thing, then run. No cares for the consequences of its activities.
That’s why it’s illegal!
But the legal forester? The legal logging operations? They follow the requirements of their permits and replant – I don’t exactly know what the ratio is for every tree felled – but definitely a legal and responsible operator will leave behind in his wake hectares of newly growing trees that are to become tomorrow’s forests. Because he is a legal operator.
His permit depends on his ability to fulfill his obligations under the law.
The same applies to mining operations. There are legal ones and there are illegal ones. Again, the illegal operator couldn’t care less what he leaves behind: a silted river, a water table polluted by mercury and other poisonous chemicals, a barren mountainside, tunnels dug into the earth that are not only poorly done, they are not even rehabilitated or covered up.
It’s hit and run. It’s make your killing now and scram. It’s get as much as you can and leave the community with the empty bag.
But the legal operator? His permit depends on his ability to fulfill the conditions attached to it. Mine rehab. Setting aside funds for final mien closure. Annually meeting the standards of air quality and water quality, effluents in river and streams, etc. Social development programs that in those remote mining communities effectively do what the government is supposed to do, provide what the government is supposed to provide.
And at the end of mine life turning over to the local community the infrastructure it will leave behind. And in the case of an operation like Rio Tuba in the town of Bataraza at the southern tip of the Palawan mainland, the includes a town site of housing, a church, a hospital, a school, a clubhouse with the amenities you find in a subdivision, and even an airport!
Not to mention everything else the legal operator pays – from payroll and benefits to local and national taxes. All over and above the expenses he has by law to spend for social development –expenses not counted as taxes.
But what did the New York Times article say again?
In Peru, the illegal is crowding out the legal. Illegal mining grew by 540 percent between 2006 and 2015, while legal mining production fell by 28.5 percent. And it is legal mining that pays the taxes.
Worse, it is the operations of the illegal kind that is the worst kind when it comes to the environment.
So there. That should already make clear to the new dispensation where to focus its guns. Otherwise, by making it tough on legal operators to operate but allowing the illegal to flourish, we are in effect aiding and abetting those who do the real damage to our environment, to our economy and ecology, and yes, to our planet.