Win a battle but not the war against surface mining

Catholic bishops in the Philippines have long struggled against surface mining – a surface method of extracting rock or minerals from an open pit, otherwise known as a “borrow” or careers “.

Holes are drilled to check if rocks or soil contain minerals. If minerals such as gold or copper are found, the surface soil would be removed until the alleged mineral is reached, mined and processed.

Surface mining is the most convenient and cheapest way to extract minerals, but experts say it is also the method that harms the environment the most. With soil extraction, natural vegetation and thousands of trees are removed while animals and their young are left without habitat.

In the province of South Cotabato, in the region of Mindanao, a local court recently banned surface mining, prompting church officials to say that “justice always works for the poor”.

The court struck down the license of Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) because of environmental concerns such as massive tree felling and pollution of the riverbeds.

Southern Cotabato is known to have significant untapped deposits of copper and gold.

Its Catholic bishop, who has fought mining for years, said the court ruling was a small step towards victory in protecting the environment, as Pope Francis called for in his encyclical. Laudato si‘.

“With this decision, we are convinced that the law and the legal system can actually be used to achieve social justice for people and the environment,” said Bishop Cerilo Casicas de Marbel in the province of Cotabato.

Bishop Casicas said his diocese will remain committed to protecting the environment as the common home of man.

“And we are even more motivated to remain steadfast in our mission to safeguard our common home and to be steadfast in opposing projects that desecrate what God has created, especially as our law and justice are on our side. “, added Bishop Casicas.

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Last year, the Philippine Catholic Bishops’ Conference commended President Rodrigo Duterte for his support for environmental and religious groups who oppose surface mining.

Duterte has warned private companies that he will declare a total ban on surface mining in 2020 because it will destroy the soil and the environment.

“We congratulate the president for taking a firm stand to protect the fragile environment and for not giving in to pursue the commercial interests of mining companies,” Caritas member Father Edwin Gariguez told reporters.

But after more than a year, church authorities are still asking Duterte to keep his promise.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines joined calls from environmental groups to end surface mining decades ago, especially in Mindanao.

In Tampakan, South Cotabato province, various groups fought against a foreign company to save the region from deforestation and environmental damage.

Manila apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said allowing surface mining in the area fosters a culture of injustice among those unaware of their rights and the poor.

“We must leave behind a legacy of intergenerational justice that gives reasonable certainty to the children of southern Cotabato that their future will not involve a severe scarcity of resources and a critical imbalance for the good agricultural diversity of the province,” said Bishop Pabillo. in a report.

Members of the clergy have sent letters and appeals to authorities to revoke the licenses of mining companies that engage in surface mining. Some have even gone abroad to seek help from international environmental groups.

Despite good intentions and serious efforts, the fight against surface mining requires political will. The will does not come only from the governed, but from the very people who govern. After all, they are the ones who allow companies to use the land.

Thus, before granting permits to mining companies, authorities should think about the people, especially the poor, rather than the profits that mining will bring into government coffers or into the pockets of officials.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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