The impact of mankind on the environment is profound and in many cases has been both negative and irreversible. Much of the serious impact is relatively recent since man’s use of earth and its resources has been relatively benign. The combination of greatly increased population and massive and widespread industrial development has created an environmental crisis in many parts of the world. Environmental damage from various sources has grown to the extent that it is having a serious and visible impact on communities and the people involved. It is, upon closer examination, a sacrifice which seems to be acceptable in the interest of development. Environmental impact of rapid industrialization has become a major issue and concern at this century.
One of the major and more easily identified offenders of the ecological balance of the earth is the mining industry. Mining industries and companies can not but have negative impacts on the environment. Notable studies reveal that mining is not good. Many mining areas throughout the world show the impact of man’s assault on the earth in polluted bodies of water such as rivers, mine dumps and waste areas. Environmental degradation and deterioration due to mining is a major problem in many countries all over the world. Needless to say, the Philippines is one of these countries that is unquestionably facing serious biological disturbance and environmental damage due to irresponsible mining industries.
Historically, mining has been known in the Philippines as early as 1521. It was a common belief that, before the arrival of foreign invaders, native Filipinos have been panning gold deposited in many parts of the country. Filipinos have also been cultivating copper for some major purposes. Copper, at early times, played a major role in trade between the Chinese and the Filipinos. Overall, mining firms in the Philippines, as pointed out by Paragas, are believed to have its first operation in early 1990s.
By virtue of Republic Act 7942, otherwise known as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, a new perspective on mining system in the Philippines eventually emerged. This particular act was mainly instituted to “govern the exploration, development, utilization and processing of all mineral resources within the territory and exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.” In addition, this act also safeguards and protects the environment. Chapter XI, Section 63, of Republic Act 7942, states that “all contractors and permittees shall strictly comply with all the mines safety rules and regulations as may be promulgated by the Secretary concerning the safe and sanitary upkeep of the mining operations and achieve waste-free and efficient development…”
On the contrary, however, the above provisions seem to be ineffective and neglected. Instead of conforming to the provisions of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, the operation and management of mining industries in the country negate the principles provided by the law. Apparently, the mining companies operating in the Philippines are considered as one of the major contributors to environmental degradation and deterioration. In one study published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism in the late 1990s, mining ranked next to logging as a commercial activity that has wreaked havoc on terrestrial as well as hydrological resources. From then on, mining industries and companies have often faced criticisms from environmentalists, activists, biodiversity advocates and other sectors of the country. The most recent one is the condemnation of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines or CBCP to Arroyo’s administration. The CBCP requested that the President should cancel and withdraw all the permits granted to mining industries, especially foreign-owned companies. The CBCP courageously pointed out that foreign-led mining firms are major contributors to ecological imbalance or deterioration, human dislocation as well as the burgeoning mining-caused accidents and deaths.
The mining extraction in the country has been considered as one of the major offenders of the environment. Mining industries often cause severe tailings of bodies of water which adversely affect its inhabitants such as fish. The extraction of minerals has also been considered as one of the most environmentally destructive man-made activities. Logged-over areas can at least still be farmed, but mined-out areas have rarely been rehabilitated and remain useless eyesores and disasters waiting to happen. Mining also often results in the devastation of landscape. Additionally, it also emits harmful ingredients or substances such as mercury that can seriously damage the environment. Excessive discharge, for instance, of mercury often heavily contaminates and pollutes bodies of water. At the same time, mercury also leads to the destruction of vegetation and groundwater resources. Large quantities of waste from mining industries which subsequently creates problems of air pollution, increased sediment loads in water courses and harmful pollutants often cause major hydrological disturbances.
It is a challenge now to show that, while mining is really the backbone of economic growth, the mining industry should operate within the framework of pursuing genuine industrialization and support genuine ecological and environmental reform. Mining industries should unabridgedly conform and adhere to the provisions granted by the law. Any unlawful acts of mining industries should immediately be punished by withdrawing their permits. As much as possible, mining firms in the country should promote environmental awareness among miners, mine inspector and mine supervisors themselves. Although mine safety has improved greatly in recent decades, mining still must be considered as a hazardous industry, and because of its nature is likely to continue to be so. This calls for even greater efforts on the part of the government and industry to improve the situation including technology and regulation.